Friday, August 04, 2006

Organic Gardening Made EZ

Life is just too fast for most of us. When a beautiful weekend rolls around - which is not too common lately - many of us do our best to take advantage of the weather and take care of outdoor jobs around the house, including our landscape maintenance.

When you're considering what you need to get your landscape in shape for spring, you might consider alternative methods for conditioning your soil, getting rid of pests and staying clear of disease and fungus.

How? Organic gardening.

"We live in a fast-paced world," says Laurie Garretson, who co-owns and operates Earth Works nursery with husband Mark. Nowadays, people want immediate satisfaction, says Laurie. With organic gardening, however, the satisfaction comes in knowing that Mother Nature is doing things naturally.

"Nature has a way of taking care of itself if you'll just let it. Unfortunately, the overuse of chemicals through the years has wiped out much of the living matter in the soil. Without that life in the soil, we have to keep adding chemicals to do what intended to be done naturally."

With organic gardening, gardeners won't necessarily see results as quickly as with standard amendments such as herbicides or pesticides, but living organisms and nutrients are being added back to the soil. When the plants need them, they're available.

Going organic is not as hard as it sounds. Simply adding something organic, such as compost, can amend soil.

"Vegetable waste, animal manure, grass clippings, weeds - pretty much anything that used to be living and has decayed - makes good compost," says Laurie.

How much compost should you add? A vegetable garden, for instance, can be made up of almost 100 percent compost, whereas a shallow layer of compost would be sufficient to spread over a lawn.

For flowerbeds, a half-and-half mixture of soil and compost would work fine.

For a good soil "multivitamin," Laurie recommends adding rock powder. "It makes things stronger and healthier overall. It's a good nutrient for soil and really helps the root development."

Fight bugs with bugs

For pest control, organic gardeners use "beneficial bugs," or bugs that survive on other bugs. "For every bad bug, there's a good bug," assures Laurie. For instance, ladybugs are one of nature's best defenses against other pests. "They're very beneficial," says Laurie. "Aphids and white flies are popular meals for ladybugs, but they like most any small, soft bug."

Combine silver lacewings with ladybugs, and you have a "killer bug combo" effective against aphids and white flies, small caterpillars and fleas.

For fly problems, especially around stables, fly parasites can make a big difference in eradicating the problem. "We've really started selling a lot of those for farmers and ranchers with animals such as goats, cattle or horses."

Another one of nature's weapons against garden pests is nematodes. Use them against fleas, ticks, grub worms, chinch bugs and fire ants.

For grasshopper or cricket problems, grasshopper bait is an effective defense. "The bait is really a bacteria that's been combined with grain. When it's ingested, it causes grasshoppers and crickets to stop eating within 24-48 hours. The bait continues to work when other grasshoppers and crickets eat the dead ones and they, too, eventually quit eating and die.

Take care of weeds, fungus

For weed problems, organic gardeners often use strong vinegar, typically not sold at grocery stores. The vinegar is particularly acidic.

When combined with orange oil, a potent weed-fighting cocktail is created that's particularly effective during the heat of summer.

For fungus problems, an age-old, well-known remedy is whole ground cornmeal. Sprinkling it on an affected area in the lawn or around a plant, such as a rose bush, is a great way to fight a nasty problem like fungus.