Homegrown: Organic gardening, Part 3
I’m thinking I’d like to start an organic vegetable garden in my backyard. What do I need to do?
In the past two weeks I’ve covered general information about organic gardening and the basic principles of Integrated Pest Management.
This week I’ll finish up with the final components of Integrated Pest Management, which include cultural, mechanical and chemical controls.
Cultural control practices enhance healthy plant growth and discourage pests. A number of different methods fall into this category:
Plant pest resistant plants and varieties. This isn’t always an option, but you’d be surprised how many garden plants do have some built-in resistance to specific problems.
Proper placement of plants. This is simply putting the right plant in the right spot.
A plant that is under stress because it is not in the situation it needs will have more problems with insect and disease pests.
Good garden preparation, which mostly consists of good soil preparation, planting at the proper time of year and planting properly.
This, again, facilitates a strong, vigorous, pest resistant plant.
Fertilization. In your case, you’ll want organic fertilizers and loads of them are available in the marketplace.
Proper watering. So basic but so important to have healthy, vigorous plants.
Crop rotation. Some pest problems can build up over time if the same crop is grown in the same plot year after year after year.
Moving plants around prevents or at least delays the onset of some of these issues.
Sanitation. Simply remove infected tissue and plants and control weeds that may harbor pests. Be sure to use pest-free materials in the garden.
Companion planting is growing different plants together that results in pest deterrence or in other benefits to your garden plants.
Whole books are written on this topic; do a little research online to see some of the possibilities.
Mechanical control uses practices or devices to kill or exclude pests.
Barriers. This includes a number of different methods such as row covers.
These light fabrics that go over your vegetables are surprisingly effective at keeping a number of insect and disease problems from occurring, as well as shading and cooling your plants.
This type of control includes collars around plants and the use of products such as Tanglefoot.
Mulches. Mulches can help tremendously in controlling weeds. Plastic mulch on the ground can reduce rots, especially in strawberries.
In addition, a mulch layer reduces water loss and shades and insulates the soil, resulting in a more vigorous plant.
Syringing. This is simply spraying your plants with a water mist to reduce heat stress during the summer. A hard jet of water is also a tremendously effective way to control spider mites and aphids by knocking them off the plant.
Hand picking of large pests or weeds.
This needs to be done consistently and frequently to be effective but is easy if you’re out scouting in the garden consistently.
Cultivation. Stirring up the soil is extremely effective at killing young weed seedlings as well as exposing insect eggs and pupa to surface to be done in by natural control.
Traps. These are devices that attract plant pests to be killed or diverted from our garden plants.
This type of control includes such things as sticky cards for white fly to bowls of beer for slugs to more sophisticated pheromone traps used for a variety of different pests.
Chemical control applies a substance to the plant or the soil.
Some of these products are not toxic poisons, but relatively benign, naturally occurring products. Others are naturally occurring but quite toxic.
Often, the most benign product will be used first, graduating to stronger materials as the need warrants.
One thing to remember is that the newer pesticides tend to be less toxic with fewer health and environmental hazards.
Here are the five basic groups of pesticides used in the yard. The first four are suitable for organic gardening:
Botanicals are derived from plants and include materials such as pyrethrum, rotenone, neem, sabadilla, nicotine, etc.
Microbials are living organisms we apply that control or deter pests.
This is essentially Biological Pest Control, which I discussed last week, but because it involves “spraying stuff” on your plants, I listed it here as well.
This includes such products as Bacillus thuringiensis (sold as B.T., Thuricide, Mosquito Dunks or Dipel), Nolo Bait and others.
Inorganic pesticides are mineral-based products. It includes sulfur, copper, and diatomaceous earth.
Soaps and oils are popular pesticides. They work physically on the pest a number of ways, such as stripping away a pest’s natural coating, coagulation of eggs, or suffocation.
Synthetic chemical pesticides. These aren’t the ones you’d want to use in an organic garden, but these are the ones most folks reach for.
A variety of different choices is available, and the good news with the newer ones, as I mentioned before, is that they’re much safer and are used in much, much lower concentrations tham the old products we used.
I haven’t even begun to talk about the details of fertilizing, companion planting, but, hopefully, this will give you a start on your project.