steps of preparing your garden for any season include
basic garden clean up. In Texas we experience sunscald
of tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables, so as soon
as the plants in the summer garden have become unusable,
remove them from your garden. Dispose of or burn any
diseased plants. Put the plants that do not appear to be
diseased into your composter or compost heap. Pick up
any tomatoes, cucumbers or peppers that have fallen onto
the ground and use them or compost them as well. I use
the last fruits I pick for saving seed for the next
season. Keeping the garden clean and disposing of spent
plants is very important in preventing diseases in the
soil and for controlling insect problems.
Making compost is a year-round
activity. The secret to successful composting is to have
a good mixture of material. If the heap or composter is
kept too wet you will end up with a messy, stinking
sludge; if kept too dry, composting will be very slow.
When adding wet materials, such as grass clippings or
kitchen scraps to the composter or heap, fork the
materials in with a hay-fork. Add ingredients to compost
any time you need to, just try to avoid adding thick
layers of wet or dry materials. If you do add a thick
layer of dry materials, water the dry ingredients. If
adding a lot of wet materials to the composter, add some
dry material such as newspapers that are printed with
soy ink, old envelopes, old paper egg cartons, crumpled
You can use a homemade container,
old garbage cans, make a compost heap on the ground or
purchase a composter. No need to spend much money on one
though; nature will do the work for you. I use a
composter. My husband built one for me and we also make
piles on the ground if I have a large amount of plants
or grass clippings. I add rabbit manure, chicken house
litter, kitchen scraps, grass clippings, leaves and pine
needles to the composter. I have never made more compost
than I use. It is excellent for the garden soil and I
make potting soils of different types, depending upon
what it will be used for. Potted flowers, vegetables, or
herbs really love a side dressing of compost or to be
fed compost tea. Finished compost is an invaluable
source of nutrients for plants, whether potted or in the
garden. Compost also improves soil structure and helps
combat soil-borne diseases and pests. Composting is very
important and necessary for organic gardening. It can be
added to your garden anytime. I like to add compost to
the garden during the spring and summer and after the
summer's end cleanup in preparation for the fall garden,
we add it and till it into the soil.
Of Organic Matter
The success or failure of the
organic approach to gardening depends greatly upon how
gardeners use and prepare organic matter. Organic matter
prevents soil compaction and crusting, as well as
improves soil tilth. It increases the water-holding
capacity of the soil and provides a more favorable
environment for earthworms and beneficial
microorganisms. It slows erosion, and in later stages of
decay, organic matter releases nitrogen and other
nutrients to growing crops. Substances from decaying
organic matter bring minerals of the soil into solution,
making them available to growing plants. Without proper
soil management and the addition of organic matter to
the soil, soils may be ruined.
Barnyard manures are good sources
of organic matter to add to the garden soil. Rabbit, cow
and poultry manures are good. You can purchase these at
a good garden supply center if you don't have them
readily available at your place. I add cow manure to my
garden, but not every year because the salt from the
manure may cause salt build up in the soil, although
salt can be washed away by rainfall and irrigation. I
add the cow manure every few years. Fresh manure should
not be placed directly on the plants in the garden or
mixed into the soil immediately before seeds or plants
are to be planted. Fresh manure produces ammonia as it
decomposes. Plant roots can be damaged if in direct
contact with ammonia. Manures not composted before
putting into the garden can also introduce new weeds
into your garden. Composted manures, along with your
regular compost are a very good addition to the garden
soil. Watch the source of your manures as some pasture
herbicides are persistent and can damage sensitive
plants such as tomatoes and beans even after passing
through the cow.
Cover crops are often the most
economical means for soil amendment. Plant a cover in
early to mid-summer and turn it under at least a few
weeks before you plant your fall vegetable garden.
Organic gardens aren't
unkempt but they aren't free of all weeds because many
weeds are useful. Thistles provide nectar and seeds for
many birds, and butterflies breed in flowering grasses.
Practicing organic gardening should bring balance to
your gardens. If weeds in the garden are competing with
your vegetables and flowers for nutrients, they should
be controlled but not by using herbicides. Here are some
other methods to use instead of herbicides:
Keep bare soil covered with
cover crops or mulch to avoid weeds and their seeds. For
ornamental areas use ground cover plants or mulch to
smother weeds. Always mulch around vegetable plants with
hay, straw or leaves.
