Top Tips for Gardening Organically and Eat Healthy Food
Chemically enhanced fertilizers and soil amendments build up toxicity in your soil and in your plants, which can affect the benefits of organic vegetables and fruits. Chemical pesticides also raise the toxicity in plants and may eliminate beneficial insects, as well as the harmful pests you want to rid your garden of.
For those who appreciate the beauty of nature and wish to enhance environmental health, we bring you these gardening ideas for planting and growing organically. Organic growing is as easy and takes about the same amount of time and effort as using chemicals, so there’s no reason not to enrich your garden with organic materials using the following organic tips.
Use organic growing mediums such as sand or peat moss to improve drainage, or use compost, manure, bat guano, or mushroom compost to give soil nutrient additives instead of chemically enhanced soil amendments. The addition of worms can improve soil conditions through aeration, making it easier for plants to extend their root systems, and by consuming organic matter and converting it into worm castings with nutrients that are then available to plants.
You want garden soil that clumps together loosely, with good drainage and plenty of organic matter providing plant nutrients. Organic matter is provided through the addition of manure, compost or other organic soil additives. Worm compost, or vermiculture, is a soil amendment that improves soil texture and moisture retaining capabilities.
- Compost – A natural soil enhancer, compost loosens clay soils, increases moisture retention in sandy soils, and balances soil pH, as well as providing needed plant nutrients. Work compost into the soil before planting, or use it as a top dressing for fertilization during the growing season.
- Manure, bat guano, and mushroom compost – When turned into the soil, these additives boost soil nutrients, producing big, healthy plants with abundant produce without introducing synthetic chemicals into your garden.
- Vermiculture - The addition of worms can improve soil conditions through aeration, making it easier for plants to extend their root systems, and by consuming organic matter and converting it into worm castings with nutrients that are then available to plants.
Use manure, compost tea, and worm castings from vermi compost to boost nutrients available to your plants. Bat guano, fish emulsion, kelp, bone meal and mushroom compost are all organic additives rich in nutrients that plants need, which can be turned into your garden, as well to increase nutrient levels available to your plants.
- Compost tea - High in nitrogen and phosphates, compost tea, makes an excellent plant fertilizer which can be used for regular fertilizer applications, helps give seedlings a good start or can be sprayed, allowing nutrients to be absorbed directly through the leaves. Compost tea is simple to make by placing one quart of compost in a cloth bag and steeping it in a gallon of water for several days (Rodale’s Successful Gardening, p. 47).
- Vermicompost - Worm compost can be added as a fertilizer application to replace soil nutrients that have been exhausted, increase disease resistance in plants, and increase vegetable and fruit harvest and produce bigger, more abundant blooms.
- Fish Oil or Emulsion - Fish oil is an organic and environmentally safe fertilizer containing the three basic plant nutrients; nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, plus micronutrients that plants need in small quantities to survive. Fish emulsion is diluted in water and then used as liquid fertilizer or a foliar spray.
Homemade Pesticides and Fungicides
Pesticides and fungicides are made easily out of natural ingredients, such as cayenne pepper or garlic. Easy organic gardening ideas also include making insecticidal soap or planting natural pest repellents and plants that attract favorable insects, butterflies, and bees.
Insecticidal soaps and pesticides which use natural ingredients are very effective in repelling bugs that would otherwise devour food crops. But beware. Even natural remedies are not selective in the insects that they affect, so they should all be used with care, and only after other natural methods of pest control have failed to take care of the problem.
- Insecticidal Soaps - Insecticidal soaps are safe, organic sprays that repel insects. Made with mild liquid hand soaps, light vegetable oil, and water, the soap is sprayed directly onto soft-bodied insects, such as aphids, whiteflies, mealy bugs and spider mites.
- Teas - Many teas are selective in the insects that they repel. Parsley tea repels asparagus beetle, and wormwood tea is effective against slugs, snails, black flea beetles, cabbage moths, and fleas. Yarrow tea deters mealybugs, aphids, and other soft-bodied pests. Tea consisting of horseradish root, petunia leaves, lime or chili peppers will function as a general pest repellent but may deter beneficial insects as well.
- Foliar Sprays - A foliar garlic spray will deter fungus gnats, aphids, cabbage loopers, grasshoppers, June bugs, leafhoppers, mites, squash bugs, slugs, and whiteflies. An elderberry leaf spray keeps the garden free of cucumber beetles, peach tree borers, aphids, and carrot root flies. Marigold spray repels asparagus beetles, tomato hornworms, and leaf-chewing insects. A spray with orange peels deters fungus gnats, mealy bugs, and aphids, as well as repelling ants.
- Dust – Powder made of ground leaves from the bay, cayenne peppers, tansy, and peppermint make an effective insecticidal dust to be sprinkled over foliage.
Apply sprays in the early morning or evening, when temperatures are cooler. Applications made when temperatures are above 80 degrees Fahrenheit may cause foliage to burn. Test a small area and wait 24 hours with all sprays and do not increase the strength of your solution just because you are getting good results. Use sprays that target specific insects whenever possible and spray only problem areas to avoid repelling beneficial insects. Take care to protect exposed face and skin whenever working with sprays and dust.
Great gardening plants are those which can be used as biological controls for garden pests. Certain plants repel insects, while others can be used to draw undesirable insects away and prevent them from “bugging” your prized crops. Other plants can also be used to discourage insects, by masking the attractive characteristics of the plants you wish to protect.
- Repellant Plants
Repellant plants emit odors or chemicals that repel insects or kill them directly. Plant them in or around plants that you want to protect. These plants include many herbs:
- White geraniums
- Four o'clock
*Note: Larkspur, white geraniums, and four o’clocks are all irresistible to Japanese beetles, but they are highly toxic to insects, as well as to animals and humans.
These plants deter garden pests by masking the characteristics that attract insects to the plants which you want to protect. Interplant outdoor plants, such as mint or tansy, amidst the valued crop to achieve this effect.
Plant scented marigolds thickly and then turn into the soil to deter underground pests and insects, such as nematodes and grubs. (“Rodale’s Successful Gardening,” p.52) Other outdoor plants that are deterrents include:
- Lemon balm
- Trap Crops
Plant trap crops of plants which are irresistible to insects, at a short distance from your prized crops, to draw undesirable insects away from crops you wish to protect. Watch for a buildup of insects on the trap crop, then spray with soap or botanical insecticide, or pull the whole crop and destroy it.
- A border of nasturtiums attracts aphids and flea beetles.
- Early plantings of squash will distract pickleworms from your melon crop.
- Chervil attracts earwigs.
- Dill or lovage attract tomato hornworms.
- Potatoes attract wireworms.
Gardens that are mulched are healthier, have fewer weeds and are more drought resistant than gardens that aren’t mulched. Straw, hay, pine needles, wood chips, evergreen boughs, sphagnum moss or gravel, are organic materials which can be spread over the soil around plants to increase moisture retention and keep down weeds.
Other natural methods of pest control
Placing plastic over garden beds once the soil has been cultivated is effective in heating the soil and eliminating many soil-inhabiting pests such as grubs, weevils, sod webworms, and carpenter worms.
Handpicking, traps, barriers, floating row covers, or a strong spray of water can be effective against many pests, especially in the early stages of infestation. Keeping the garden free of plant debris where pests and diseases breed is also effective.
Follow these easy tips for gardening organically, and you’re on your way to a healthy, chemical free garden with minimal hassle. Through organic soil additive, fertilizers and pest controls, you’ll reap the benefits of organic vegetables, and have a beautiful garden all year through.