(JD Heyes) Many beginning gardeners may just assume that dirt is dirt, and no matter what you put into it, as long as you water it some, your crops will grow. The fact is, soil is different throughout the world; in the United States alone, there are many variations of soil – pH levels, acidity, nutrients, the presence of heavy metals, sandy soil, clay, and so on.
So, if you plan on growing the best fruits and vegetables, organically of course, then you ought to take the time to learn how to ensure your soil is organic and healthy so it will provide you and your family with the very best bounty possible.
There are a number of ways to ensure that your soil is organically sound and healthy, as noted by Jared R. McKinley, a gardening expert and guest commentator on the website of Dr. Andrew Weil, a noted naturopathic physician.
“A successful organic garden is a play directed by a gardener using seeds, soil, water, weather, and knowledge to produce a bounty. Feeding the plants is only part of the production. For true sustainability and maximum flavor and nutrition, the gardener’s aim should be building a healthy soil ecosystem in which plants play a symbiotic role,” McKinley writes.
In no particular order, they are:
Do no harm: One of the surest ways to ruin your soil or, at least taint it, is through the use of chemicals. Commercial pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers do far more harm than good, and over the long run are detrimental to your crops. Plus, you can’t grow organically unless, well, you grow organically, and so McKinley recommends the use of synthetic, natural pesticides and feeds that accomplish their purpose without killing all of the good organisms and encouraging more pathogenic activity in your garden.
Your soil is hungry: Feeding the soil with the proper “food,” so to speak, is vital to maximize your yields (and keep contaminants out). To do this, you need to introduce materials into the dirt that allow the good bacteria and fungus to grow and thrive, because that will, in turn, be good for your fruits and veggies. What to add? Generally speaking, not fresh manure because it will burn plants. You should stick to kelp, fish emulsion and manure like bat guano, aged livestock manure and so forth.
Keep plants healthy: This may seem rather obvious, but maintaining healthy plants is not automatic. That said, the healthier your plants are, the more able they’ll be to withstand disease, bad bacteria and other ravages. There are clean methods of dealing with plant pathogens, and they include a number of organic, safe soaps, herbal remedies, oils and other compounds that kill or destroy unwanted pests. Another method is to introduce helpful insects into your garden like praying mantises, ladybugs, lacewings and others that do the work of keeping out critters for you.
Compost it: You need to start a compost pile. Begin with a layer of brown materials several inches thick including leaves, straw or cornstalks (or all of those items), followed by several inches of green stuff like lettuce, vegetables, fruits and other tossed foods. Continue that process of laying brown then green stuff while throwing in some soil until the pile is about three feet high (designating an area for a compost pile – like building a compost area – is a great idea. “If done right,” says McKinley, “a good compost pile can be a great medium for hosting lots of beneficial microbes.” He recommends trying worm composting as well, which is sometimes referred to as vermiculture. “Worm castings are among the greatest foods for plants and soil,” he writes.
Compost tea, anyone: Much goes into making compost tea but you can also buy a simple home kit that is not too expensive so that you can make your own. And McKinley says there are suspended compost teas that you can order and have delivered to your front door.
Educate yourself: When you take the time to learn all you can about the kind of fruits, vegetables, herbs and other food plants you’re trying to grow, you’ll find that the knowledge will lead to better results and far better yields. Whether you’re growing food to save money, to can and store for an emergency, or just because you want fresher, organic food in your diet, you’ll want to get the most out of your efforts. You’ll also discover what does – and does not – grow well in your area, helping you avoid planting crops that are better suited elsewhere.
Insects are not always bad: McKinley says using beneficial insects – and many are available for purchase – will help keep your garden from becoming a feeding ground for destructive pests. Find out what pests are most common to your area and to the crops you’re trying to grow, and order insects that are their natural predators.
Be careful about buying “organic”: Not everything every company sells as “organic” is actually organic. Many times so-called organic compounds are laced with inorganic salts like nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus. Know that you can make organic things like fish emulsion; whatever you don’t eat from fresh fish, toss it into a blender with some water, and presto – your own fish emulsion. As for purchasing organic gardening products, do some research into the company before buying to make sure the companies you’re using have a good reputation for delivering as promised.
Sources for this article include:
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