Organic gardening is gardening in an eco-friendly manner so as to enhance the production and health of the plants - as well as improve the garden soil's texture and structure - without using synthethic fertilizers and pesticides. It's all about working in harmony with nature. Gardening organically means viewing the garden as a small part of entire the natural system. So here, the concept of organic horticulture extends beyond just growing plants and encompasses other aspects as well - like landscape, soil, water supply, wildlife, insects and micro-organisms. The Organic gardener attempts to transform a garden - employing natural methods - into a mini ecosystem that nurtures and nourishes all its flora and fauna. In an organic gardening system, the resources that are used get replenished. An organic garden requires lesser maintenance than a conventional one.
Organic Gardening Essentials
(1) Soil management
An age-old tenet in gardening says "Feed the soil and the soil will feed the plants". Maintaining a healthy fertile soil is the key to effective organic gardening. Ideally, a garden's soil test can help reveal its pH and nutrient levels, and organic soil amendments can be added accordingly.
Health and fertility of the soil can be built by adding organic matter to it in the form of compost, mulch or cover crops.
Composting involves forming a heap of wetted plant waste from gardens and kitchens - like grass clippings, fallen leaves and vegetable scraps - and the materials to decompose into humus naturally. Compost helps enrich the soil. It cleans up contaminated soil and provides protection against pest and plant diseases. A compost pile should have a carbon to nitrogen (C/N) ratio of 30:1 - where carbon comes from ingredients like dry leaves or straw and nitrogen from green leaves and animal manure.
Mulch is a layer of material - usually organic - spread on top of the soil. It helps conserve moisture, improve fertility, minimize erosion and compaction, reduce weed growth and maintain a uniform soil temperature. Materials that may be used as mulch include leaves, grass clippings, straw, kitchen scrap, shredded bark, sawdust, shells, woodchips, shredded newspaper, cardboard and wool.
Cover crops - or "green manure" - are plants grown in vacant spaces during the off-season of certain garden plants, that are allowed to be assimilated into the soil after growth. Apart from adding organic matter to the soil, they help retain the fertility of the soil, reduce mineral leaching, prevent growth of weeds, protect against erosion, increase soil's porosity and slows down surface runoff during rainfall.
Use of synthetic fertilizers can spoil the soil by changing pH levels, distorting the microbial system and causing toxic chemicals - arsenic / cadmium / uranium - to accumulate. So if additional fertilizers are needed - besides compost and mulch - they should be of the organic type. Derived from naturally occurring substances - plant waste, animal byproducts and mineral rock - organic fertilizers help improve the structure of the soil and release natural nutrients into it. They also help improve the the soil's water retention capacity, prevent erosion, reduce crusting and increase tilth. However, unlike their synthetic counterparts, their NPK ratio - proportion of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium - is unequal. Organic fertilizers release the nutrients very slowly, and the micro-organisms in the soil break them down into the form that the plants can use up.
(2) Lawn care and Watering
A general rule of thumb to follow in garden maintenance is to mow more often and water less frequently. As a thick covering of grass leaves no room for weeds to grow, it pays to spread grass seeds over an existing lawn. Watering should be done in the early hours of the day, which helps prevent fungal disease and reduces evaporation loss. The grass should be cut high and sharp and the grass clippings should be left in the lawn to decompose - adding organic matter to the soil. Preferably drip irrigation method should be used to allow deep penetration of moisture in the soil. The lawn, if infrequently watered, can actually make the grass more drought-tolerant.
(3) Selecting proper plants
Plants that are adapted to local climatic conditions need lesser attention and have greater tolerance to adverse conditions. Even the type of grass grown in the lawn should be chosen according to the climate. Moreover, the plants should be placed in appropriate locations depending on the amount of sunlight, shade or water they need.
(4) Natural control of pests / weeds / diseases
A fundamental principle of organic gardening philosophy is to refrain from using synthetic pesticides. This is fairly challenging as certain pests and diseases simply cannot be controlled organically ! Pesticides, if used, should be organic - i.e. derived from natural sources. Organic pesticides normally available in the market can be applied to plants directly, and they eliminate garden pests by distorting their life cycles. But as they decompose easily, they have to be applied more frequently.
Bacillus thuringiensis (or "Bt") is a non-pathogenic bacterium widely used in organic farming may be applied to leaves and soil topically. Being species specific, it does not affect the beneficial creatures of the garden.
Plant-based pesticides include teas of oxalic acid (made from leaves of rhubarb / raspberry) and nightshade (made from leaves of tomato / potato), garlic spray and citrus oil. Another very popular and effective pesticide is neem oil - but it should be used with caution as its strong odour may even repel beneficial insects like bees !
Mineral-based pesticides like diatomaceous earth, though effective, should only be applied to areas out of reach of children and pets.
Other pest and disease control methods include crop rotation, maintaining proper sanitation and periodically identifying and removing infected plants. Biological control - where some beneficial insects and small animals that prey on the pests are deliberately allowed to thrive - can also be tried. While buying saplings from the nursery, diesease-resistant varieties should be chosen. Planting early in the season can help avert some of the insect-related problem as insects increase in population as the season progresses.
