Green Per Square Foot

Optimizing soil and plant health to avoid the need for fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides July 29th, 2014

Optimizing your soil and plant health without using fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides may sound like an impossible task, however it is achievable. We will discuss how you can accomplish this goal with organic gardening advice.

Introduction to organic gardening

Organic Gardening is a method of gardening that grows plants in a healthy, sustainable way. By observing natural processes, and benignly shaping their basic elements, organic gardeners endeavor to produce healthy plants and continually give back to the land that sustains them. Organic Gardening is not just a matter of opinion or debate, because the most common organic gardening methods have been agreed upon for a long time. It is more a matter of degree, of determining whether to employ the best practices, how to implement them correctly, or whether to choose to use less acceptable practices. In choosing your course of action, it’s helpful to remember the aspects of Green Living that apply here.

  • Seek to work with natural systems.
  • Do as little environmental harm as possible.
  • Act with deliberate care.
  • Be flexible and adaptable.
  • Use your knowledge to decide your actions.

Here is a step-by-step guide for creating healthy soil and plants on your property.

Maintain Healthy Soils

A. Soil Management:

Building a healthy fertile soil is the basis of all organic gardening. Soil should be maintained in ways that develop and protect its structure, its fertility, and the millions of organisms that make soil their home. Caring for the soil involves the use of organic residues, in the form of animal manures and waste plant materials. This improves soil structure, maintains humus levels, feeds soil organisms, and provides essential plant nutrients. For more information on building healthy soils click here.

Best Practice

  • Keep the soil covered with a protective covering of living plants, or mulching materials.
  • Employ manures and waste plant materials as described below.
  • Loosen the subsoil to break up compaction if it is present.
  • Improve soil drainage, or maintain free-draining soils.
  • Adjust pH to appropriate levels and maintain them at regular intervals.
  • Use a crop rotation plan for all annual plantings.

Acceptable

  • Take care when cultivating the soil to avoid damaging soil structure. Cultivate as little as is necessary.
  • Limit cultivation to those periods where the soil is neither too dry nor too wet.
  • Do not mix subsoil layers into topsoil layers and vice versa.

Qualified Acceptable

  • Rotary tilling is only applicable for large gardens where manual cultivation is impractical.

Not Acceptable

  • All other practices

B. Plant Waste Materials

Organic materials should be recycled from within the garden; however these can be augmented by materials brought in from other sources. Ideally these should be from nearby organic gardens, organically-managed farms, and commercial sources, such as restaurants and coffee houses.

Best Practice

  • Plant and food wastes from your own business, garden and yard, including autumn leaves made into leaf mold

Acceptable

  • By-products from organic food processes and industries
  • Straw and hay from organic sources
  • Sawdust, shavings, and wood waste from sustainably harvested wood products
  • Microbial and plant extract compost activators
  • Autumns leaves from managed sources, such as municipal parks and arboretums
  • Organic mushroom compost

Qualified Acceptable

  • Straw and hay from non-organic sources after being composted for 3 months or stockpiled for 6 months
  • Composted green and household waste from commercial composting industries
  • Plant wastes from non-organic food processes and industries after being properly composted
  • Mushroom and worm composts made from non-organic animal manures.
  • Commercially produced and bagged compost made from non-organic sources, except as noted below.
  • Flotsam seaweed (not living seaweed) harvested from non-polluted beaches, where permitted

Not Acceptable

  • Any materials containing PTE’s (potential toxic elements) at levels greater than permitted
  • Leaves and leaf mold collected from woodlands and forests, where they are needed to complete natural processes in the forest ecosystem
  • Leaves collected adjacent to very busy roadways
  • Peat, pear moss, coir, coconut fiber, and any commercial product containing these elements 

C. Animal Waste Materials and Manures

Materials used to create healthy soils also include animal waste materials, especially animal manures. Fresh manures should be composted or processed in other ways before using in the garden. Animal waste from intensive meat or egg production factories should never be used in an organic garden, since they can easily contain concentrated pathogens and chemicals. Likewise, human feces and manure from household pets should never be used in the garden.

Best Practice

  • Non-pet animal wastes from a garden and farm, including pigs, goats, poultry, cattle, and horses.

Acceptable

  • By-products from organic food processes and industries
  • Composted strawy farmyard, horse, and poultry waste from organic sources
  • Commercial manures from organic sources
  • Wool by products not containing organophosphate residues
  • Feathers from free range and semi-intensive egg and meat production farms.

Qualified Acceptable

  • Composted strawy farmyard, horse, and poultry waste from non-organic sources after being composted for 3 months or stockpiled for 6 months
  • Poultry manure and deep litter from semi-intensive egg and meat production farms, after being composted for 3 months or stockpiled for 12 months
  • Pig manure from straw-based meat production farms, after being composted for 3 months or stockpiled for 12 months
  • Processed animal wastes from slaughterhouses
  • Processed waste from the fish products industry
  • Properly treated sewer sludge and sludge-based composts, free from PTE’s (potential toxic elements)

Not Acceptable

  • Any materials containing PTE’s (potential toxic elements) at levels greater than permitted
  • Animal residues and manures from intensive poultry or livestock systems.
  • Dog and cat feces
  • Human feces 

D. Manure and Compost Storage and Application

In the organic garden, composts, manures, and other materials that contain soil and plant nutrients should be stored and applied in ways that avoid the leaching of nutrients into the soil. Leaching both wastes needed nutrients and pollutes groundwater and waterways. Intense concentration of some soil nutrients can disrupt soil life and may require long-term mitigation.

