Organic Gardening Is The Counter-Part Of Natural Hygiene
Organic gardening, or planned growing without poisons, is the best way to produce flavorful food that will build healthy bodies. The procedures in organic gardening utilize the concept of the cycle of plant life in a virgin forest—birth, life, death, and return to the earth for decomposition and enrichment of the soil for the ensuing cycles. The preservation of the ecological system in your garden can be a big factor in preserving the eco system in your own body.
Organic gardening is the counterpart of Natural Hygiene—it is a system of growing healthy plants in cooperation with nature by utilizing only naturally occurring materials for improving the soil and fertilizing, and for combating insect or disease problems.
They both, organic gardening and Natural Hygiene, work the same way—if you provide the body with the best possible conditions for optimal health, you can avoid disease; if you provide your garden with the best possible conditions for growing healthy plants, if you work with nature instead of against it, if you maintainthe balance of nature instead of destroying it, you can anticipate success. You will harvest a bountiful crop of food of excellent flavor, high nutritional value, and free of residues of chemical fertilizers and poison sprays.
In the 1980s there is increasing interest in organic gardening because of its impact in the solution of environmental problems, and the growing awareness of the important role of organic food in the improvement of health.
What Exactly Is Organically-Grown Food?
Organic gardening has been traditional in European countries for many years, but, by the 1940s, farmers and gardeners in the United States had gotten farther and farther away from earlier growing methods, and chemicalization had begun to prevail. About that time, a significant organic-gardening movement was pioneered by J. I. Rodale, of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, founder of Organic Gardening and Farming magazine. Since then, many of his followers have produced fruits and vegetables of extraordinary quality.
J.I. Rodale worked on many public projects in opposition to pesticides and drug cartels, made a significant contribution to agricultural sciences, and helped establish “organic” as a household word.
The Rodale organization formulated a scientifically-sound definition of organically-grown food which is today accepted as bona fide by most leaders of the natural, organic movement, and by officials of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The following is the official definition: Organically-grown food is food grown without pesticides; grown without artificial fertilizers; grown in soil whose humus content is increased with applications of natural mineral fertilizers; and has not been treated with preservatives, hormones, antibiotics, etc.
Many advocates of organic gardening will tell you that the first step is to have your soil analyzed to determine what elements are missing, and to determine its pH—that is, the degree of its acidity (sourness) or alkalinity (sweetness), because the pH has a relationship to the ability of the soil to support the growth of various plants. (pH is a chemical symbol denoting the concentration of hydrogen ions per liter.) You might decide to bypass this step.
On a scale of 0 to 14, pH values from 0 to 7 indicate acidity; values from 7 to 14 indicate alkalinity; pH 7, the value of pure water, is regarded as neutral. Soil in most low rainfall areas tend to be alkaline; soil in high rainfall areas are usually somewhat acid.
The continual addition of organic material to the soil generally provides the necessary elements for plant nutrition, and tends to stabilize the pH, with the result that vegetables with a variety of pH preferences can be grown together successfully. Most vegetables prefer soils that are neutral or slightly acid (pH 6.5). See chart of pH preferences in supplementary section of this lesson.
A slightly-acid soil is best for availability of nutrients. I) the soil is too acid, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus levels decrease, and manganese and aluminum may be too available, even toxic. The pH of a very acid soil can be raised by adding dolomite lime. In alkaline soils over pH 7.5, iron, copper, manganese, zinc, and phosphates may become less available. Organic matter is the best remedy for such very alkaline soils. Humus or organic matter tends to neutralize either overly-acid or overly-alkaline soils.
For simple pH readings, you can test your soil with a kit. If serious problems persist, professional soil analysis can point out sources of trouble. Most gardeners discover what will grow well in their soil by observation and trial-and-error.
Basic Steps To Establish A Successful Garden
There are many ways to go about producing a living soil, containing all the known and unknown minerals, and billions of microorganisms. If the soil in your garden has been misused by pollution with chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, or by depletion of its organic matter without recycling anything back into the soil, it will take more heroic measures, and a longer period of time, to bring the system back into balance.
A virgin soil may have also been damaged. It may have been “robbed” of its topsoil by builders and graders, or decreased in value by mixture with the subsoil. The surface soil, or topsoil, usually is the top eight to fourteen inches of the soil, and is darker and more fertile than the subsoil.
In any event, a new garden hasn’t had time to build up a deep friable (readily crumbled) soil full of nutrients and microorganisms. But you can still have a successful first year crop, if you follow a few simple steps. There are three basic steps for growing plants successfully:
- Produce a living soil, light and crumbly, granular, water retentive, and containing all the substances necessary to plant life. It must contain organic matter, living organisms, the proper soil “atmosphere,” moisture, and nutrients for growth of plants and microorganisms.
There are three basic soil types: clay, sand, and loam. Clay takes in water slowly, drainage is very low, and aeration is limited. Plant roots have a difficult time penetrating clay soil. Gypsum and lime can improve aeration and drainage of clay soils. Organic matter will improve air circulation (compost, ground bark, sawdust, leaf mold, peat moss).
Sandy soils have the opposite problem—it lets in plenty of oxygen, and roots pass through easily. It has good drainage—too good!—the water and water soluble nutrients pass through too quickly. Add a finely-textured, spongy, organic material that will hold water and nutrients. Peat moss is such a material, and it has the advantage of slow decomposition, but it contains practically no nutrients.
(Also, large amounts of peat moss may increase the acidity of the soil.) Compost breaks down faster, but supplies nutrients to the soil. Wood products and hulls are not much benefit to sandy soils. If you obtain clay to add to your sandy soil, this will help to create a balance.
The addition of these and other organic materials will eventually change the sandy soil into good garden loam, containing a balance of different sizes of particles, and a good supply of humus (a dark sticky substance created by decomposition of organic materials). This loam will be loaded with valuable nutrients and capable of producing healthy vigorous food plants. Loam is the ideal soil. Few gardeners are blessed with a naturally-loamy soil, but it can be gradually built almost anywhere.
- Keep the soil in your vegetable garden and under your fruit trees covered at all times with approximately six inches of organic mulch. The mulch for gardens and vines should range in height from three to six inches, fruit trees from six to nine inches.
- Supply adequate moisture. A deep watering once or twice a week is far preferable to a light watering every day. Light rain showers of less than one-half inch should not interrupt the regular water schedule. Shallow water encourages the roots to turn upwards towards the moisture and may kill the plants.
Deep watering, encourages a deep, strong root system. Do your watering in the early morning or late evening. Do not overwater your garden or trees—it is not necessary to water every day.
Because it is often high in sodium, artificially-softened water should not be used. The leaf-tips of many plants turn brown from artificially-fluoridated water, or from water with a high natural fluorine content.