Soil solarization can help remove some insects, weed seeds, nematodes and many fungal / bacterial pathogens. The process involves keeping the soil covered with a transparent plastic / tarp for a period of 8-12 weeks - or, in cooler climates, for the entire summer season. Having removed all dead plants or crop residues from the soil, it should be turned, raked smooth and watered till saturation. A clear tarp sheet (1-4 mm thick) should be spread over the soil with edges secured by rocks. Sunlight, passing through the plastic, heats up the soil eliminating some of the pests, weeds and diseases in the process.
Tips : Organic Gardening for Beginners
Showcase : Tabletop TUTORSTM from Eco-Mentor.com
"Do you know what "organic" really means from a farming standpoint, or which farming practices are truly sustainable? Or maybe you've wondered what's at the root of GMOs and seed diversity? Have you heard about the plight of the bumblebees and gone looking for things you can do to help? Ecologically-minded farming principles are at the heart of all these issues. The way our food is raised, from vegetables to honey, to everything else we eat has a huge role in the health and longevity of our environment, as well as ourselves! In this poster series, you'll learn the difference between conventionally grown crops and organic crops, including the dangers associated with genetically engineered/GMO crops and the sustainability and benefits of organic farming. You'll also discover permaculture, a truly big-picture approach to sustainable farming and living. You'll also find information on seed saving and the importance of biodiversity, as well as information on pollinators and their crucial role in our food system. "
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Grow your own Food
Gardening is more than just growing flowers. Growing food plants (vegetables/fruits) organically can be rewarding from the point of view of both health and finance. But then it's necessary to have a suitable space for a vegetable garden. For proper vegetable growth, the chosen site for gardening should have atleast 6 hours of direct sunlight. The site should also have an accessible water supply and proper drainage facility.
Points that should be taken into account while planning a vegetable garden include - size of garden; what to plant; when to plant and harvest; and how to seggregate different types of plants so that they don't interfere with each other's growth. As fertilizing, watering, care and general maintenance requirements vary from plant to plant it is necessary to maintain proper record of everything important. The plants can be grouped according to their seasonality and height - long-season / short-season, warm-season / cool-season, tall-growing / short.
While small gardens can be watered manually, larger ones need to have a proper irrigation system in place - like overhead sprinkler or trickle-type (drip/ soaker hose) systems.
The soil should be treated and maintained as per organic gardening methods. For best results, the soil should be turned to a depth of 10 -12 inches and organic matter should be added to it - the amount depends on the weather and soil type.
To get optimum yield from a vegetable garden, practices like successive cropping (planting the same vegetable multiple times on the same land within the same growing season) and crop rotation ( planting different vegetables every year on the same land) can be tried.
Plants should preferably be grown in grounds to allow adequate space for roots to develop.
However, growing plants in containers can give a lot of freedom and flexibility to a gardener. Primarily, there is no geographical barrier to container gardenig since a plant can be shifted to where it receives the most suitable lighting conditions - it can even be moved indoors during unfavourable seasons. Plants with unique characteristics - like ones growing in wetlands - can be grown in containers, using the appropriate growing medium and /or amendments. It provides a gardening opportunity for people with little or no outdoor space to set up a proper garden. A container can be placed at just about any space receiving some fresh air and sunlight - window sill, deck, patio, balcony, stairway, rooftop or a vertical wall. Portability makes container-based flower plants suitable for decoration or display at any site.
However, containers do have certain limitations. They can hold only a limited amount of soil and the soil temperature is comparatively higher than in the ground. Moreover, they dry out very fast.
Containers of different makes are available in the markets - clay(glazed/unglazed), ceramic, fibreglass, resin, wood, metal, stoneware and lightweight plastic. A container garden needs to be watered frequently, fertilized occasionally and inspected periodically for insects and diseases.
Green roof is a layer of vegetative growth on a rooftop. It can be as simple as a hardy groundcover to as elaborate as a beautifully designed rooftop garden.
In urban environments it can be set up on a wide range of buildings, from industrial establishments to private residences. A flat roof building can be retrofitted with rooftop garden depending on its capacity to bear the weight of one. Apart from plants and growing medium, a green roof includes components like a drainage system, a filtering cloth, a root barrier and a waterproof membrane.
A green roof helps in conservation of energy and water by providing resistance to solar radiation and reducing the rate and volume of rain run off. Acting as an insulator for a building, it can help reduce energy (airconditioning) needs. The rooftop vegetation can help reduce heat, remove air pollutants, filter rain water and absorb greenhouse gas emissions. A green roof can thus improve air and water quality and lower heat stress.
Besides the aesthetic appeal, a rooftop garden can be a source of local food production, a habitat for native wildlife, and a recreational spot. Collectively, rooftop gardens in a city or town can help mitigate the urban heat island effect. Although installing green roofs is more expensive than conventional rooftops, it has greater longevity.