Hoe weeds away as soon as
they appear and put them into the compost bin.
Whenever possible, grow your
own transplants. Some transplants will contain weeds or
weed seeds in their soil. None of us need new weeds
added to our gardens.
In difficult areas where
there are lots of weeds to remove, use a cultivator. The
small cultivators are great for weeding between rows.
Disease Prevention, Control
Plant diseases will kill or seriously stunt the growth
of plants. The plants experience wilt, leaf spots, rust
or a variety of other symptoms. Fungi, bacteria, viruses
and nematodes may cause disease. The best disease
control is prevention.
Purchase disease resistant
varieties of plants if they are available. This is a
great way to reduce disease problems. Look for words on
the plant identification tags such as immune, resistant
and tolerant. Disease immunity indicates that a plant
won't get a disease even though the disease is present.
Disease resistance implies that although the plant may
occasionally come into contact with the disease, it is
much less likely to get it, and if attacked, it may not
be seriously affected. Tolerance to a disease implies
that the plant usually contacts the disease but is able
to survive in spite of being infected.
crop rotation each year prevents the buildup of
organisms in one place, thus reducing some disease
problems. Sanitation is important to disease control as
well. Remove diseased plants immediately. Remove weeds
and any other plants in the area where the disease
occurred, as they may serve as over-wintering host
plants. In some cases, careful selection of disease-free
seed, propagating material, selection of new plants or
cuttings helps to control diseases by avoiding
introduction. Choose varieties of plants suitable for
growing in your area.
Ways To Prevent Diseases
Select garden locations with
good soil drainage, adequate sunlight, and good soil.
Use disease-free transplants
and seeds from reputable suppliers. Do not plant more
than you can take care of properly.
Control insect pests that
may serve as disease carriers.
Pull up and destroy any
plants showing signs of diseases, such as those caused
by viruses. Pull off diseased leaves as soon as you
notice them to help slow the spread of leaf spots and
other fungal diseases.
Do not overcrowd plants.
Overcrowding prevents good air circulation and exposure
to adequate sunlight. High humidity and too much shade
caused by these conditions can increase the development
of some diseases.
Many common insects can be controlled with modern
chemicals. In avoiding their use, you must be willing to
work a little harder and accept some insect damage in
your garden. Here are some techniques to help control
insect attack and spread:
Since you will not be able
to avoid all insect damage, plant more of a crop for
adequate harvest. (When a few years have passed since
you became an organic gardener, you will see much less
insect damage, more of a balance of beneficial insects
in your garden).
Check crops often and hand
pick any insects present before they become too
Encourage natural insect
predators, such as frogs and birds, whenever possible.
Put pebbles in shallow containers and put water in the
container. Place these around the garden for frogs to
drink from. Also provide toad houses for them. Put a
birdbath or two in your garden for the birds to drink
Companion planting (mixing
several different types of plants and herbs together)
helps to slow and confuse the insects that may be
Use biological and natural
pesticides such as dormant oils, Bt, elemental sulphur,
pyrethrins and rotenone. Use these carefully, according
to directions by the manufacturer.
Fertilize, cultivate and
water to promote vigorous plant growth. Healthy plants
seem less attractive to insects, and those that are
attacked are better able to survive and produce a crop.
Use transplants whenever
possible. They develop more quickly than seeds and the
faster you can grow and harvest a crop, the less chance
of insect pests seriously damaging the plants.
Cultivate the garden for
fall plantings. This buries deeply or exposes some
insects and their eggs to birds or to desiccation during
winter freezing and thawing.
biological control of insect pests refers to the use of
disease organisms, predacious or parasitic insects,
insect-feeding birds and toads. Remember that when any
kind of insect predator is released into the garden, the
pests must already be present to serve for food. If
insects are not present, the predators will move
elsewhere looking for food.
Soap as an
The most effective soap for an
insecticide was the old-fashioned homemade soap made
from waste lard, tallow, lye and water. Household soaps
of today are not equally effective. Special insecticidal
soaps are now available for control of certain insects.