Clean out the grass and weeds in your garden area and do some digging to loosen the earth. Dig down about a foot or so, but avoid turning under the topsoil. You will probably have to do little or no digging in subsequent years, if you grow organically, with a permanent mulch, because the soil will be easy to work.
Sprinkle some organic compost thinly over the soil (or dig it in, if you wish), and cover with six inches of mulch. This should be done at least three or four weeks before the first planting. Tuck all your table scraps (preferably raw) in between the layers of mulch; this is called sheet composting.
Start to do this immediately, and then continue this sheet composting after the garden is planted and growing. (Banana refuse is a particularly rich source of nutrients, and loved by earthworms.) These table scraps never become garbage.
There is no odor or animal nuisance, if the scraps are hidden in the mulch—not too deep, say, an inch or two. As time passes, the organic matter in the soil will convert to humus, and biological activity of bacteria and earthworms will develop under the mulch.
Gardening The Magic Way—With Mulch, Compost, Sea Weed Spray
You can mulch with anything that will decay, if it doesn’t contain toxic or poisonous substances. Some materials are better than others. A very good mulch material, easy to obtain (at no cost) is grass clippings, your own or your neighbors’. If possible, spread them out to dry, before using them to mulch your garden.
If you do use green clippings, don’t apply them directly to the soil, as this can rob the soil of nitrogen. Spread green clippings in a thin layer on top of previously-applied “cured” mulch; this will allow them to dry. If applied in a thick layer, they may mat down, become slimy, build up heat, and develop odors.
Piled up or bagged green grass clippings will get hot, but, when spread on the ground, they don’t even get hot enough to hurt earthworms. But don’t put fresh or green mulch up against tender young plants, as enough heat may build up to scald the plant. Of course, trees should never be mulched right up to the trunks, even if the mulch is “cured”—at least ten inches from the trunk for citrus trees and several inches for other fruit trees.
You should also use all the leaves you can get. There are many other mulch materials: hay, straw, wood chips, sawdust, cottonseed hulls, peanut shells, corn cobs, seaweed and sea grasses, ashes, and some others—almost anything that will decompose without being too messy.
Dried grass clippings mixed with leaves are often the most practical. This is clean and easy to handle, and enhances the appearance of your garden and trees. If you have oak leaves in your mulch, it will repel slugs, snails, cutworms, and June bug grubs. Alfalfa grass is an excellent mulch—it contains a valuable amount of nitrogen.
Maintaining a six-inch organic mulch at all times conserves moisture, and helps to produce the conditions for building a living soil and a top-quality garden. The mulch also creates conditions which discourage nematodes (microscopic worms which produce root knot, causing deterioration or death of plants). A permanent mulch also controls erosion, regulates soil temperature, and eliminates the necessity for spading, raking, cultivation, and weeding.
Cover crops will be unnecessary, you will need less compost, and fewer insect controls. The mulch encourages earthworms, which help to aerate the soil and enrich it with their castings. The soil will never get hard or muddy, the vegetables will be clean and pleasant to harvest.
Mulch makes “sheet composting” easy and practical—because you can tuck your table scraps in between the layers of mulch and there will be no eyesores, odors or other nuisance. It is not necessary to remove the mulch in the spring “so the ground will warm up” or in the winter when frost threatens. Because some weeds grow in cool weather, keep the ground well mulched all winter.
Mulch is indeed the gardener’s “magic carpet,” relieving him of many tedious tasks, and aborting a large percentage of incipient problems. If you make no other changes in your gardening methods, at least don’t fail to take advantage of this easy “green thumb” idea.
Organic compost is a fertilizing mixture of various organic substances, which have been mingled and decomposed. Many people build their own compost in piles, pits or bins, and there are various methods of doing this, but it does take some space, lime and work, and you and your neighbors might also have to put up with some odors and flies, although there are ways to avoid both by careful planning and attention. If there are many citrus peels in the compost, there will be noticeably pleasant odor. Don’t ever put in wet garbage without a covering layer.
One of the simplest method of building a compost pile is described in Down to Earth Vegetable Gardening Down South by Bullard and Cheek. Start with an eight-inch layer of grass, leaves and kitchen wastes (mingled or in any order); next a two inch layer of manure or other nitrogen source. Cover with a one-inch layer of earth, and sprinkle generously with water. Continue this three-layer series, building to a maximum height of five feet.
If shredded materials are used, the compost will be ready in a few weeks, and no turning of the pile will be necessary. Occasional light sprinklings of dolomite lime will add nutrients (magnesium and calcium) and create a better balance, Greensand is another excellent soil conditioner.
It comes from deposits laid down in what was once the ocean, and contains potash, magnesium, iron, silica and other trace minerals. Some other organic-fertilizing materials are rock potash, straw, alfalfa, hay, tobacco stems, peanut shells, and soybean meal. It is much better to include these fertilizing materials in a balanced organic compost than to try to use them individually.
Seaweed is a rich source of nutrients. If you can get seaweed or sea grass, use them. Some people prefer to wash the seaweed before using, or weather for three months, to reduce or eliminate the salt transfer, but these processes may also leach out other valuable nutrients.
If seaweed is not available, you can obtain a nutritional seaweed spray. One of these products is called “Maxicrop Liquid Seaweed (Kelp Extract).” It is a soil activator and conditioner, and its use results in a crop of higher yield and better quality. It helps to produce stronger, healthier plants with greater resistance to insects, disease, and adverse climatic conditions. The effect is cumulative and the soil improves with each application.
Soil Requirements For A Successful Organic Garden
A balanced organic compost should contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash (potassium). As a rule, calcium, sulfur and magnesium, as well as trace elements like zinc, boron, manganese, molybdenum, copper, and chlorine (and many other trace minerals, known and unknown) will be available in your soil for plant nutrition, if you are constantly adding a variety of organic materials to your soil.
Nitrogen is important in the production of protein; leafy, green vegetables, especially, need adequate supplies of nitrogen. Too little nitrogen will be evidenced by pale green leaves, progressing to yellowing and dropping of older leaves, and stunting of growth. Too much nitrogen will produce an excess of greenery and little or no fruiting, and the plants may be spindly and weak, and susceptible to disease.
Nitrogen is supplied by blood meal, castor pomace, soybean meal, cottonseed meal, fish meal, or feathers, or bone meal, or straw, alfalfa hay, or manure. If you use bloodmeal or manure, use it very sparingly.
Nitrogen is also supplied to the soil by growing legumes, which capture nitrogen from the air, enriching the soil in which they grown, as well as adjoining areas. (The air is almost 80% nitrogen.) Earthworms will also help supply nitrogen to the soil. See the article “Nitrogen Fixation” in this lesson.
Planet Natural carries “Alaska Fish Emulsion,” an excellent source of nitrogen. Do not add concentrated nitrogen to plants when fruits are ripening. To encourage ripening, add either a balanced compost, or phosphorus or potash.
