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Organic gardening simply means gardening with methods as close to nature's own as possible to encourage the living soil to be most productive. While organic gardening is not complicated, it does require dedication and a willingness to learn. The rewards are well worth the effort. You'll be harvesting pesticide-free fruits, vegetables, and flowers while living in a safer environment.
The practice of organic gardening has two basic components. The first is soil building using naturally occurring nutrients. The second component consists of managing pests, diseases, and weeds through natural controls.
The type of soil in your garden and the types of plants you plan to grow will determine the methods you use to build soil fertility. Always test soil pH (whether it is acidic, neutral, or alkaline) before adding nutrients. Soil is made more alkaline by adding dolomite, crushed limestone, or wood ashes. If your soil is too alkaline, you can nuetralize it or make it more acidic with peat moss, pelitized sulfur, or decayed pine needles. Consult a pH preference chart to determmine the pH requirements of the plants you intend to grow. For example, broccoli, celery, cabbage, and onions prefer neutral to alkaline soil, while radishes, raspberries, potatoes, and peanuts prefer acidic soil.
Your soil will be predominantly either sandy, loamy, or clayey. If you have sandy or clay soil in your garden, you will need to add amendments to improve the soil texture. This is necessary to allow for the retention of adequate moisture and nutrients in sandy soil and to provide proper drainage in clay soil. The very best organic soil amendment is compost from your own compost bin, if available. Others include rock phosphate, greensand (which contains potash), well rotted manure, and well rotted hardwood sawdust. In addition to improving soil texture, these amendments also provide nutrients (fertilizers) for your plants. There are many kinds of organic fertilizers, from kelp and fish meal to earth worm castings and bat guano. Some organic fertilizers have high nitrogen levels and low amounts of phosphorus. Others are more balanced. Base your choice of fertilizers on the needs of the plants in your garden.
Organic gardeners use a variety of methods to control insect pests. It is very important to learn to distinguish pests from beneficial insects. If you can not identify a ladybird beetle (or ladybug) and a twelve-spotted cucumber beetle, buy an insect guide. A good example of insect management using an organic method is a Japanese beetle trap placed upwind 50 to 100 feet from a garden. Other methods to control pests include floating row covers to protect young plants, releasing lacewings and mantids as predator insects, using repellent plants such as marigolds, and spraying fruit trees with dormant oils. The most effective controls for your garden will be determined by the types of pests, the plants being grown, and the season. Consult a reliable reference.
Finally, all organic gardeners use mulch to control weeds, regulate soil moisture and temperature, and add nutrients to the soil. Use the best organic mulch available in your area, whether it's peanut hulls or shredded leaves (except maple). And happy gardening!