Best Practice

  • Store and compost manures indoors or outdoors under cover.
  • Apply no more than one wheel barrow load of well-rotted manure or compost per 6 square yard of garden surface per year
  • Apply manures and composts only to the soil adjacent to growing plants or to where plants are soon to be grown

Acceptable

  • Autumn or winter application of composted manure to actively growing cover plants
  • Application of composted manure or compost to greenhouse soils at any time

Qualified Acceptable

  • Autumn or winter application of uncomposted manure or unfinished compost if covered with a winter mulch of leaves at least four inches deep.

Not Acceptable

  • Storage of manures and waste materials that will result in the pollution of ground – or surface – waterways.
  • Manures stored uncovered.
  • Application of manure to any bare soil intended to be left fallow. 

Responsibly Propagate Your Plants

A. Planting Materials

Ideally organic gardeners grow your own plants from organically grown seed, tubers, and bulbs. Your suppliers should be in the same climatic or eco-region as your organic garden, and be geared towards providing plants, bulbs, and seeds that are adapted to your locale.

Best Practice

  • Plants grown to certified organic standards
  • Organically grown seeds, tubers, and bulbs
  • Plants and seeds specifically grown for your eco-region

Acceptable

  • Conventionally grown seeds, plants, and other planting material not treated with chemicals
  • Planting materials ordered by mail or internet and adapted for your eco-region

Qualified Acceptable

  • Plants materials grown using non-organic methods
  • Planting materials ordered by mail or internet and able to be grown in your eco-region
  • Rooting powders not containing fungicides

Not Recommended

  • Rooting powders with fungicides
  • Planting materials harvested from the wild
  • Seed treated with chemicals after harvest
  • Seeds or planting materials from genetically modified cultivars
  • Planting materials ordered by mail or internet from overseas 

B. Growing Media

In the organic garden, growing media such as potting soil and seed starting mix should be made from organic sources and should be free of chemicals, hormones, and non-organic amendments. Purchased products should be free of peat and coir, and should bear an organic certification. Homemade media should only include materials described below.

Best Practice

  • Homemade growing media made only from the materials listed below.
  • Organically certified commercially produced growing media

Acceptable

  • Organically certified commercially produced growing media containing recycled or composted peat moss

Qualified Acceptable

  • Perlite, vermiculite, bentonite, and zeolites that have been chemically processed
  • Organic growing media containing peat moss

Not Recommended

  • Growing media using materials not listed above 

C. Container Gardening

Whenever possible, grow plants directly in the ground to allow ample room for root development. However, it is possible to have an organic garden in confined spaces. In city gardens and container gardens, plants will be inevitably be restricted by the constraints of their containers. Develop and maintain a gardening regimen that gives your plants the additional, timely care that they will required to thrive.

Best Practice

  • Organic growing media with recycled waste materials as the major source of fertility
  • Plants and seeds as describe above
  • Containers of appropriate size to allow the plants to grow without deformation
  • Containers with proper drainage
  • Hanging basket liners made from recycled materials such as wool
  • Additional feedings with compost, manures, or similar commercial products as described above
  • Additional watering to insure that the roots do not dry out
  • Judicious watering to insure that the roots are not waterlogged

Acceptable

  • Organic growing media with organic fertilizers as the major source of fertility
  • Additional feedings with organic fertilizers as described above

Qualified Acceptable

  • Commercially available organic liquid fertilizers

Not Recommended

  • Hanging basket liners made from peat moss
  • Other liquid fertilizers, especially chemically based synthetic fertilizers 

Retain a Healthy Environment

A. Safe Garden Materials

Wood Preservatives by their very nature are toxic and persistent. In the organic garden they should be avoided where possible. Their use should be restricted to structural members, where decay could prove a safety hazard. Wood that is in contact with both the air and soil is at most risk.

B. Stewardship

Organic gardening as a green living philosophy is intimately linked to the world and concerns environmental stewardship beyond the borders of your garden. All human activities have the potential to pollute, decrease habitat, and impact bio-diversity. This is particularly important for the organic garden, since it relies on the health of natural systems for pest and disease control.

C. Conservation

Create a diverse environment, both in the garden and further afield. Plant a wide variety of species in your organic garden. Give preference to native or locally adapted varieties and avoid highly bred cultivars and hybrids. Create areas where beneficial animals and insects can live, find food, and breed.

Best Practice

  • Purchase garden materials, seeds and plants from local organic nurseries.
  • Avoid using power tools, especially with small fossil fuel motors. A single lawn mower can pollute as much as five cars. Use hand tools where possible.
  • Use only natural or basic materials in the garden, such as untreated wood, stone, metal, brick, and concrete masonry. Use new wood only from certified-sustainable sources.
  • Create or maintain natural habitats in or near your garden, such as hedgerows, natural borders, woodland, or wetlands.
  • Provide an area of uncut grass and weeds as an insect and bird habitat.
  • Create a pruning, cutting and weeding schedule that allows plants to flower and produce food for birds and insects. Do not disturb bird nests.
  • Recycle and reuse materials in your home. Compost food waste.
  • Select native plant species or non-natives for specific purposes, such as attracting a particular beneficial insect

Acceptable

  • Purchase garden materials, seeds and plants to be delivered by post from organic nurseries within 500 miles of the business.
  • Where the scale of a project necessitates using a power tool, opt for electrically powered tools.
  • Use of treated wood, if not in contact with the soil AND treated with benign materials, such as linseed oil.  Use of synthetic wood made from recycled polystyrene.

Qualified Acceptable

  • Hot dry bonfire to dispose of diseased plant materials

Not Acceptable

  • Bonfires, except as noted above
  • Lumber from non-renewable sources, except where it is removed from the waste stream
  • Manures stored uncovered
  • Purchase of materials transported from long distances, when suitable materials are available locally.
  • Dumping of organic waste without processing
  • Clearing away all plant debris from under hedges, around shrubs, except in conjunction with a specific disease control method

 


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