Alfalfa: The Best Source of Nitrogen (Plus Growth Stimulation)
In 1975, Dr. Stanley K. Ries, a horticulturist at Michigan State University, found that alfalfa treated plots produced increases far above what the nitrogen in the alfalfa could account for.
In the laboratory, they isolated the active agent—triacontanol, a fatty acid alcohol which occurs naturally in the plant’s leaves. Triacontanol is not a fertilizer, but a growth stimulating substance.
The Rodale Organic Gardening Research Center tested the use of “greenchop” alfalfa in extremely small counts. Both Ries and the Rodale Center reported (The Best Gardening Ideas for the ’80s) that the less alfalfa they applied, the better the yield—but, with no alfalfa, they got the lowest yield. The amount used which provided the best yield works out to about one cup of fresh chopped alfalfa for 100 square feet of garden. Simply spread it over the plot, work it in, and plant your vegetable seeds. Use mulch as usual.
The Rodale book says that the methods and rates of application are still in the experimental stage. The main advantage of alfalfa is as a nitrogen-fixing legume. Fresh-cut alfalfa contains more nitrogen than any manure. Use alfalfa in the garden as a soil-enricher to be rotated through the garden, or as a patch to produce a high-nitrogen material for mulch.
Phosphorus is necessary to the production of plant sugars. The symptoms of phosphorus deficiency are similar to those of nitrogen deficiency, but the leaves may be dull green with purple tints. Some phosphorus sources are rock phosphate, bone meal, granite dust, natural limestone, gypsum, and fish scraps.
Potassium (potash) is essential to the life processes of plants. It is helpful in hastening development and maturity. Symptoms of potassium deficiency are slow growth and leaves with mottled yellow tips and edges, and scorched-appearing edges on older leaves. Seaweed or seaweed spray provides generous amounts of potassium. Some other potash sources are wood ashes, granite dust, potash rock, citrus rinds, kelp, greensand, and bone meal.
Enough calcium will usually be present in the soil, but bone meal will supply some additional calcium especially needed for grapes, celery, and sometimes tomatoes.
Like nitrogen, sulfur is a protein provider, and will usually be present in adequate amounts in the organic garden.
Magnesium is a vital nutrient, important in the leaves of living plants. It is necessary for the process of photo-synthesis—through which plants manufacture their own food and fuel—utilizing energy from the sun, carbon dioxide from the air, and water and nutrients from the soil.
Usually there is enough magnesium present in the soil of an organic garden. However, occasionally, an acid-loving plant will indicate a deficiency, evidenced by yellowing leaves, which may be corrected by using dolomitic limestone or raw phosphate rock.
Feed the Soil Which Feeds the Plant
See the list of compost materials, with percentages of nutrients, in the supplementary section of this lesson.
Organic compost—and the various nutrients of organic origin which may be added to the soil—do not overwhelm plants with a tremendous amount of one particular element, as can happen with chemicals. The chemicals attempt to feed the plant, whereas the organic fertilizers feed the soil which nourishes the plants.
This more natural way produces the best food, and makes it unnecessary to be preoccupied with exact ratios of various elements, such as the 6-6-6 chemical fertilizers (6% nitrogen, 6% phosphorus, 6% potash). Generally speaking, these nutrients from organic sources should be added in approximately equal amounts, but be particularly careful not to use too much nitrogen from animal sources (such as manure, blood meal, or dried blood). Your soil will make the best use of the organic fertilizers for the nutrition of your plants.
Sand Mueller, instructor in horticulture at Triton College in suburban Chicago, says that seven years ago he was operating a conventional greenhouse in New Mexico. He visited greenhouses all over the Southwest, all of which used agricultural chemicals. All of them had insect problems, and all of them used powerful poisons.
Mueller had read claims by organic gardeners to the effect that their healthy plants had little or no insect problems. He says, “I believed these assertions were preposterous, as did every horticulturist I knew.”
But he eventually decided to try the compost idea, and his insect and disease problems rapidly began to disappear. After he started to compost, he learned the law of survival of the fittest in the plant kingdom.
Mueller tells how, in 1936, a British agricultural scientist, Sir Albert Howard, grew half a field of alfalfa with artificial fertilizer and half with compost. His oxen devoured the compost-grown alfalfa first. Given a choice, animals will always select the organic food.
After building up the health of the oxen with the organic feeding, Howard deliberately exposed them to the hoof and mouth disease, but none of the oxen became ill. Dr. William Albrecht, professor of soil science at the University of Missouri, corroborated Howard’s findings.
In 1976, Mueller offered his flock of chickens the choice of commercial feed or grains he had grown in composted soil. He says, “With a cacophony of cackling and scratching, my hens asserted the truth of Howard’s claim.”
Mueller says, “The horticulture establishment has only one response to compost and that is ridicule. It is the response of ignorance. I do not believe that there exists anyone in the field of agriculture who has tried organic agriculture who now advocates chemical agriculture.”
Approximate Amounts Of Compost, Mulch And Water
Before planting vegetable seeds, put in fifteen pounds of compost per one-hundred feet of row. Even if the compost is put in immediately before planting, the compost will not burn the seeds as does chemical fertilizer. If possible, however, put the compost in at least a week or two beforehand.
After the seeds are planted, soak the ground every day until the seeds sprout, then every other day. Put in one inch of mulch when the seeds begin to sprout. Add more mulch as they grown taller. Put more compost between and around the plants when they begin to bloom, and again when fruiting.
When setting seedlings or plants, put in the compost, then cover the ground with one inch of mulch, and then set in the plants. Soak the ground every day for two or three days, preferably in the late afternoon, then every other day.
Planting Your Garden
Select the sunniest spot for your garden, but near a source of adequate water. Morning exposure to full sunlight is the most beneficial. If part of your garden is shaded, that is the place to put leaf crops. Avoid low wet areas.
A good size for a family garden is 200 to 600 square feet in area, but smaller ones will also produce a lot of vegetables if planted with small seeds such as lettuce and carrots. Plant seeds in rows that are six inches wide, with six inches between the rows. This pattern will result in a harvest of approximately four times as much as you would get from single rows. Leave a walk space of about 16 inches between each 18-inch unit.
Map the layout of your garden. To minimize shading, arrange low-growing vegetables along one side of the garden, medium-tall plants in the middle, and tall ones on the other side. Design your garden with companion planting and crop rotation in mind. (Details later.)
Plan to grow the vegetables you like to eat, and be sure to get seeds that are suitable for planting in your area. Don’t use seeds that have been treated or dipped in chemical solution. Look for the varieties that have been developed for resistance to disease.
Don’t use last year’s seeds—they seldom come up as well as fresh seeds. In most cases, it is not a good idea to save your own seeds. They often do not grow true to type, and the amount of labor spent collecting, drying, and storing these seeds will probably make them twice as expensive as buying new seeds.
