Whether you are a classic obsessive hobby-gardener who loves growing & talking about Rose varietals. Or you are a passionate (or pollution paranoid) green-finger who loves growing their own herbs and basic ingredients. Or, like me, the typical urban whose first defense against air pollution is to get as many plants in and around yourself as possible (I got almost every plant for every room mentioned in our room-to-room plant guide!). In this feature we tell you how to grow your organic garden – by taking care of your plants the clean as-pesticide-free-as-possible way! So we bring to you a special guest feature on organic garden by our guest experts eReplacementParts blog – a lifestyle blog that covers house and home projects, gardening, DIY, green living, and more. They work hard to provide expert information on a variety of topics through writers across the globe who have expertise in their fields. They bring all this expert opinion in easy-to-consume formats for all us time-crunched urbans.
Using as many techniques as possible to make your organic garden or yard is the healthiest way to protect the environment and the people around you. But how can you protect your Garden of Eden from insects and critters that would like to make it their dinner? How can you resist breaking out the big guns, such as synthetic pesticides? We organic gardeners have our ways.
The Problem with Synthetic Pesticides
The truth about synthetic pesticides is that they are very good at their jobs. In fact, they are too good, and that usually comes with a price. In our feature on how to eat pollution-free food we had explained to you how pesticide itself pollutes the food we consume (not just fruits & vegetables but even meat!) & had even given tips on how you can keep yourself safe from them. Synthetic chemicals (whether pesticides or herbicides) may seem to work faster initially. However, in the long run, you will find that they aren’t any more effective than organics and usually end up doing more harm than good. Pesticides don’t differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys. They kill everything, including pollinators and other beneficial insects. Especially the world-wide alarming decline on bee population is being attributed to pesticides. In addition, they don’t do any favors for the environment, wildlife, and our human bodies.
Constantly Improve Your Garden Soil
The first line of defense against garden pests is to improve your soil on a continual basis. Even the most fertile soil eventually becomes nutritionally depleted from hungry plants. Nutritionally depleted soil = nutritionally depleted (unhealthy) plants, and unhealthy plants are a magnet for pests and disease. Here are some tips for improving garden soil for an all organic garden:
- Don’t till or remove topsoil from the garden. Regularly add compost and other amendments to the bed by simply layering them on top. The redworms and other beneficial organisms will do the work for you.
- Rotate the plants in your garden beds. Many pests (and diseases) are focused on specific plant families. For example, the pest may (or may not) find your broccoli in this first year. But once they do, they begin to set up camp for good. You can thwart their efforts for the next season by practicing plant rotation. If you have broccoli planted in one of your garden beds this year, next year plant them in a different bed. Do the same with each plant family.
- Start your own compost pile. Compost is organic plant and animal matter that’s completely broken down, making it readily available to plant roots. It adds nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, plus other nutrients (depending on the organic materials) such as copper, iron, iodine, manganese, boron, cobalt, and molybdenum. Compost also builds a rich, friable garden soil. The most cost-effective way to have a steady supply of compost is to make your own.
- Plant green manures (cover crops). Green manures, aka cover crops, are legumes, grains, or grasses planted in a garden bed for introducing nitrogen, inhibiting weeds, preventing soil erosion, and adding organic matter. Legumes such as field peas, hairy vetch, red clover, and soybean (edamame) “fix” nitrogen via the bacteria that lives in their roots. Once the legumes begin to flower, they are knocked down and turned under, releasing nitrogen into the soil. Grains and grasses such as winter rye, rape, wheat, and oats are excellent cover crops for discouraging weeds, preventing erosion, and generally building soil.
Call in the Natural Predators
Mother Nature is fantastic at bringing balance to all things. She has always had the answer to plant pest overpopulation: natural predators, which include insects and other animals. For example, ladybugs from larva to adults will have devoured 5,000 aphids by the time they die, while a green lacewing larva consumes 60 aphids an hour. All you need to do is encourage them to visit the garden by planting what they love. Predatory insects will come for the appetizers (plants) and stay for the main course (pests). Bonus: Predators will often double as effective pollinators in the garden.
Nontoxic and Low-Toxic
When it comes to defining nontoxic and low-toxic pesticides, there are two schools of thought. The first being that many organic pesticides, whether they are purchased or made by the gardener, are considered “nontoxic.” However, can an insecticidal soap tell the difference between pests and beneficial insects? No. And this can be said of many other organic controls as well. So the better question to ask is nontoxic to whom? This is where we come to the other school of thought, which is that anything that kills something can’t be labeled as truly nontoxic. Whichever definition rings true for you, one thing is certain: the following products are much less toxic to the environment, people, and animals than their synthetic alternatives. That said, some organic pesticides are still highly toxic to bees.
Hand-to-Hand Combat – Sometimes you can’t beat good, old-fashioned elbow grease. Hand-pick pests from your plants and squish, stomp, or drown them in a bucket of soapy water. Feed them to your chickens. Round up your kids, your sister’s kids, and the neighborhood kids and pay them for their hunting skills. Never underestimate the blast of a water hose. This technique is very effective on aphids and other soft-bodied insects. Be sure to adjust the strength of the stream so it doesn’t pummel plant leaves in the process.
Physical Barriers – Physical barriers such as floating row covers, netting, paper collars, and copper strips work surprisingly well against many pests such as snails, cabbageworms, flea beetles, squash bugs, and more. (Don’t forget that row covers and netting will also keep pollinators from visiting your plants. So, remove them while the plants are blooming.)
Insecticidal Soaps – Insecticidal soaps are true soap (not detergents) mixtures that coat the bodies of insects and dry them out. Works well on soft-bodied insects such as mealybugs, aphids, scales, etc. Highly toxic to bees.
Diatomaceous Earth (horticultural grade) – DE is crushed fossilized diatom and algae skeletons. It enters insect bodies and in effect dries them up. Works well for earwigs, ants, beetles, fleas, ticks, slugs, etc. While it’s safe for people in general, avoid breathing it into your lungs by wearing a dust mask while applying it. Highly toxic to bees.
Horticultural Oils – Horticultural oils are made with various oils (mineral, vegetable, soybean, etc.) and work by disrupting how some insects – such as aphids – eat, poisoning others, and smothering insect eggs. Highly toxic to bees.
Pyrethrins – Pyrethrins are derived from specific chrysanthemums and basically attack an insect’s central nervous system. They aren’t considered the lowest toxicity; however, they are considered acceptable for organic gardening practices. They are biodegradable and break down quickly in the sunlight. Don’t confuse pyrethrins (pyrethrum) with permethrin, which is its synthetic counterpart (and very toxic to cats and other animals). Highly toxic to bees.
Do Organic Pest Control Practices Really Work?
Organic pest control methods do work, especially if several are implemented at the same time. Yes, you might lose a few seedlings to snails or have a few holes in some leaves. But in the end, organic gardening practices still offer the most people-, animal-, and Earth-friendly practices for maintaining a healthy balance in the garden.
Now that you have read how to grow greens organically, read how to eat pollution-free food too to understand how synthetic pesticides can cause serious harm and discover a dirty secret about the famous apples who are supposed to keep the doc away!