I receive a lot of problem questions at this time in the season from people who have decided to garden organically. They subscribed to the magazines, did all of the reading, surfed the web but; their plants aren’t as big as they used to be, there aren’t as many flowers or fruit on the plants, insects, white flies, rust, mold, fungus. What is going on?
I applaud anyone who has the “Think globally, act locally” philosophy; and you cannot get more local than your backyard. Gardening organically however is more than just an attitude adjustment. Our yards are individual little eco-systems. We have theAmazonRain Forest, theSaharaDesert, theGrand Canyon, and our backyard; all eco-systems.
Just as you can follow your Mother-in-Law’s recipe, and never make the sauce as good as she can; you can share seeds and plants with your neighbor and have noticeable differences in the final products. It doesn’t make you a better or worse gardener, but it does say something about your yard.
In the perfect organic eco-system; the soil is full of organic matter, wildlife is plentiful, good bugs are keeping the bad bugs in check, and the plants are so healthy they can shake off a little mold and mildew attack. The perfect eco-system does not happen overnight, well, it doesn’t happen at all; but you can get close, it just takes longer than you think to achieve it.
Manufactured fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, bagging mowers, power trimmers, sprinkler systems; all are tools that are offered to make our gardening life easier. When we use these tools in our yard however, we artificially change the eco-system; and that is the root cause (no pun intended) of all of the problems people have when they go organic. It takes time for the yard to adjust.
Pesticides are engineered to target specific bugs and insects while not harming others, but it doesn’t always work that way; and even if they did once you eliminate the bad bug food supply the good bugs migrate to your neighbor’s yard where there is food.
Fertilizer, in combination with organic matter incorporated into the soil is an excellent way to provide a steady supply of nutrients to the plants. Fertilizer by itself creates a feast or famine situation. When first applied the plants grow great but as the nutrients are depleted the plants draw from the soil eventually eliminating its ability to support plant growth. In the old days that was referred to as the field being “Cropped out”.
So, how quickly your yard gets to the almost perfect eco-system is dependent on your previous gardening practices. As you work toward making the yard more self-sustaining, plants will be stressed by insects and disease and they will underperform. The important thing is to not panic.
If you have to use a pesticide or fungicide keep it local to the problem, don’t spray the entire yard. Incorporate organic matter into the planting beds as often as possible, you can never add enough. Start and maintain a compost pile, which is where the micro-organisms learn about diversity and getting along.
It may take a couple of years, but you will begin to notice that worms do exist in your soil, plants perform well on their own, and the problems; well, what problems?
Got a question? Send me an e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org