If you soak your seeds for a few hours, or overnight, or even twenty-four hours, before planting, germination will be easier and more certain. Soak in plain lukewarm water, or, better yet, in a 1% solution of seaweed spray. If you sometimes don’t take the time to soak your seeds, try using the 1% seaweed solution as a seed dip.
Don’t sow the seeds too thickly, and be sure to cover them with soil to a depth of about four times their diameter. Firm the soil by patting or walking on it. Then stay off the planting area. The seeds must be kept moist until the seedlings appear.
For a steady supply of vegetables, make successive plantings, or plant several varieties of the same vegetables but with different maturity dates.
You might decide to use some started plants, especially if you are a little late in starting your garden. When thinning and transplanting plants, handle them carefully, allow as much earth as possible to cling to their roots, and give them a good watering after transplanting. Do your transplanting after the sun has gone down.
Be sure to plan for as many fruit trees as possible, limited only by the available space and your ability to care for them. If you harvest more fruit than you can use, you will have a good marketable crop, especially when organically grown. Offer your surplus fruit (at a fair price) to your friends, neighbors, health food stores, and supermarkets. If you have a large crop, it could even be advertised with good results.
Give your fruit trees what they need, but don’t feel you must be doing something for them constantly. Mostly, you should leave them “intelligently alone”—the same advice as Hygienists give for the care of the human body. The trees can work out most of their problems by themselves, if you do not complicate the situation by the use of poisons.
Don’t overlook grapes and berries! Be sure to select the proper varieties for your area. And don’t forget to include some nut trees. More details about fruit and nut trees will be given in the next lesson: “The Pluses in Orcharding: How to Get Started.”
Insects: Friends And Foes
An organic gardener does not try to destroy the entire insect population in his garden. Not only is this the epitome of futility, but it is neither necessary nor advisable. There will be some insect damage, no matter what is done. Ignore the early signs, and don’t feel you must do something about it, unless your crop is threatened. Eventually, you will learn to recognize your friends in the insect population: the ladybug, the praying mantis, beneficial beetles, flies, wasps, lacewing flies, fireflies, dragonflies, and spiders. They are predator insects whose food is the scavenger insects, preventing them from increasing to dangerous levels.
The first step to insect control is, of course, the building of a living soil, containing all the substances necessary to produce healthy, disease-resistant and insect-resistant plants. Next, be sure to provide adequate moisture for your garden. Your permanent mulch will help to conserve the moisture, and will create conditions which discourage many insect pests.
An important step in insect control is companion pluming. Wild plants almost always grow in mixed communities, where each type of plant contributes to the support of others growing nearby.
Even when plant species are mixed with no planned basis, insect problems are reduced. The more of the same plant you have growing together, the more insects are attracted, as they get the clear signals from the larger planting. Interplanting and aromatic herbs confuse their sensory apparatus.
Companion plants influence, complement or supplement each other, and grow in harmony together. Mixed plantings tend to create and maintain a natural balance between beneficial and destructive organisms.
Members of the same plant families, which are subject to the same pests and diseases, should be separated—like tomatoes and potatoes; cucumbers, melons, and squash; and cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.
Legumes capture nitrogen from the air, feed it to adjoining plants, and enrich the soil in which they grow. Beans, corn, and cucumbers like to grow together. Or plant beans with eggplant and rosemary. Soybeans, especially, deter chinch bugs and Japanese beetles. Plant peas, leaf lettuce, strawberries and cucumbers with carrots, radishes and chives; turnips with peas; onions and garlic with most vegetables except legumes. Beets and onions are compatible; so are leeks and celery. Plant cabbage, broccoli or Brussels sprouts with beets, kohlrabi, and cucumbers.
Tomatoes are good with onions, parsley, carrots, and marigolds, but do not like kohlrabi. Bush beans like beets and potatoes. The strong scent of marigold seems to act as a deterrent to insects throughout the garden, and their roots secrete a substance that kills nematodes. Be sure to plant some around tomatoes and beans.
Some plants need a lot of light and are excellent companions to those that need partial shade. Lettuce likes cabbage and beets, but can also be put under tall plants that provide some shade. Deep rooting plants bring up the minerals from the subsoil, enriching the top layer, and they aerate the soil for plants with a shallow root system.
Plant nasturtiums in your vegetable garden near broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and cucumbers, and between fruit trees, to repel aphids. Chives and onions will also repel aphids. Garlic will prevent bacteria damage and damage from peach borers. Garlic and onions will deter most pests, but don’t plant any near beans or peas. Most strong smelling plants are useful in repelling pests.
There is a long list of companion plants, vegetable preferences and insect repellent plants and herbs. You will find such a list in the article section.
Companion planting, and the use of insect repellent plants, will not prevent insect damage, but will reduce it considerably; it will be a profitable investment.
Crop rotation can help to prevent and control perpetuation of many problems, such as depletion of particular trace elements in specific areas of your garden, and perpetuating insect problems or diseases that can survive in the soil from one year to the next. Implementation of the available information about crop rotation can contribute to a successful garden.
If you are maintaining a permanent mulch, crop rotation may not be absolutely necessary, but it is still an excellent idea, and it does not entail a great deal of extra trouble to relocate plantings each year. If you would rather not bother rotating, but will maintain a permanent mulch and keep building the soil, try doing without the crop rotation; you may find it will not be necessary in your garden. However, I believe rotation to be a good precautionary measure at least in the second and third years of your garden, even if you decide to abandon this procedure after your soil has been built up.
For those who do want to take advantage of crop rotation, here are some suggestions:
Avoid growing the same vegetables (or crops of the same family) in the same location more than once every three years. Plants subject to the same problems should not follow each other in the same bed. Don’t use successive plantings of lettuce, cabbage, or celery in the same soil. They are subject to the same fungus attacks.
Cucurbits (cucumbers, squashes, pumpkins, gourds, melons) should not be grown near any other
member of the gourd family, and there should be a lapse of at least three years between plantings of any of these in a specific area in order to reduce the risk of the fungus disease anthracnose.
Heavy feeders should be followed by light feeders. Leaf crops consume large amounts of nitrogen from the soil, root crops use up the potash, so don’t plant turnips after carrots, nor lettuce in the same bed, year after year.
Legumes (peas, beans) are excellent to precede or follow potatoes, but not to precede sweet potatoes. Members of the cabbage family, or lettuce, are excellent choices to follow legumes.
A rotation chart for vegetables to follow legumes (Organic Gardening, March 1974) suggested cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens, lettuce, and parsley, as first choices; corn, leeks, shallots, radishes, turnips, onions, and Irish potatoes as second choices; tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and okra as third choices; and suggested that the following vegetables not be used behind legumes: carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, pumpkins, cucumbers, squash. The varieties of legumes upon which the experiments were based were: Crowder, Purple Hull, Silver Skin, and English Peas; and Bush Lima, Pole Lima, Bunch Snap, and Pole Snap Beans.
