Organic Gardening Techniques

Your success or failure in the garden depends on how you use and prepare organic matter. Organic matter improves soil tilth and prevents soil compaction and crusting. It increases the water-holding ability of the soil and provides a more favorable soil 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. Carbon dioxide from decaying organic matter brings minerals of the soil into solution, making them available to growing plants. Many garden soils have been ruined, mainly because they have been depleted of organic matter from prolonged cultivation without proper soil management.

Sources of organic matter:

Animal manures. Where available, animal manures are excellent sources of organic matter and nutrients for the soil. It is best to apply manures after they have been composted and partially broken down. Fresh manure may be applied directly to the soil, but this should be done in the fall and plowed down so that there is adequate time for sufficient breakdown and ammonia release before crops are planted. Those who do not have access to fresh or composted animal manures may find packaged dried manures for sale in nurseries and garden stores. Because fresh, composted manure contains high amounts of water, an equal weight contains fewer nutrients than dried manure. Also, the fertility of manures from different sources varies widely. For instance, sheep and poultry manure is higher in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium than cow or horse manure. Fresh manure should not be used directly among plants or mixed into soil immediately before seeds or plants are placed in the garden. Fresh manure produces ammonia as it decomposes. Ammonia in direct contact with plant roots can cause damage and must be avoided. Another disadvantage of uncomposted manure is the introduction of weed seeds into the garden.

Compost. Where manures are not readily available, you can make compost from lawn clippings, leaves, kitchen waste and other plant materials. Compost is not only convenient but also inexpensive. Nutrient content of compost is relatively low, but its main benefit is the organic matter it adds to improve soil tilth. ( See my newsletter on compost for more information)

Green manure and fall cover crops. Where the garden area to be improved is large, or where other forms of organic matter are not readily available, green manuring is often the most economical means for soil improvement. Green manuring means growing a cover crop in your garden and plowing it under, thus adding organic matter to the soil. The greatest response from green manuring comes from not using the garden for one season, while growing a grass or other green manure crop and plowing it under in early fall. Another method is to seed a green manure crop in the fall and turn it under with a plow or large tiller in early spring. With this method, you can continue to use your garden normally, while gradually building up the soil. In general, you should seed a cover crop in September, not later than October 1. The cover crop protects the garden from erosion during the winter. Plow under the cover crop when it is 6 to 8 inches tall. If it grows taller, mow it down before plowing. Annual ryegrass is one of the most satisfactory plants for green manuring or covering. Seed it at 1 to 2 pounds per 1,000 square feet of garden space. Seed rye or wheat at 3 to 4 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Thorough incorporation into the soil is important in early spring to prevent regrowth and weediness from these grasses. Wait at least two weeks before planting.


It is a good idea to mulch newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials before the ground freezes, especially if you were very late in planting them. Mulch applied at this time will prevent the ground from freezing as quickly, and allow anything that was recently planted to put on more root growth before winter sets in.


Pumpkins are tender fruits and should be harvested before the frost. Be careful not to bruise or cut when harvesting, and remember to leave at least 3 inches of stem attached. Wash and allow to dry thoroughly. If your pumpkins will be stored for an extended period of time, you can remove disease organisms by washing them in a weak bleach or vinegar solution. Cure for 1 week in a warm dry room. This heals surface cuts and hardens the skin. For extended storage, keep pumpkins in a cool dry area.


Blossom-end rot is a dry, leathery brown rot of the blossom end of tomato fruit. It is caused by the combination of a localized calcium deficiency in the developing fruit and wide fluctuations of soil moisture. The problem is especially bad in hot weather. Soil applications of calcium seldom help, though foliar calcium sprays may minimize the occurrence of the problem. Make sure the formulation is designed for foliar application or severe damage could result. Pruning causes stress to the plants that may increase the incidence of blossom-end rot. Some tomato varieties are much more susceptible to this condition than others. Mulching and uniform watering help to prevent blossom-end rot.



*The flower that follows the sun, does so even on a cloudy day*


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