Organic farming, or permaculture, is the only way Mort Mather grows food. His organic gardening articles, listed here in suggested reading order with excerpts, help anyone with their organic gardening techniques and basic organic gardening philosophy.

Excerpts from the organic gardening articles by Mort Mather in suggested reading order for beginner organic gardeners

from the Garden Spot by Mort Mather

Click here to buy The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control, a great addition to any organic gardening library.

The Garden Spot
part of organic gardening published by Bald Mountain Press

Up
Organic Excerpts
Q & A
organic lawns
Mulch
Compost
Pictures
Animals
Arizona Worms
Book
Carrots
Catalogues I
Catalogues II
Cold
Erosion
Fickle Frost
Flowers
Frost
Frost Out
Genetic Engineering
Harvest Frustration
Insect Control
Keep catalogues
Leaching
Midday Sun
Newspapers
Onions
Organic Books
Peas
Planting Dates
Radishes
Records
Spinach
Spring
Stew
Succession planting
Tomatoes
Ugly
Weeds
Worms

 

 

The organic gardening subjects covered at the Garden Spot include: organic gardening, articles, essays, advice, organic, garden, gardeners, beginner, beginners, beginner organic gardeners, farmers, farm, organic farming, farming, permaculture, gardening without chemicals, spray, pesticides, poison, poisons, Animals, Arizona Worms, Book, Carrots, Catalogues, Cold, Erosion, Fickle Frost, Flowers, Frost, Frost Out, Harvest Frustration, Keep catalogues, Leaching, Midday Sun, Newspapers, Onions, Organic Books, Peas, Planting Dates, Radishes, Records, Spinach, Spring, Stew, Succession planting, Tomatoes, Ugly, Weeds, and Worms.
Worms
Thinking of earthworms reminds me of a conversation from about 20 years ago. The local chapter of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association sponsored talks in those days and one we sponsored was on marketing produce at a roadside stand. We invited a local conventional farmer who had a stand on Route One. In those days many conventional farmers thought organic farmers were, at best, a couple of bales shy of a full load. I'm pleased to say that organic farming is the most rapidly growing sector of agriculture in Maine right now.
Arizona Worms
Worms. First I will tell you that I don't generally recommend bringing animals (as in animal, mineral or vegetable) into the garden. The plants we put in gardens are pretty good at staying there. Animals--worms, ladybugs, lacewings, etc.—are free to go where they wish which is where the habitat is best for them. Ladybugs, for example, will clean out the aphids in a garden in short order and be gone. Worse than that, they throw off the balance so that a smaller population of ladybugs in the area may also have to leave for aphidier pastures.
Organic Books
For Christmas I received two similar garden books—The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control and Rodale's successful Organic Gardening Controlling Pests and Diseases (both Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA). Sometime last summer I mentioned that I needed a good book on disease identification. Barbara remembered.
In the realm of insect and disease identification there are two important things to look for. First, is it easy to find the problem you are trying it identify? To do that you should be able to look up the plant on which you found the problem and that should lead quickly to the problem. It is like translating from one language to another. We know the names of our plants—can translate the physical plant that we are looking at in the garden to a word. We then take that word and, with words, identify the condition we find on the plant, its possible causes, and then find pictures of the possible causes which we can then relate back to our own plants. The Handbook does that well.
Weeds
There is only one weed control that is stupid or worse and that is the use of herbicides. It is stupid to spray poison around the food you will eat or on the soil in which that food is growing. It is stupid to spray poison on the lawn where it will be tracked into your house or your children will play in it. It is stupid to spray it on sidewalks or driveways where it will wash into streams to poison the life there. May the people who advertise that garbage as being benign rot in hell. I frankly don't know how they can sleep at night.
Records
Now is the best time to start planning for next year's garden. Not just because there is no time better than the present but because this year's successes and failures are fresh in your mind. Perhaps you will remember all of the thoughts you had while gardening this year when it comes time to draw up next year's plot, order seeds, start seedlings, fertilize, begin working the soil. If so, you have a much better memory than I.
Catalogues I
I have had a running disagreement with Harris Seeds over their use of fungicides. The fungicides they put on their seeds are unwelcome in my garden. I have written to them to express my desire that they make untreated seeds available. They usually write back that I shouldn't be concerned about the seed treatment as it is such a small thing. The amount of chemical that would reach my garden that way probably is a small thing but the amount that is manufactured and put into our environment needlessly is not small. I like to smell and handle my seeds but not when they are coated with chemicals. Some years they have carried untreated seeds and then I get careless and find myself with treated seeds in a subsequent year. This year they are offering untreated seeds for their most popular varieties and they are clearly marked.
Catalogues II
Since one of the joys of leafing through seed catalogues is looking at beautiful pictures of vegetables and flowers one needs a catalogue with same. For that Burpee is my first choice. Looking at those beautiful deep red tomatoes does more to raise my desire for a tomato than anything I ever see in a supermarket. I can almost feel the sun on my back, the firm roundness of the tomato in my hand and that special smell that tomato plants give off when disturbed. Is there anything more beautiful than an egg plant reflecting light from its purple-black shiny skin? Wouldn't you like to dive into that slice of watermelon consuming it until the rind was brushing against your ears and watermelon dripped from your chin?