Leaf vegetables or cucumbers that have had lots of compost may precede or follow potatoes. Potatoes should never follow tomatoes or vice versa. Don’t plant peppers where cucumbers have grown within the last year.
Be sure to grow a variety of vegetables and don’t be afraid to experiment. Failures with some will be offset by successes with others, just as in any other method of gardening.
Crop rotation is so little trouble that it seems a shame to overlook this method of increasing the potential of your garden.
Biological and Logical Insect Controls
Start out with the idea that some insect controls will be necessary, especially in the initial period before your soil has been built up. You may want to try biological controls like praying mantis egg cases, Trichodrama wasp eggs, or imported lady bugs—success with these varies. The problem with these imported insects is that they may soon migrate to another location that suits them better.
Another very successful biological insect control is the presence of birds, toads, lizards, etc. Provide trees, bird-houses, bird baths and bird feeders, and shallow pans of water on the ground for the toads and lizards, who will also appreciate shrubbery and mulch.
Sanitation and good housekeeping in your garden will prevent a lot of problems. Carefully remove and destroy all diseased plants and wash your hands thoroughly before handling other plants. Remove all dropped fruit and garden trash. Watchfulness and handpicking is an old-fashioned, but effective, method of controlling some insects.
Cardboard collars around the stems of your plants help to ward off cutworms. Aluminum foil collars around young seedlings keep off fleas, reflect the rays of the sun and give the plant more warmth.
Other effective insect controls are wood ashes, black pepper, lime, or rock phosphate dust mixed with water, and a homemade spray or drench of garlic, onions, hot red peppers (and a little soap to make it stick). A good recipe is one cup hot peppers, three whole garlic bulbs, three medium onions. Blend with one pint water (or a little more). Strain, add enough water to make one gallon, and apply to both under and on top of leaves. It is easier to use this in a sprinkling can, as it may clog the sprayer, but you may have to use a spray for the undersides of the leaves.
Beer (or a solution of baking yeast, or any other ferment) in a shallow dish attracts slugs—and drowns them. Wet areas are their hiding places. Rye flour or clay, dusted on plants when the morning dew is fresh, will trap soft-bodied insects and the sunshine will bake them.
Decayed insect sprays or drenches are useful. Insects are repelled by the scent of dead bodies of their own species. A spray or drench of soapsuds is effective against aphids, mites, and plant lice. Rinse with clear water within a few minutes.
Some experiments made in 1979 at the University of California, showed that soap solutions can be used effectively to combat a number of plant-feeding insects. Among the soaps which were included in the experiments were “Shaklee’s Basic H” and “Fels Naphtha Laundry Bar” soap. The least damage to plants was achieved when the liquid formulations were used at 1% to 2% (7 teaspoons to 5 tablespoons to the gallon); and bar soaps or powders at 1.5 to 2 ounces per gallon of water.
More concentrated solutions provided more effective control, but also increased the potential for plant damage. Of course, soap solutions do not have any residual activity, and repeated applications are necessary. However, even when applied only once or twice a year, beneficial results are achieved. It is best to use soap, not detergent. Three tablespoons of “Ivory Flakes” to a gallon of tepid water is safe and effective.
Insecticides, Repellents, Fungicides
If you must resort to insecticides for your garden and trees, some which will not poison your food are available. A dormant oil spray, obtainable at nurseries, in a 3% miscible solution, may be used during the dormant period on certain fruit trees, and also, in a weaker dilution, as a spring and summer spray, to control certain insects. This is an effective control for many sucking and chewing insects, including aphids, thrips, scale insects, mites, red spiders, white flies, and mealy bugs. The eggs of codling moths, oriental fruit moths, leaf rollers, and cankerworms are also destroyed.
A one-time application of “Milky Disease Spore Powder” (called “milky” because it causes an abnormal white coloring in the insect) will prevent damage by Japanese beetles on your property and your neighbor’s, since it spreads underground. It is supposed to be harmless to everything except the Japanese beetle grub.
An excellent multipurpose control of caterpillars and chewing insects is the product “Thuricide” (another spore-type pest disease, called Bacillus Thuringiensis) which is extremely efficient for use in the vegetable garden on vines and fruit trees, and kills more than 100 species of harmful insects. The instructions say this product may be used up to the day of harvest. To be effective, the leaves of the plants must be ingested by the insects, as “Thuricide” is a stomach poison for them. “Dipel” is another manufacturer’s name for the same formulation.
Most diseases exhibit specific symptoms, so it is not too difficult to differentiate from insect damage. It is not difficult to identify insect damage caused by sucking insects like aphids or thrips, and chewing insects like caterpillars.
Sucking insects cause leaves to curl and become spotted, or they may turn yellowish, stippled white, or gray. These insects and their brownish eggs or excrement can often be seen on the underside of the leaves.
Aphids cause curling or cupped leaves, or round or conical protrusions. Thrips leave a black deposit of tiny specks, or whitish streaks.
Caterpillars, grasshoppers, weevils, and flea beetles are some of the chewing insects which eat the leaves. Flea beetles make tiny round perforations; weevils produce angular holes, beetle larvae (grubs) skeletonize leaves, eating everything but the veins.
Red spider mites, which are so tiny they are practically invisible, deposit tiny tents of fine cobwebs on terminal leaves, and can be found (with a magnifying glass) on the underside of the leaves—under a strong magnifying glass in a good light, you may see tiny specks about the size of fine meal.
Cyclamen mites cause deformed leaves; leaf miners produce blotches or tunnels. Round or coned protrusions can be caused by either midges or gall wasps. Both nematodes and gall wasps can cause the partial or total collapse of a plant.
A useful product suitable for organic gardeners is “Neutral Copper” by Southern AG, a fungicide which, when used according to directions, will control many plant diseases, without poisoning your food. I have not found it necessary to use the neutral copper spray on any of our vegetables, but have used it on avocado trees, citrus trees, and some grape vines.
It should be used, sparingly, at the first signs of disease. It may also be used as a precautionary measure on avocados, mangos, citrus, and some varieties of grape vines (not necessary for muscadine grapes) to avoid infection from scab and antracnose and some other diseases. These plants are subject to such diseases (which may be averted through the occasional use of a fungicide).
The best time to apply neutral copper as a preventive of disease is just before new growth starts in the spring, and when two-thirds of the petals have fallen. It is not advisable to use a neutral copper spray in the fall on your citrus or other fruit, as its use at that time of the year may prevent the fruit from sweetening. If disease problems occur at this time of the year, just prune out the infected leaves and dead wood.
Some of the specific symptoms of plant diseases are:
- Brown circular spots on fruit, or dieback of twigs and loss of leaves about a foot from the tips (fungus).
- Rust—leaves look like they are covered with rusty powder (fungus).
- Fire blight—drying up of blossoms, blossom stems, or fruit (bacterium Erwinia amylovora).
