Basic Concepts of Organic Gardening

img_3J.I. Rodale and Sir Albert Howard are considered the modern pioneers of organic gardening. Organic gardening looks at your garden as a living ecosystem, and uses the laws of nature to produce healthy plants that are resistant to diseases and pests. Please see this website with information on composting and organic gardening written by Sir Albert Howard back in 1946.

One of the great things about basic organic gardening techniques is that they are applicable to any kind of garden you grow, from flower gardens, to herb gardens, to your vegetable garden.

Organic gardening focuses on building up the soil, using native plants and plants appropriate for your garden, and looking for a natural balance in your garden. We must recognize that pathogens generally attack weak plants that are not properly adapted to their environment and that live in poor soil. Therefore, if we work our soil and encourage the presence of beneficial soil organisms, our plants will generally be stronger and more resistant to pests and diseases.

Another useful concept in organic gardening is known as “Companion Planting.” Companion planting recognizes that plants grown together in thoughtful combinations will benefit the entire garden-ecosystem. Roses and garlic are a good example. If you grow garlic close to your roses, you’ll keep most pests away.

Roses Love Garlic, by Louise Riotte, is a classic book on companion planting that discusses specific plants you can use in your garden to strengthen the ecosystem and prevent attacks by garden pests and diseases.

You can also see this site from the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service for more information on companion planting concepts and specific plant combinations to try in your garden.

Finding Balance in the Garden

When you go out to your garden, think about how your plants grow and survive. Plants need a few basic things to grow, such as:

  • Water
  • Sunlight
  • Air
  • Nutrients
  • Soil

A plant is always looking for a balance of these elements. In the wild, plants have evolved over thousands of years to find this perfect balance. Likewise, certain plants have learned to grow in harmony together, mutually benefiting each other in their natural settings.

However, when we grow plants in our garden, we as humans often need to restore this balance or correct the conditions so that our plants can thrive. We may also need to look to recreate things that occur naturally in an undisturbed ecosystem. Composting and mulching are two examples.

A plant’s roots absorb water and nutrients. Plants then use photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide and other raw materials into carbohydrates that the plants use for growing, producing flowers, etc. The carbohydrates are stored in the stems, branches and leaves of the plant. If there is an attack by a disease or a pest, the plant uses these stored reserves to deal with the problem. Likewise, stored carbohydrates are used during periods of new growth.

Soil organisms such as earthworms and fungi help provide additional nutrients to plants. These nutrients are absorbed through the roots. When a plant has a healthy root system, the plant is generally healthier and able to repel pathogens. Thus, if you keep the soil healthy, your plants’ roots will be healthier, and the plants’ immune system will be stronger.

When a plant is unable to absorb the nutrients it needs, or it is not getting enough water, or if it gets too much or too little sunlight, it is more susceptible to a pathogenic attack. If you can restore this balance and equilibrium in your garden, you will strengthen a plant’s immune system.

Soil: the Basis of a Healthy Garden

Soil can be divided into several categories. The soil types that gardeners generally refer to are clay, sand, silt, loam, and peat. However, there are virtually thousands of soil varieties based on combinations of the above soil types.

Soils can also vary in organic matter, large and small rocks, minerals, pH, and other factors. Most gardeners consider soil that has a combination of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter to be good soil.

Another important factor in how well your plants will grow is pH. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14. Acidic soils have smaller pH numbers and alkaline substances have larger pH numbers. The lower the pH number, the higher the number of hydrogen ions in a solution. Limestone is an example of a very alkaline mineral. Sulfur is an example of a very acidic mineral. Arid regions of the country tend to have alkaline soils and parts of the country with heavy rainfall tend to have acidic soils.

The pH scale is a logarithmic scale that is designed to measure large differences in soil quality. For example, a pH of 7 is neutral, but a pH of 6 is ten times more acid than a neutral 7. A pH of 5 is a hundred times more acid than a neutral 7, and a pH of 4 is a thousand times more acid than a neutral 7. Likewise, a pH of 8 is ten times more alkaline than a neutral 7. A pH of 9 is a hundred times more alkaline than a neutral 7, and a pH of 10 is a thousand times more alkaline than a neutral 7.

A pH of 6.5 is considered the point where nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and the trace minerals that plants need to grow are most easily available to your plants.

When choosing plants for your garden. Get a sense of what pH levels they require. If your soil pH is dramatically different from the requirements of the plants, your garden plants may suffer from more problems with pests and diseases. Check your soil frequently with a pH kit and correct the soil pH when necessary.

Also, consider testing the soil with an Electric Garden Soil Testing Kit. These kits are relatively inexpensive and will test soil pH, light intensity, and total combined potash, phosphorous and nitrogen levels.

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