Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Building and Rebuilding the Soil

Organic Gardening

Organic gardening is a way of building and rebuilding the soil and encouraging populations of desirable insects and birds to sustain plantings year after year. It doesn't matter if you plant food or flowers, a lawn or a grove of trees. The experience you will have working with nature to make something grow and prosper will satisfy you long after you have put the hoe back in the shed. That's the personal reward.

The planetary one is more magnanimous. Through gardening, you can actually help restore the earth in many, many ways. By favoring ivy or grass over concrete and asphalt, you replenish underground aquifers every time it rains. Because they absorb carbon dioxide, which causes global warming, every tree you plant will help cool the globe.

Maintaining a green landscape provides a safe haven for wildlife, especially the hundreds of birds whose breeding grounds are being destroyed by deforestation. And planting traditional and heirloom varieties of vegetables, flowers, and herbs helps reintroduce a biological diversity of seeds into the food chain.

The most "benign" way you can garden is organically. To many this means "without insecticides" period. But organic gardening is really much more than that. It's a way of building and rebuilding the soil and encouraging populations of desirable insects and birds to sustain plantings year after year.

Organic gardening works just as well on trees and flowers as on vegetables and fruits, but the need for organic approaches to food production, in particular, could not be more critical. Both the groundwater we tap for drinking supplies and our own personal health have been put at great and unnecessary risk from the application of excessive quantities of pesticides by the agriculture industry.

Whether you are a farmer, a homeowner, or someone who gardens a community plot, organic gardening lets you get the most out of your labor by causing the least amount of damage to the environment.

If you can't bear to give up synthetic chemicals altogether, you can still use less of them. Adopt a program of integrated pest management. Use intercropping to help control bugs and weeds. Rotate your crops.

What else can you do to reduce the use of toxic?

Identify the pests in your garden.
You can't eliminate a pest organically unless you know what it is. Use picture guides available from your library or county extension service, or take specimens of the pest or evidence of its damage to your county extension agent.

Try the least toxic solution.
If you can't wash the pests off the plants by spraying them forcefully with water hose, use a diluted spray of liquid soap and water, or nicotine spray (made by soaking cigarette butts in water.) If that fails, try one of the insecticidal soaps available in many hardware stores and nurseries. If you must use toxic chemicals, aim to dos so when the pests area bout to emerge. Call your local county extension agent for advice on how to keep track of insect pests.

Keep garden areas free of insect-attracting debris.
Properly store and dispose of garbage. Remove weeds promptly to prevent their scattering seeds. Fallen fruit and vegetables should be picked up, and all diseased plants or parts of plants should be removed and destroyed to prevent the spread of disease.

Attract native predatory insects and mites.
In every area of the country, thousands of native bugs consume other insect pests. For example, aphids are the main course for many valuable insects, including ladybugs, tiny parasitic wasps, and the slug-like larvae of flower flies. And fireflies feed mostly on snails, slugs and insect larvae.

Keep plants properly watered and organically fertilized.
Water should not be allowed to form pools, which can stress plants and in which mosquitoes breed.

Use your garden hose.
A direct stream of water from a garden hose can knock out many insect and mite pests in the garden.

Plant resilient varieties.

Design your garden so that it contains perennial beds or areas that remain undisturbed each year.
If possible, garden in permanent beds with sod or mulched paths between them that are not cultivated. Perennial beds and paths provide refuge for animals and insects while providing a stable habitat from year to year so populations of the beneficial animals and insects can build up.

Some safe pesticides are: insecticidal soap, soft soap, quassia, pyrethrum, copper fungicide.

If you currently rely on pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, now is the time to begin the transition to chemical-free gardening.

It will probably require an "investment" of two or three years to revive your soil and start attracting the desirable bugs and birds that will control insects naturally. But as with any sound investment, the payoff will only multiply in the years to come as the bounty of your garden increases - and your bills for synthetic fertilizers and other chemicals evaporate.

Even if you can't give up all your chemicals, perhaps you can use less of them. At the very least, try some of the simple, chemical-free preventative techniques, such as mulching. You have nothing to lose, not even a plant.

It's open from March to November and can be reached by boat, train or car. There is a small admission charge and they offer several books available for purchase.

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