- Dark brown spots in leaves with small pinpoint-like objects (fungus).
- Grayish-white leaf with brown margin (mildew).
- Discoloration of stem at ground level—slick and slimy (damping off).
- Leaves that show watersoaked areas within leaf (bacterial infection).
- Circular spots with definite color around the outside of the infected spot (fungus).
- Leaf gall (azaleas)—thick growth causing excessive cells (fungus).
- Mold on plants may be due to location in a cool, damp, sunless area.
One should use a little soap (not detergent) as a spreader-sticker for all sprays, so they will adhere to the plants, instead of running off. The products referred to above usually need to be used only rarely and sparingly. It doesn’t take long to learn to recognize insect damage or disease and to evaluate the necessity for controls. Most healthy plants, however, rarely need controls.
Tobacco stem mulch will repel aphids, flea beetles, and thrips, but should be used cautiously, if at all. Some plants, like tomatoes, don’t like tobacco; and the nicotine content of such a mulch may kill beneficial earthworms, insects, and organisms. Tobacco could also carry disease to some of your plants, especially potatoes, eggplants, tomatoes, or peppers. I don’t use tobacco stem mulch.
Black leaf— a nicotine spray—may be used as an emergency treatment for aphids, thrips, or other small insects, but use it only if you must. It is subject to many of the objections listed above for tobacco mulch. I don’t use “Black Leaf.”
In extreme cases for emergency use only for a severe infestation, it might be necessary to use one of the insecticides made from rotenone, pyrethrum, ryania, or quassia, which are plant extractives. “Sevin” (available at nurseries and garden supply stores) is such an insecticide, and will control the bean leaf roller and the bean skeletonizer, and various other insects, but you ought to first try “Thuricide” for these problems.
The plant extractive insecticides, such as “Sevin,” should be discontinued completely as soon as moderate control has been attained. They are not completely hamless, but there will be no residue if you wait fourteen days before harvesting. I have never resorted to these insectides, and, of course, would never even consider the use of a more dangerous insecticides like “Malathion.”
If you would like acceleration in your recognition of insect damage, diseases, deficiencies, and problems in your garden, and want to study the subject, see pages 590-91 (deficiencies) and pages 340-51 (diseases) in Rodale’s How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits by the Organic Method and The Bug Book by John and Helen Philbrick.
Gil Whitton, Pinellas County (Florida) Agriculture, recommends Cynthia Westcott’sPlant Disease Handbook, which is available in libraries as a reference book. As Mr. Whitton says (St. Petersburg, Florida Independent, 3/6/75), “No one book or person can have all the answers.”
If you have problems with “raiders” (rabbits or other small animals), this can be very frustrating. The best solution is a fence to keep them out. See the article in this lesson, “Containing Inhibits Raiders.”
The Case Against Commercially-Grown Foods
Hazards of Chemical Fertilizers, Pesticides, Fungicides, Herbicides, Fumigants, etc.
The snowballing evidence against chemical pesticides culminated in Rachel Carson’s landmark book, Silent Spring, led to the ban in the United States of D.D.T., and restrictions on the use of other poisons on food crops.
On December 25, 1975, an article appeared in the St. Petersburg (Florida) Independent, entitled “Pesticides Can Kill People, Too.” Georgia Tasker, of the Knight Newspapers, wrote about the experience of Joan Cole with the insecticide “Sevin” (which is not supposed to be as bad as such insecticides as “Malathion”). She dusted a big tomato ring with “Sevin” on a dry day. A couple of days later, she decided to discard the plants altogether, and jerked them out on a windy day.
The next day she felt as though she were having a nervous breakdown. She couldn’t get up, she couldn’t think straight. Ms. Cole said, “I had really panicky feelings. My whole body sort of went into limbo or something.” The next day, when she felt a little better, she racked her brain, and then in dawned on her that she must have inhaled “all that damned stuff.”
The article continues, “Dr. John Davies, a pesticide expert at the University of Miami Medical School, has been analyzing the tissue of a Fort Walton Beach (Florida) woman who recently died. Initial autopsy tests indicate Mrs. R.J. Clark may have become fatally ill after inhaling too much nemagon, a pesticide used to control nematodes. “Helen Lund, another Miami gardener, has given up using pesticides altogether.
She was caring for the plants of vacationing friends and mixed some Malathion, used it, and decided to take the leftover mixture home. She drove home with it in the back seat of her car. By the time she reached her house, she was dizzy and sick to her stomach. She said, ‘I got to thinking this is going to kill the birds—and me.’
“So while the Environmental Protection Agency continues to crack down on dangerous pesticides, banning in July of this year chlordane and heptachlor except for very limited use, the possibilities of severe sickness and death are always present when using any pesticide.”
The World Health Organization has released figures disclosing almost 500,000 reported cases of pesticide poisoning in 1981. For every reported case, how many others do not report or even recognize the relationship of their ailments to pesticide exposure or ingestion?
As Hygienists, we are concerned about the hazards of ingesting chemical residues in our drinking water or in our food. How many thousands of workers are also exposed to the dangers involved in handling pesticides, or in growing or handling the crops?
The chemical cartels maintain that the risk is small compared to the benefits achieved. What benefits?
Modern insecticides are nonselective, killing or injuring beneficial insects and animals, and persisting in the environment, upsetting the ecological balance. Allchemical pesticides upset the eco balance so significantly that crop yields eventually diminish.
The National Audubon Society says, “Between 80 and 90 percent of pesticides used in homes and gardens do no good at all. More often, they do harm. These chemicals are a hazard to wildlife, pets, and humans. None of them are totally safe. And they often cause more problems than they solve.”
Chemical Fertilizers vs. Organic Methods
Chemical fertilizers may initially increase the abundance of crops, but the eventual result of failing to replace the exhausted elements of the soil is depletion.
Tests made in the early 1960s on the Rodale crops in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, indicated a decided superiority in nutritional value of organically-grown food over the commercial varieties. Crops were grown side by side, half organically and half commercially (using chemical fertilizers and insecticides). Otherwise, the conditions were identical.
The crops were then tested to see how they compared in nutritional value. Six nutrients were measured, and the reports indicate the superiority in nutritional value of organically-grown food. The following comparisons between the organically-grown and the commercially-cultivated wheat and oats gives the higher percentages of these six nutrients in the organically-grown crops:
|Nutrients||Organically-Grown Oats||Organically-Grown Wheat|
|Protein||28% higher||16% higher|
|Vitamin B1||92% higher||108% higher|
|Vitamin B2||171% higher||131% higher|
|Niacin||100% higher||63% higher|
|Calcium||25% higher||29% higher|
|Phosphorus||3% higher||1% higher|
But the best proof is when we taste and enjoy the better flavor of the food.
