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An organic garden starts with the soil. It is essential to have a good organic soil and to obtain that, you feed the soil, which in turn feeds the plan, which will then feed you. The ultimate goal of an organic gardener is to have healthy, fertile, soil with good structure and lots of nutrients in it.
Where and how are you going to get this type of soil in a new garden filled with weeds and grasses? You cannot use pesticides or chemical weed-killers to clear your garden patch, so what are you going to do?
There are two methods.
- Mark out a garden patch and then clear it of all the weeds by digging it over.
- Dig deep enough to get out the roots and break up the soil in the process. This will allow better drainage.
- Once the patch is weed and root free, dig in as much organic compost and manure as you can.
- Cover the area you want to make your garden in with a thick layer of newspaper, old carpet or any heavy material which will keep out the light.
- Leave the patch untouched for a period 6-12 months after which time all the grasses and weeds should have died. Any weeds left over can be pulled or dug out.
- Dig in as much organic compost or manure as you can. Diarise to do this chore annually to keep your soil healthy and strong.
The best organic compost you can use in your organic garden is manufactured quite naturally by earthworms. Compost made by the worms is balanced and enhances the health and welfare of the plants you feed it to.
To get the best results in your organic garden it is necessary to know what type of soil you have in your garden. There is a simple test you can do to find out your soil type.
Clay based soil – Pick up a handful of damp soil, give it a good squeeze and then gently open your hand to see the shape produced. If the squeezed soil looks like a tight ball and slides in your hand when you try to break it up you have clay soil. It is normally quite fertile but is quite hard work when starting your garden as it can get waterlogged or become quite hard if allowed to dry out. To sort out the problem just add fine grit or course sand together with your organic compost, rotted manure or straw.
Sandy soil – When performing the hand test above, soil that does not form a ball and breaks up quickly is mainly sandy soil. It does not retain water, and because of this the nutrients in it are lost when the water washes through it. To sort out the problem of water retention, add lots of organic compost as well as well-rotted horse or farmyard manure. Don’t use new manure as it will burn the plants. Mushroom compost can also be used on sandy soils.
Loamy soil – If the soil forms a loose clump when doing the hand test above and holds together after being squeezed but then breaks apart fairly easily when rubbed you have loamy soil. This is the type of soil you are looking for in your garden. Good organic soil will have worms, the lack of which means the soil is waterlogged. Sandy soil has fewer worms which tend to be small and wiry while lots of fat worms show that the soil is healthy and loamy. To maintain this type of soil just add organic matter by digging it in and top-dressing it. Now step back and watch the worms come marching down the garden path to help you with your organic gardening.
Things to do in your organic garden
- Use only organically grown seeds and plants.
- Encourage natural predators of the pests you find in your garden.
- If your garden is big enough get a duck to keep down the snail population for you.
- Set up rainwater tanks to collect rainwater to use on your organic garden. It is purer and softer than mains water and costs nothing.
Things not to do
- Do not use herbicides and pesticides to control weeds and pests.
- Do not use snail and slug pellets. By using them you poison the natural enemies of the snails.
- Do not use wooden fences treated with pesticides.
This week’s eco tip is courtesy of Geoff Fairman at www.gardensgalore.co.za