Keep Catalogues
If you buy seeds from a catalogue, the chances are you are either buying favorite varieties you have grown before or you have been influenced by the description in the catalogue. If the latter, keep the catalogue handy to remind yourself why you chose the varieties.
Ugly
Boy, my garden looks ugly today. It is probably, to the eyes of most people, an ugly garden in winter. Today it is covered with a couple of inches of slush. The corn stalks are most prominent sticking up the tallest though not at full height. They are broken off at mid stem or bent in varying directions. We didn't harvest all the corn this year. Planted too much. What we didn't harvest was left on the stalk for the birds. The jays fed on it for quite a while. If there were any insects in the stalks, I hope birds have found them as well.
Erosion
The first measure to take against erosion is to plant rows across the slope, not up and down. This will help keep water from running. Three inches of rain in thirty hours or so will soak all but the most porous soil and when that happens to tilled soil the water that accumulates on the surface will find a way to flow downhill.
Leaching
The rest of the stuff in the bag in natural fertilizer is organic material that is food for soil microorganisms. In the chemical bag it is inert ingredients. The organic material and the microorganisms do not leach out of the soil nor are they very likely to be carried away by runoff though some organic matter may float away. The microorganisms keep right on breaking down organic matter into soluble nutrients. That is the beauty of organic fertilizers. The advocates of chemical fertilizers talk about how much more potent their fertilizer is and how less has to be spread. They will also tell you about side dressing—adding fertilizer during the growing season. Organic fertilizers can be added during the growing season, too, but if you have a good organic soil going, I can't see any reason to do it.
Spring
Spring is always a little bit difficult for me. The garden doesn't look like it will ever get started. That is because of the way I fertilize. Not because I am organic because there are a lot of different ways to fertilize without using synthetically produced chemicals. I know one farmer whose barn is set up with drains which drain all the cow urine into a holding tank. He dips it out and side dresses his garden plants with this rich, highly soluble fertilizer.
Planting Dates
There are several things involved, the temperature at which the seeds germinate, the hardiness of the plants, the temperature in which the plants are happiest and the length of time it takes for the plants to mature. Peas, spinach and lettuce like to grow in cool weather and so will generally produce better if planted early. Their seeds will germinate in a soil temperature of 45 degrees. That is why we try to plant them as early as possible which is defined as as soon as the soil is dry enough to be worked.
Succession Planting
Succession planting is a way to get double your money's worth out of your garden space. There is cabbage planted in the space where the spinach was this spring and carrots where the early lettuce grew. Barbara planted kale in the space occupied by the early peas. I took the rest of the pea vines to the compost pile yesterday and took down the fence they grew on. Today I'll plant lettuce in that space. I'll also throw in some radishes. This will be the third planting of radishes. If I think of it, I will plant some more in mid to late August. Radishes are about the only veggie that will reach maturity between August and the first frost.
Newspapers
Mulch can serve several purposes in the garden: weed control, moisture retention, temperature modification, soil texture improvement and plant nutrient. My favorite mulch is grass clippings because they do all of the things listed plus they are easy to spread, easy to turn into the soil if desired later and they look good. Hay, leaves, straw, plastic, newspapers, pine needles and bark are also all reasonable mulch materials. I listed them pretty much in my order of preference for a vegetable garden.
Flowers
Last year my wife, Barbara, changed the complexion of one of her gardens because, well here is a quote from her garden diary: "Columbine is punking out. Whole area between house and sidewalk has a mind of its own. This season I'm letting it do what it wants. Lots of Black Eyed Susans, Daisies, grape vine, Queen Anne's lace, vetch. In '97 I should move any astilbe that manages to survive." The area was beautiful and lower maintenance than her other plots. The plot already had some ferns that she transplanted from the wild and she thinks the grape vine came with that transplanting.
Midday Sun
"Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out In The Mid-day Sun." So wrote Noel Coward in a song. That comes to mind as sweat pours down my neck while I work in the garden in the mid-day sun. I am of English decent so I guess the song title doesn't need to be changed but there is a reason for my madness. I don't remember who wrote the song "In the cool, cool of the evening tell 'em I'll be there," but black flies and mosquitoes were certainly singing me that tune yesterday evening as I tried to get in a little gardening. Their time of day is also the cool of the morning. They are no fools. They hunker down during the heat of day.
Animals
A neighbor stopped by last week to ask if I knew a herd of deer crossed the road coming out of my garden every morning about 2 AM when he was getting home from work. I said yes, they had been trampling my garden. After a bit of thought I asked how recently he had seen them. Just last night, half a dozen of them.  That was news because there haven't been any fresh tracks in the garden since I put up the electric fence.
Carrots
If you are looking out your window in March at whatever the weather is, it is snowing outside my window as I'm writing this, and wishing you could eat a fresh carrot from the garden right now; read on. We finished our last carrots this week. There were more but they were too limp to be much fun. However, we could still be eating fresh carrots until it was time to dig the first parsnips if I had prepared to do same.
