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Green Garden Fingers Go Organic

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Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow? Well, your garden may not have silver bells and cockle shells, but you certainly can make it more environmentally friendly and safe to work in by trying your hand at organic home gardening.

Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow? Well, your garden may not have silver bells and cockle shells, but you certainly can make it more environmentally friendly and safe to work in by trying your hand at organic home gardening.

By going organic, you can grow your own healthy chemical-free food in a garden which is safe for you, children and pets. At the same time you can help the environment by reducing the amount of garbage sent to landfill sites and avoiding the use of chemicals that poison our water, air and soil.

The Advantage of Decay

A compost pile is a "composite" mixture of decaying vegetation. It's what adds humus to the soil and what micro-organisms love to feed on. You can't grow a healthy garden without it. Compost improves your soil and provides the ideal food for plants.

To build your own compost pile use a container or build a bin with sides made of wood, chicken wire or cement blocks. If you have the space, it's ideal to have three compost piles one in which humus is being built, one that is breaking down and one in which vegetation has broken down and compost is being used.

Use weeds, vegetable parings and kitchen scraps, hay, straw, manure, grass clippings, leaves and other organic materials as you compost. Avoid meat, dog and cat waste, human waste, sewage sludge and anything that has been sprayed.

Chopping the material speeds up decomposition. As you build the pile, mix together fresh green material such as grass clippings, young weeds and kitchen scraps with coarser material such as hay, straw or dead leaves. Dampen the material so that the pile is moist but not soggy, keeping the pile covered so that it doesn't dry out. You can add material until your container is almost full.

If you want your compost to break down more quickly, a couple of weeks after your pile is completed, take the pile apart with a pitchfork, spray the material with water if it seems dry and then rebuild the pile. Your compost is ready when it's fluffy, brown and sweet smelling and you can no longer recognize what the original ingredients were.

Fertilize, Feed and Boost

When planting seeds, mark your row, lay an inch or more of compost on top of the soil in a band eight to 10 inches wide and then dig it in. For seedlings, add a handful or two of compost to the hole and mix it in. Part way through the summer, gently work compost into the soil around the base of the plants to give them a nutritional boost.

To make liquid fertilizer, soak a burlap bag filled with compost in a pail of water overnight. The resulting compost tea can be used to water vegetables, flowers, containers and house plants.

Building healthy soil and providing plants with sufficient food, water, sunshine and air circulation will help prevent problems. If your soil is poor and has had little or no compost added in the past, your plants may grow slowly or appear stunted or pale. Practice crop rotation. For example, if you plant cabbage or root vegetables in a certain spot one year, don't plant them in the same place for another three or four years.

Organic fertilizer, available from garden centres, can be added at planting time and part way through the growing season. Use the amount recommended on the package, remembering that such fertilizers are not a substitute for compost.

Mulch, Mulch, Mulch

Mulching involves covering the soil with some kind of material such as straw, old hay, shredded leaves or uncoloured newspapers. It helps control weeds and reduces the need to water. When the soil is moist lay down four to six inches of organic matter such as straw or a layer 10 to 12 pages thick of newspaper. For heat-loving crops such as tomatoes, peppers and squash, wait until after the soil has warmed up. Keep adding mulch throughout the summer as it decomposes. Don't use mulch if slugs or earwigs are a problem and don't mulch carrots or beets if mice are a problem because they'll eat the tops of the roots.

Enjoy your tasty, healthy food while knowing that you are protecting the environment and building a rich, healthy soil which will be a legacy for future generations.

Weed Control Sans Chemicals

Gardening is good for you but not if you use chemicals. Studies show that exposure to pesticides and herbicides can increase the risk of Parkinson's disease, among other risks.

Irksome weeds that relentlessly introduce themselves without welcome into your garden can be controlled without resorting to chemicals. Try these simple steps for a naturally weed-free garden:

  • Cultivate your garden 10 to 14 days before planting. At planting time, hoe the young weed seedlings that have sprouted. Be careful to disturb only the surface of the soil to avoid bringing more weed seeds to the surface. About 10 days after your seeds have sprouted, do another shallow cultivation.

  • Perennial weeds need a patient, persistent approach. As soon as the weed sprouts, dig it up, removing as much of the root as possible. Each time it resprouts, repeat this so that the plant has no opportunity to build up a reserve of food.

  • To keep your garden well weeded, remove any diseased or pest-infested plants and do a good clean-up in the fall. Before you introduce new plants into your garden, check them carefully for diseases or pests.

  • Inspect your garden every few days so that pests or diseases can be dealt with before they become a serious problem. If you do find insect pests pick them off the plant by hand or wash them off with a jet of water.

  • As a last resort you can use natural pest controls such as insecticidal soap, diatomaceous earth, rotenone or natural pyrethrum. Follow the directions on the label and spray at the end of the day as some of these kill beneficial insects such as ladybugs and bees that have all flown home for the evening.
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