An article in the Palm Beach (Florida) Post, July 29, 1974, by Bryce Nelson, Chief of the Middle Western Bureau of the Los Angeles Times in Chicago, tells about organic farmers who increased their yields, increased the quality of their produce, and improved their own health and the health of their stock.
Most of them sold their products at regular prices on the open market. The organic farmers said their fertilizer cost was lower, they had to do less work to get as high or higher yields than chemical farmers, and they were happier.
In a 1976 study for the National Science Foundation, Dr. Barry Commoner determined that organic farming methods produce foods more economically, and of higher quality. The study, made with organic farmers in five states, showed that foods cost $16 an acre less to produce. (The claim is usually made that organic farming is more trouble and more expensive than chemical farming.)
More recently, Purdue University Agronomist Jerry Mannering reported evidence of the importance of organic matter to plants. The correct chemical and physical composition, of the soil, and the soil energy, can be maintained only by conservation and replacement of organic matter. Only organic matter can create and maintain in the water-holding and nutrient-holding capacity of soils.
No Differences? Use Supplements?
Numerous representatives of vested interests maintain that there is no difference in the .nutrient quality of safety between chemical food production and food produced organically.
Other vested interests maintain (and even exaggerate) the food deficiencies created by chemical food production, and offer a solution—vitamin and mineral supplements.
Hygienists must face these issues squarely, and determine how to resolve the contentions resulting from these claims. Synthetic fertilizers may initially help produce larger fruits and vegetables, but they are often lacking in taste and lower in nutritional value.
Vitamins and minerals, proteins and enzymes in foods that are produced organically have repeatedly been shown to be superior, qualitatively and quantitatively. And, inexorably, when the soil is depleted, exhausted by the use of chemical agriculture, what then?
In 1900, wheat in Kansas contained about 18% protein. Today Montana wheat (grown in virgin soil) also contains 18% protein. But Kansas wheat today contains only 11% protein, because the virgin soil is depleted and the farmers are using chemical fertilizers.
The late John Tobe, in The Provoker, November-December 1976, said, “The food processors and chemical corporations have arranged for various professors of great universities to go on the stump and make statements that there is no special value in organically-grown foods. Here I would like to tell you about some research that was conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Many foods grown in the United States were compared with their counterparts grown in Mexico, Central America and Latin America. It was found that many of the foods grown in the U.S. are lower in nutritional value than the same foods grown in Mexico, Central America, and Latin America, where chemical farming has not been established.” The caption of the article is “Sometimes It Pays To Be Blind.”
Many people acknowledge that commercially-grown food is deficient in nutritional value, and it is well known that organically-grown food is more abundant in trace elements, which are necessary to life. One example is the deficiency of copper, a necessary trace element, which is destroyed by chemicalization.
Too many people try to restore these deficiencies by augmenting their diets with food supplements (pills, powders, liquids) in the vain hope of supplying missing nutrients. It can’t be done! In the lesson about food supplements, you learned that these products are useless, and even damaging.
There are four methods of gardening:
- Natural—This method does not poison the soil, but does deplete it, especially of nitrogen, and its productivity gradually decreases.
- Chemical—This method increases the production the first and second years, at the cost of flavor and nutritional value (lower protein content and higher carbohydrate content) and destruction to the environment. The plants must rely on artificial chemicals to stimulate their growth, and, as time goes on, more and more chemicals are needed and problems increase. Insects mutate and develop resistant strains, the microorganisms and earthworms in the soil are killed by the chemicals, and the farmer or gardener develops neurological diseases from inhaling the sprays or absorption through the skin.
- Organic—This method replenishes the soil, and is the method described and advocated in this lesson, to produce a better-quality crop, without poisoning the food, the environment, or the gardener. The organic gardener uses only organic materials (organized living matter).
- Biodynamic—The term “biodynamic” refers to “working with the energies which create and maintain life.” This method of agriculture uses organic methods, including compost, but also uses herbal preparations to spray the plants and trees. The basic ingredient of the biodynamic spray is a specially-prepared colloidal clay compound. The spray flows into all small cracks and crevices of the plant and forms a protective film, to help in healing minor lesions, but does not interfere with the respiration of the plant.
The spray also contains very low percentages of such insecticides as ryania, rotenone, pyrethrum, and quassia, far below customary concentrations, because the spray is not intended as an eradicator. These insecticides are plant extractives, but are not completely harmless, as indicated previously. The recommendation is to wait fourteen days after spraying before harvesting.
The biodynamic spray is also available without the insecticides. The biodynamic spray is also said to enable the plants to derive certain nutrients from the atmosphere. This system was originally started by Rudolph Steiner, and developed by Dr. E. E. Pfeiffer. The biodynamic method is more sophisticated, more complicated, and more work than the organic methods described in this lesson. We tried biodynamic methods in Indiana, but found them more difficult and no more productive than simpler organic methods.
An amusing illustration of the difference between natural and organic methods is a story told by Dr. Alec Burton at American Natural Hygiene Society Conventions about a gentleman who came to Yorkshire, England, and took over an extremely dilapidated property. He did a great deal of work on this property, renovating it and getting it into a beautiful condition, and, eventually, people came from miles around to admire and appreciate his garden.
One day the local priest came to see it, and said, “What a beautiful garden you have!” The man said, “Yes, it’s been hard work, and I’ve done it all by myself.” “No,” said the priest, “with the help of the Lord.” The man said, “All right—with the help of the Lord, but you should have seen it when he was doing it by himself.”
There is quite a bit of information available for the organic gardener who warns to learn how to get maximum results. How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits by the Organic Method by J. I. Rodale and staff (mentioned previously) is an excellent comprehensive reference book, listing practically all varieties of food plants, with detailed planting instructions for each.
For those who want a few simple rules for growing food with a minimum of time and energy, moderate success can be anticipated by simply using organic methods, instead of chemicals; and mulching instead of cultivating and weeding.
No Space For A Garden?
If you live in an apartment or condominium and don’t have space for a regular garden, you can still grow some of your own food on your porch or patio. You can use boxes, barrels, or make a wall garden. Small plants like lettuce, squash, cucumbers, or strawberries need boxes only four to six inches high. Tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower, and cabbage need more space for their roots, and these boxes should be at least ten or twelve inches high.
Vine branching plants (cucumbers, squash, melons) can be trained to spread over the patio floor (concrete or whatever). They require little box space. Grapevines can be planted along a building wall or fence.
You can build a wall garden anywhere you have a little space. Annie Silvan describes a wall garden and how to build it. She says that it is like a large block or wall of soil with plants growing out of all sides. “You will need four one-by-six boards two feet long, four one-by-six boards five feet long and at least 14 two-by-two poles four feet long.” Make two bottomless boxes out of the one-by-sixes —a frame for the top and one for the bottom. Nail the two-by-twos to these frames, one foot apart.