Onions
Someone told me of onions rotting in the ground because it was too cold. Not true. You could plant onion sets in the fall just before the soil froze and they would get going at just the right time the next year. In fact, that is the absolute best way to plant another member of the family, garlic.
Peas
We have been planting one of two varieties of regular peas for over twenty years. After comparing varieties for several years we decided that Lincoln and Green Arrow are the sweetest peas, grow nicely and are fairly easy to harvest. Which we plant is determined by price and availability. We jump around between seed companies. Each company tries to get you to buy all your seeds from them by giving volume discounts and by charging for shipping and handling. It is more expensive to order from several different companies but different companies have different varieties. To beat the system we usually buy most of our seeds from one company one year and another the next. Most seeds can be saved for several years so we will enough of a seed that is exclusive with one company to last until we feel like ordering from them again.
Radishes
I like to mix radish seed with the carrot seed when I plant carrots. The radish seed helps me space the smaller carrot seed better in the row so there is not so much thinning necessary. The radish seedlings pop out of the ground in just three or four days. Their baby leaves are broad and it is easy to see them which marks the row for me. This is important for my next job which is to cultivate the row in ten days. Without the radish seedlings showing me where I planted cultivation would be very difficult.
Spinach
Finally I got around to thinking about what might make the plant unhappy. It likes cold weather so that wasn't it. The ground is certainly not dry in the spring. It had to be fertility but everything else in the garden did well. I fertilize the garden a year in advance with mulch and other low nutrient organic materials and rely on soil microorganisms to convert the organic matter to fertilizer. The soil life pretty much comes to a frozen halt during the winter. What if the microorganisms didn't get to work soon enough to provide sufficient nitrogen for the young spinach? This year I fertilized the spinach patch with blood meal which is high in soluble nitrogen. It looks the best it has in many years.
Tomatoes
The earliest tomato I am planting this year is Glacier which is supposed to produce in 56 days. It is a small tomato and as early as sub-arctics which I have planted before. Sold by Fedco Seeds (perhaps the only source) Fedco says "Glacier's rich tomato flavor relegates the insipid sub-arctics to the compost pile. It is also far superior to the highly touted Siberian tomato..."
Harvest Frustration
This time of year can be difficult for a gardener. How can that be? No planting. Weeding is not necessary unless you are trying to keep some weeds from going to seed. Sure, harvesting can be a lot of work for a farmer but for a gardener? Let me relate a conversation between my wife and I that occurred at lunch today.
Cold
Fortunately soil temperature changes fairly rapidly unlike water temperature which is much slower. But this kind of weather may really raise hell on the crops we want to plant in a week or two. I planted corn May 21 last year and I have planted it even earlier. The rule for planting corn is that it is comfortable to walk in the garden in bare feet. Corn is critical for gardeners who do not like to use chemicals. If the corn seed doesn't germinate quickly, soil microorganisms will eat it. We say the seed rotted. I think that is something we all need to be aware of this year unless the temperatures get dramatically warmer and don't drop back into a sustained state of cold and clamminess again. The optimum range for corn to germinate is 60 to 95 degrees but it will germinate at 50 degrees.
Fickle Frost
The frost has been toying with me this year. Arriving home from Common Ground Country Fair after dark September 21st I hurried to the garden to throw sheets and other covering over the tomatoes, eggplant and my cucumber experiment. It was crystal clear and the time I usually get my first frost. It didn't come.
Frost
Owen Grumbling called to see if I thought there would be a frost. "Yes, I think so. But what do I know? I had a light frost a week ago and I thought there would be a heavy frost two nights ago and brought in a bushel of green tomatoes, the basil and the last of the summer squash, eggplant and peppers."
Frost Out
Snow and rain Saturday night and yet I am still out in the garden Sunday, April 13. Will the ground be ready to be worked so I can plant the peas by April 15 as is usually the case? To test the soil to see if it is ready to be worked take a handful and squeeze it into a ball. Then hold the ball of soil between a finger and thumb and squeeze. If the ball falls apart, the soil is ready to work. My soil just barely passed the test this morning. I made two passes on a 25 foot row with the spading fork and will go back an do some more this afternoon. The soil is sticking to the fork a little but not enough to make the job difficult. When I turn a forkful and hit it it breaks apart nicely. I would not use a tiller on soil this moist, however. The tiller with its less gentle action would leave clots of soil and it has a compacting effect.
Stew
Proper storage for the potatoes, carrots and rutabaga is near but not below freezing with high humidity. Our cellar was perfect before I put a furnace in there. It has a dirt floor which is always moist. I can hear Wayne and Naomi who service my furnace exclaiming "Moist!!!" You see, there is a little ditch meandering through the cellar to a little settling pond. Overflow from the pond exits the basement through a drainage pipe. There is no water running in the ditch now but there is for most of the year. That keeps the humidity in the cellar pretty high.
 
Gardening for Independence
Read the forward and bios of Mort's book.

 

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