Tips for Organic Home Gardens
Organic gardening requires a little extra care, but the results are well worth it; lush gardens, beautiful flowers, large, delicious fruits and vegetables and a healthier environment.
Select a spot that gets at least 4 hours of direct mid-day sunlight per day. Plants that bear edible fruit (Tomatoes, Broccoli, Peppers, Strawberries, etc.) need maximum sunlight. Seed packets and transplant label spikes usually give information about sunlight and planting dates. Generally speaking, vegetables with edible leaves (Lettuce, Spinach, Chard, Kale, and other leafy greens) do better with less sunlight and can even handle some shade.
For optimum plant health and productivity, choose a level spot that allows water to drain from the soil naturally. Avoid locations where water pools after a rain. If your yard lacks sufficient drainage, a raised bed can be a good solution.
Almost all garden soil requires an increase in organic matter. Mixing compost into the soil helps provide organic matter, beneficial microorganisms, and plant nutrients. Do NOT use un-composted manures as they will likely contain weed seeds, plant pathogens, and material toxic to plant roots. Also, it is important to not overuse compost. It should not exceed 1/3 of the volume of the soil mix down to a depth of 6 inches.
A good rule of thumb when purchasing compost is “if it stinks don’t buy it”. A lot of products in big box stores claim to be compost, but they are inferior products. Good quality compost smells like a great soil. If it smells like manure, ammonia, or smells sour (like stinky feet) it is junk. If you buy some that smells like this, take it back to the store and get your money back. It does not pay to try to buy the cheapest compost. You are likely to get what you pay for.
Vermi (Earthworm) Compost is an excellent compost product that has been mixed with earthworm castings. It contains special hormones and microbes that are excreted by the earthworms as they pass through a compost feedstock. It usually contains earthworm cocoons which will hatch into baby earthworms. (Click here for more information)
A drip system can be an effective water saving and time saving option that does not require a large investment. It can be programmed to water even when you are not there.
Morning is usually the best time to water. This way plants are hydrated before the heat of the day. If you are hand watering or using sprinklers, avoid getting water on the leaves during the heat of the day. Water drops can act like magnifying lenses and burn the leaves.
Do not overwater, there is a careful balance between enough water and too much. To judge how much to water, look at your plants in the heat of the day. If the plants look wilted or under stress, you are not applying enough water so increase your irrigation. If you ever see water standing for more than a half hour, you are likely applying too much water.
Seeds & Transpants
Great gardens come from the best seeds and the best transplants. Do not “skimp” on cost and buy inferior seeds and transplants. Use seeds from reputable sources such as Johnny’s Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com). These seeds come with high germination rates and good seedling vigor. Most seed packets will tell you how deep to plant the particular seed and what the seed spacing should be for that plant. Prepare the seedbed by digging the soil about 6 inches deep and break up clods to form a smooth seedbed. Add some compost and mix it well into the soil. Lay out the seed line using a string to keep the row straight. Use a pointed tool to make a planting groove the depth indicated on the seed packet. If there are no instructions for planting depth, a general rule is ½ to 1 inch deep. Cover the seed and gently firm the soil down on the seed.
Transplants should be purchased from local sources. When choosing transplants look for healthy plants that are not “leggy” (tall thin and weak looking), also pull some plants out of the tray and examine the plugs roots. They should be exposed on the sides of the plug and should look healthy and white. This means they are growing well and should transplant easily. If the roots are not visible in good quantity when you examine the root ball, it means the roots are weak. Dig the hole for the transplant a couple of inches deeper than the plug. Add about a handful of WISEarth 8-6-3 Organic pelletized fertilizer to the fill soil and mix well. Plant the plug so an inch or two of stem is covered with dirt. This will make the plant more stable. Don’t worry about injuring the transplant, the plant will send out roots from the stem and actually be healthier than when planted even with the surface.
Both Seeds and Transplants should be hand watered after planting. Be sure to wet the soil thoroughly, it is important to make sure the entire root area of the transplant is wet. It is a good idea to include Vitamin B1 in this watering. B1 is available at most nurseries and big box stores. Another good idea is to include WISEarth Stable Compost Tea (WISEarthOrganics.com) in this first watering. Use 2 cups per gallon of water. About 2 weeks later, do another hand watering using the Compost Tea at the same watering rate. (click here to learn more)
Only use a fertilizer that is certified 100% organic and carries a seal of approval from the USDA. WISEarth Organics All Purpose Fertilizer is approved for organic use by the Washington State Department of Agriculture under standards set forth by the USDA National Organic Program. The seal of the WSDA Organic Program is displayed on the label. Many fertilizers sold in nurseries and big box stores claim to be organic but do not display a seal of an Organic Certifying Agency. If a fertilizer does not carry a seal of approval from one of these agencies, it is not organic.
WISEarth Organics All Purpose Fertilizer is a unique organic product because it contains no manures and has three separate sources of Nitrogen (N). These three sources of Nitrogen have been chosen to give immediate Nitrogen availability along with a sustained release of Nitrogen over time. This feeds the plant for the entire crop cycle. The form of Phosphate used in WISEarth Organics is colloidal which means it is more readily available to the plant than conventional phosphate forms. The potassium used in WISEarth Organics is a potassium sulfate.
Organic fertilizers should always be mixed into the soil. This allows the fertilizer to moisten and become available to soil microbes and the plant itself. Fertilizer pellets that are on top of the ground will be of little use. It is best is add the fertilizer when forming the seedbed. For seeded crops, prepare a bed about a foot wide and work the soil to a depth of about 6 to 9 inches. Incorporate the fertilizer into the bed as it is being worked. Mix it into the soil thoroughly. Most crops need about about a handful of fertilizer every two feet of seed bed. For transplants, such as tomatoes and peppers, dig the hole for the transplant two to three inches deeper than the plug. Add a handful of fertilizer to the fill dirt and mix thoroughly before planting the transplant.
Slug & Snail Control
Snails and slugs hide in scraps of wood, cardboard, weeds, and debris. They hate to crawl over rough surfaces. To minimize damage in your garden, sprinkle diatomaceous earth (available at most nurseries for ant control) around the base of plants or down the seed line. This will help control the snails and slugs and keep ants and other crawling insects away from your plants.
If you continue to have slug and/or snail problems, go out at night with a flashlight and gloves. Dig around the plants and you will see the active slugs and snails. Once you find them, you can generally Just pick them up and dispose of them.