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A Beginner’s Guide to Organic Gardening




  • How to get started

    Managing Weeds
    Weeds siphon water and nutrients away from your garden plants, they can harbor pests, and they sure can make your garden look a mess. But you don’t need to spray toxic herbicides, which are harmful to people, pets, and wildlife, to keep plant invaders out of your organic garden. Use these strategies instead  

    A Beginner’s Guide to Organic Gardening 
    How to get started

    Managing Weeds
    Weeds siphon water and nutrients away from your garden plants, they can harbor pests, and they sure can make your garden look a mess. But you don’t need to spray toxic herbicides, which are harmful to people, pets, and wildlife, to keep plant invaders out of your organic garden. Use these strategies instead.

    Mulch. Keep your soil covered at all times to prevent light from reaching weed seeds. Spread a thick layer (2 or more inches deep) of organic mulch—straw, dried grass clippings, shredded leaves—on your garden each spring and replenish it throughout the growing season. Bonus: The mulch nourishes your soil as it decomposes. For even better weed protection, use several sheets of newspaper, kraft paper (such as grocery bags), or cardboard under these mulches. They are nearly impenetrable by weeds.

    Hand-pull. Sounds like a lot of work, we know. But pulling out a few weeds every day or at least every week keeps them from getting out of control and brings you up close to your garden so you can inspect your plants for problems. Keep a bale of straw or a pile of grass clippings on hand so you’ll have mulch on demand to help prevent weeds from returning after you’ve pulled them.

    Hoe. Use a hoe’s sharp edge to sever weed stems from their roots just below the soil surface. Forget about the square-headed traditional garden hoe for this job—get a stirrup-shaped oscillating or a swan-neck hoe instead. To hoe your garden without cultivating a backache, hold the hoe as you would a broom.

    Spread corn. You can suppress the growth of weed seeds early in the season by spreading corn-gluten meal. This works best in established lawns. Corn-gluten meal, a by-product of corn processing that is safe for people, pets, and wildlife, inhibits the germination of seeds and fertilizes at the same time. Bear in mind, once the weeds have grown beyond the sprout stage, corn gluten does not affect them. Also, corn gluten doesn’t discriminate between seeds you want to sprout and those you don’t want, so avoid using corn-gluten meal where and when you’ve sown seeds.

    Solarize. Where you have a persistent weed problem or you need to clear a thick mat of weeds from a brand-new bed, enlist the sun’s help. In late spring or early summer, pull, hoe, or rake out as many weeds as you can from the bed. Then moisten the soil and cover it with a tight layer of clear plastic, weighting or burying the edges. Leave the plastic in place for six weeks so the sun cooks any remaining weed seeds.

    Be persistent. This is your most important long-range weapon against weeds. Mulch, and pull or hoe the weeds for a few minutes whenever you visit your garden. Do these things consistently for a few seasons, and you will slowly but surely expel problem invaders for good.

    Key to success: Weeds come out easily when the soil is moist, so think of a summer rainstorm as an opportunity to free your garden from a weed infestation.

    Use This…………………Not That
    Fish and seaweed fertilizer..Miracle-Gro
    Insecticidal soap…………Sevin
    Clove oil herbicide……….Roundup
    Compost…………….. ….Bagged synthetic fertilizer

    Controling Pests
    Whenever you see insects in your garden, remember this: Most are no threat to plants, many are even beneficial, and all of them, even the pests that eat your plants, are an integral part of the ecosystem you are cultivating. But what do you do when the pests seem to have the upper hand? You don’t want to enforce a “no-fly zone” with pesticides. They’re dangerous for you to have and to use, and they harm wildlife and contaminate water. Instead, use safe, organic techniques and products to keep the pests in balance.

    Grow healthy plants. The best defenses against insect attack are preventive measures. Pests target weak or unhealthy plants, so choose plants that are suited to the conditions you are putting them in and they’ll be less stressed. Don’t let plants be too wet, too dry, or too shaded. Use lots of compost, but be sparing with high-nitrogen fertilizers, if you must use them at all.

    Integrate, don’t segregate. Mix different vegetables, herbs, and flowers together in your beds. This keeps pests from zeroing in on a whole crop of their target plant.

    Encourage Pests’ Predators. The most effective and natural way to control pests is to rely on the food chain. Plant herbs and flowers among your vegetables to lure predatory insects such as ladybugs and green lacewings, which feed on flowers’ nectar while their larvae consume pests. Put out a birdbath to enlist the appetites of songbirds to your cause. Treat toads, lizards, and garter snakes as welcome allies, too.

    Build Barriers. Row cover is a woven fabric that lets light, air, and water reach plants, but keeps pests (including deer) away from them. You’ll find it in local garden centers, in catalogs, and online. The best-known brand is Reemay.

    Target The Treatment. When prevention is no match for infestation, take the time to choose the right organic tool to solve your problem. Start by making sure you have correctly identified the pest and confirmed it is the cause of the symptoms you’ve found. Consult your local Cooperative Extension office (csrees.usda.gov) if you need help. Then, depending on the pest, you can arm yourself with soap or hot-pepper sprays, horticultural oil, or Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring bacterium that disrupts the digestion of caterpillars and other leaf-eaters.

    Surrender. As we said, insects attack plants under stress. Do you have enough healthy plants to spare the sickly ones? Can you restore sickly plants to robust health so they can resist insect attack? If not, let the pests do their worst, then watch as their predators flock to your garden and protect your healthy plants.

    Key To Success: Check the undersides of leaves when applying organic pest control—insects often hide out of sight

    Watering Wisely
    Keeping plants well hydrated is as easy as sipping ice tea on a sweltering day, right? Yes, if you stick to a few simple guidelines.

    Pick your plants. When deciding what to grow, choose plants suited to the soil, climate, and site. A plant that grows best in shade, for instance, will demand lots of water in a sunny spot. As you set up your garden, try to group plants according to their water needs, so you can irrigate them efficiently.

    Putting down roots. Every plant needs extra attention in its early days. Check newly planted crops frequently, and don’t let them wilt from lack of water.

    Try early or late. Water your garden in the early morning or in the evening—cooler temperatures mean less moisture evaporates than during the heat of the day. Direct your hose or watering can at the soil around plants to get them the maximum moisture, with minimum evaporation.

    Take the two-knuckle test. Before you water, push your index finger two knuckles deep into your garden’s soil. Feel damp? If so, don’t water the garden, no matter what the plants look like. (Many appear to wilt during high heat.) Also, prioritize your water usage—seedlings, for example, have small, delicate root systems that require consistent watering. Give priority to transplants and newly planted crops, and leave trees, shrubs, and perennials to find water in the soil with their deep roots.

    Dig the drip. To use water most efficiently, use a soaker hose (which “weeps” water along its length) or, even better, a drip-irrigation system (which lets you target exactly where you want the water to go).

    Weed and mulch. Weeds compete with plants for water. Mulch shields the soil from the baking sun and keeps it moist.

    Key to success: Make sure your plants get about an inch of water a week, either from rainfall or you.

    By.Uzma Paracha

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