Organic Gardening

Bald Mountain Press: The most important step you can take to prevent pests and disease in your garden is to make your soil healthy. Feed your soil organisms! Improve soil organically with these organic soil building techniques, tools, and books.

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Healthy Plants Grown in Healthy Soil Are More Pest, Disease, and Drought Resistant
by Scott Supak

Organic gardener and organic gardening author Mort Mather tries to remember what he planted there last year....You enjoy fresh grown organic vegetables almost every day. You let your kids roll around in the organic lawn without worry. You hardly ever have to weed anything, or spray anything, or pull up diseased or fungus ridden plants. Your garden is an ecosystem in balance, full of soil organisms like worms. Beneficial insects and bees are doing all the dirty work, of which there just isn't much, because your plants are so healthy! You spend more time reading organic gardening books than you do gardening! You are a lazy, organic gardener! We salute you! -- Mort Mather

A mulching mower is the most important organic gardening tool you can use on your lawn. It mulches the grass clippings so you can leave them right where they're needed: on the lawn! Grass clippings are mostly nitrogen and water, exactly what your lawn needs.

So why take it away? When mulched, they disappear quickly (it is not an unsightly mess as many think). When your soil gets healthy and full of worms and other soil organisms that are hungry, the clippings will be devoured and turned into fertilizer! Besides, bagging those clippings is so much work!

Follow this organic gardening logic as far as it goes...

Once your organic lawn is healthy, you can bag those grass clippings every other time you mow (following the only cut 1/3 of the blade rule as mentioned on our lawns page). They are great for compost piles, where they should be mixed half and half with leaves or other dry material (straw, composted or aged manures, shredded newspaper) and kitchen waste. 

The web is full of advice on composting, and we have great books about composting here. In the fall, put the bag on the mulching mower and mow the leaves! This is great stuff for your compost pile.

Then there's the lazy organic gardener's way...

The older I get, the more I realize how right our resident organic gardening expert Mort Mather is. I've taken his advice and added my own experience to come up with a surefire way to improve your soil and keep it healthy. My method is very similar to Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza. Assume you're starting with a piece of parched land that you want to turn into an organic garden.

  • Get the soil tested, just in case there's some gross imbalance that needs to addressed.
  • Cut down every weed, rake, and throw it all away (it's full of weed seeds and possibly diseases and fungi). Water. Leave. 
  • Come back in a week. Rake. Notice the millions of baby weeds you're killing. You can compost them, or just leave them there. Water. Leave.
  • Come back in a week. Rake. Notice the thousands of baby weeds you're killing. Water. Leave.
  • Come back in a week. Rake. Notice the hundreds of baby weeds you're killing. Now the fun begins.
    • Loosen the top 6 inches to a foot of soil with a pitchfork. If you're really lazy, don't. 
    • Add anything suggested by the soil test. If your soil is extremely sandy, add some clay, and vice versa. Sprinkle some bone or blood meal. Dig in some seaweed sprinkled with a little (very little) wood ash, lime, and borax.
    • Cover all this with at least 6 inches of organic compost. If you can't make it, buy it or have it trucked in. If you can't do either, double the thickness of the layers mentioned next and plant nothing this year, or green manures only. It's very important that green manures be turned under BEFORE they go to seed, or they become weeds. Once turned, do the layers again before winter. In the spring, just after planting, use a liquid compost or manure tea.
    • Layer the area with at least three inches of horse, steer, or composted chicken manure (6 inches is better). On top of that layer add at least three inches grass clippings. If you want, you can mix mulched leaves with the clippings, or you can just layer them next. Then, at least three inches of straw (cheap, partially rotten bales may be had from the same place as horse manure). Water. Leave.
  • Come back in a day or two. Plant. Just dig holes right through the layers. Mix compost with the soil at the bottom of the planting hole. Water with manure tea. Have a plan for a crop rotation, but try to stick with legumes the first year. They affix nitrogen to the soil.
  • Water every third day for a good long time. Drip systems are best, as tap water in most places is full of chlorine and other chemicals that damage the leaves of your plants. Deep waterings will make the roots grow deeper looking for water. This makes the plants even healthier. The soil acts like a sponge and holds the water for a longer time.
  • You have fed them. They will come. Millions of microscopic organisms will help the worms and other creatures break down the organic matter into nature's perfect fertilizer. Organic gardening depends on these creatures to break down the organic matter into useable plant nutrients. While chemical fertilizers provide only the big three (NKP, nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous), these organisms produce castings that provide a whole host of nutrients plants need, like vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients.
  • Mulch. Add more straw, bark, or even wood chips. There is some debate about wood chips using nitrogen as they decompose, so add a layer of grass clippings under them, just to be safe. Mulch extra thick around the bases of your plants, but be careful not to bury the stalks. Mulch helps hold the water in. If you live in a very wet area, with poor drainage, and you have a slug or snail problem, try mulching with those spiky balls from sweet gum trees.
  • This fall, remove any plants with diseases or pests and destroy (do not compost) them. Do the whole layering process again to cover your garden in a nice, warm, winter blanket. Weeds shouldn't be a problem now except for blow-ins, which can be removed by hand.
  • In the spring, plant and mulch again. In the fall, layer again. If you need the exercise, loosen it all up with a pitchfork, but you don't have to.
  • Repeat this process every year, and have your soil retested in three years or so. You now have an organic garden!

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