It will look something like a cage with vertical bars. Leave the bottom and the top open, but line all sides (inside) with open mesh wire and then black plastic. Secure the mesh with wire. Place the wall in its permanent position, fill with soil, and water from the top so the soil will settle. Use tomatoes and root vegetables at the top; lettuce, strawberries, cabbage, cauliflower, or any leafy greens on the sides. Make little holes in the plastic to insert the plants. Water all around and on top.
Patio tomatoes (in pots) are easy to grow. Leaf structure is easy to grow. I once grew some in several large flower pots. You can grow sunflower seeds to the green leaf stage in flats by pressing unhulled seeds into the soil and keeping them moist. They are ready for harvesting in a week. Buckwheat, adzuki beans, lentils, mung beans, or any other seeds or beans can be grown the same way, and will produce a product which is superior nutritionally to seeds sprouted with only water, since they will have the benefit of the earth, sun and outside air.
When no other way is possible, sprout your seeds on your kitchen counter in jars or other containers. We use alfalfa sprouts almost daily. Alfalfa is known to contain trace minerals which may be lacking in other plants. The root system of field-grown alfalfa reaches down as deeply as fifteen feet into the subsoil, picking up minerals not present higher up, and these minerals are, of course, present in the seeds in the sprouts.
Do The Best You Can
Grow as much organic food as you possibly can. Seek out and share with other organic growers. Import organically-grown nuts, seeds, and dried fruits from other areas. Keep trying to produce or obtain fresh organically-grown produce.
For the rest (if any) some compromises may be necessary. Get the best-quality food obtainable, wash in plain water, peel waxed fruits and vegetables, and do the best you can. Try to obtain foods grown on different soils, in different parts of the country, to insure obtaining a variety of trace minerals which may have been damaged or destroyed in certain areas: If you eat most of your food uncooked, you will still attain a higher degree of health than conventional eaters.
Harvest Of Pleasure And Health
I believe there will be a few who will dispute the environmental improvements that will accrue because of the deemphasis on chemicals and poisons, advocated by the organic gardener. If you learn about, and implement, organic gardening methods, you will also find them practical, convenient, agreeable, and economical.
And there is so much personal satisfaction in the creation of living plants in cooperation with the forces of nature—you come to regard your plants and trees as children whom you love and foster, and who respond by giving you their fruits.
What is more rewarding and thrilling than seeing the first seedlings, or the blossoms, or the fruits ready to harvest? But, best of all, the food you harvest will be flavorful and delicious, bursting with the nutrients you have helped to supply; and clean and free of residues of chemical fertilizers and poison sprays.
The, only way to obtain a full complement of all the vitamins, minerals, enzymes, hormones, chlorophyll, carbohydrates, and other substances (known and unknown) in ideal combinations, is by eating the living food. Your harvest of organically-grown food will supply the needs of your body for optimal health.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it safe to mulch with grass clippings that have been treated with herbicides?
It would be best to find out from your neighbors whether they are using herbicides before using their grass clippings. If you see dandelions in the grass, that is a good sign. However, the most commonly-used herbicide, "2, 4D," is not absorbed by grasses in amounts great enough to affect vegetables. Don't use suspect clippings in the green state. Either compost them or put them aside for a couple of weeks. Soil microbes usually break down the chemical weed killer in a week or two. If you know when the spraying has occurred, and several rains and a couple of mowings have occurred since the spraying, the residue should be gone. Of course, grass clippings that have had no spray are the best.
Since sprouting in soil produces sprouts of higher nutritional value than sprouting with water only, what is the best kind of soil to use?
Seeds can be sprouted in soil, indoors or out. The sprouts will indeed be of higher nutritional value than the sprouts that are produced with the use of water only, especially if the soil is properly prepared. The soil should consist of one part fine compost, one part fine topsoil, and one part sand.
Is it best to wash the salt off of seaweed?
Organic Gardening magazine, March 1980, page 20, says that it really isn't necessary to wash the salt off of seaweed, as the amount of salt that might cling to the seaweed is minimal. Dig the fresh seaweed into the soil to avoid leaching out of nutrients that will occur if you allow it to heap up and decay. Organic Gardening says that seaweed is nutritionally similar to barnyard manure, except that it contains twice as much potassium. It is also high in iron and zinc, and contains some iodine.
What is "Diatomaceous Earth?"
It is composed of the fossilized shells of microscopic one-celled algae. It is a natural product, and kills insects mechanically. The shells break down into tiny, razor-sharp needles of silica, and the silica particles attack the wax coating that covers the insect. The insect gradually loses fluid and dies in about twelve hours. Diatamaceous earth is fine, dry dust, and is best applied when plants are wet, or it may be dissolved in water. In a five-gallon sprayer, place a teaspoon of liquid soap compound in a quart of warm water. Add one-fourth pound of diatomaceous earth, and top off with water. Keep solution agitated as you use it. Diatomaceous earth works against insects only when they are in their pupal, maggot, or grub stage. This substance can irritate your lungs, so wear a protective mask when using it. Don't use formulations which are mixed with pyrethrum and chemicals. If you can't find it locally, it can be ordered from Golden Harvest Organics.
What causes carrots to be bitter?
An insufficient or uneven supply of moisture or of nutrients will produce bitter carrots. Insects or disease can also cause bitterness. If you follow the instructions in this lesson, as to composting, mulching and watering, your carrots should be healthy and sweet.
Is it advisable to grow vegetables or trees over or near a septic tank?
Root vegetables and leafy crops can become contaminated if grown near a septic tank. The roots of trees can damage the drainage pipes. Shallow-rooted plants would be less of a problem, but there would still be some risk of infection from any food plants planted over or near a septic tank. It would be best to plant somewhere else.
Is soil-testing a foolproof method to determine the actual needs of the soil, or is one better off just feeding the soil with organic matter and thus building its fertility?
I grew many successful vegetable gardens without any soil testing. An article in the August 1982, Organic Gardening magazine ("Organic Discoveries," Jeff Cox, pp. 104-105) offers documentation of the fact that frequently these tests are relatively meaningless. Dr. William Liebhardt, Assistant Research Director at the Rodale Research Center, says that a reliable nitrogen soil test is just not available. Dr. Liebhardt sent the same soil to 69 major laboratories, and received analyses and fertilization recommendations that varied wildly. Measurements of organic matter varied almost as much as
the nitrogen recommendations. The 69 laboratories' measurements of phosphorus, potassium and soil pH also fluctuated widely. Cox's opinion is the same as mine. Feed the soil, and let the soil feed the plants. He spoke with Dr. Roger Pennock, soil scientist at Penn State University, about the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio. Dr. Pennock said, "The end product of organic matter decay—soil humus— tends toward a perfect carbon-nitrogen ratio of ten to one. At this level, and up to about fifteen to one, nitrogen will be released to the plants as they need it." Finished compost has the 10 to one ratio, and is the perfect balanced fertilizer.