Cheat Sheet

Organic Gardening For Dummies

From Organic Gardening For Dummies, 2nd Edition by Ann Whitman, Suzanne DeJohn, The National Gardening Association

If you're considering organic gardening, take a look at the benefits of making the switch to a more earth-friendly way to cultivate your yard. To ensure healthy-growing plants, survey your property to find which plants are best suited for your landscape and garden, and check out non-toxic ways to control pests and fertilize organically.

Reasons for Organic Gardening

Besides the obvious reasons for organic gardening, like growing pesticide-free food and maintaining a landscape without synthetic fertilizers, here are just a few of the many other reasons to become an organic gardener:

  • Human health: Many pesticides harm people, causing illness when they're consumed or when they make contact with exposed skin. Some pesticides can accumulate in the environment and contribute to illness long after application. Also, some studies show that organically grown fruits and vegetables have more nutrients than their conventionally grown counterparts.

  • Water pollution: Excess fertilizer washes into groundwater, streams, lakes, rivers, and coastal waters, where it contributes to the death and disruption of natural ecosystems. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, pesticides already contaminate groundwater in more than three quarters of the U.S. states.

  • Soil erosion and depletion: The urgent need to protect the world's remaining agricultural land from erosion, development, pollution, and diminishing water resources has reached the state of a global crisis. The collective efforts of many organic gardeners do have an effect.

  • Ecological balance and diversity: Insect predators and prey keep one another in check, and plants grow best in a balanced environment. Organic gardeners respect all parts of the interconnected web of life and use practices that support it.

  • Future generations: Sustainable gardening, agriculture, and landscaping mean thinking about the future, using renewable resources wisely and efficiently, and taking only as much as nature can replace.

  • Cost savings: Prevention costs less than cure. Provide habitat for beneficial insects, and they will reduce the populations of bad bugs. Feed the soil organisms that make nutrients available, and your plants will flourish.

Assessing Your Organic Garden Site

When you're planning your organic garden, you have to first take an inventory of your site. Your goal is to encourage healthy, pest-resistant plants, so choose plants that can grow to their full potential where you plant them. Consider these factors when laying out your organic garden:

  • Sun and shade: Duration and time of day and year that the sun shines directly on the site.

  • Soil: Structure, texture, pH, drainage, and moisture.

  • Views: Unsightly views to screen; pleasant views to enhance or preserve.

  • Slope: Steep, flat, valley floors.

  • Wind: Speed and direction at different times of year.

  • Hardiness zone: Average winter low temperatures.

  • Obstacles: Locations of buildings, overhead and buried utilities, roads, and property boundaries.

IPM: Using Integrated Pest Management in Organic Gardening

IPM (integrated pest management) is a practice that combines biological, cultural, physical and chemical strategies to control pests. Organic gardeners use IPM techniques as the least toxic, least environmentally disruptive solutions for fighting pests and plant disease.

IPM involves the following key practices:

  • Using cultural techniques to promote plant health: Rotating crops, sanitizing gardens, using traps and barriers, mulching, promoting air circulation and water drainage, conserving soil moisture, planting companion and disease-resistant varieties, composting, and building soil health.

  • Identifying and monitoring pests: Identifying the pests and diseases that affect your crops, predicting when they will appear, and using observation and traps to determine the extent of the problem.

  • Using control methods: First using the least-toxic methods (beneficial insects and microbes, and insecticidal soaps and oils) and then resorting to more-toxic organic pesticides only when the value of the crop or landscape plant justifies their use.

The Benefits of Organic Fertilizers

Organic fertilizers are a kinder, gentler way to give plants the nutrients they need. Organic fertilizers usually come from plants, animals, or minerals and contain a variety of nutrients to enhance the soil ecosystem. Synthetic fertilizers don't enhance soil life or add organic matter. Other benefits for using organic fertilizers over synthetics are:

  • They release their nutrients more slowly in the soil, when the plants need them, so they last longer.

  • The nutrients are contained in complex molecules that won't leach away with the first rain.

  • They are less likely to burn the young roots of seedlings. Synthetic fertilizers are made from mineral salts that can kill roots as well as soil microbes if applied improperly.

  • They enhance soil health by nurturing (or at least not harming) the soil microbes that help make soil nutrients available to plants.

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