By Lois Hoffman
Nature is truly magical, magnificent, mysterious and so much more all rolled into one. I love the sunrises, sunsets, fall colors, spring blossoms, summer fireflies, sparkling snowflakes…I love all she has to offer. This said, there is perhaps one part of nature that probably intrigues me more than any other though. I love how things grow, especially the garden.
This year marks a milestone for me. Although I have always been in the garden, the truck patch, the fields, it was five years ago that I took a serious look at our food supply as a whole and how I was contributing with my little piece of earth that God has entrusted me with. It was then that I decided to have a garden that was all natural, from fertilizing to controlling weeds.
I prefer the words “all natural” instead of organic. That word, the big O, has been the subject of a lot of controversy in recent years. There is no middle of the road when it comes to organic. On one side of the fence are those who will always go the extra mile and always search out organic for their food supply. They pay the extra price to try and do better when it comes to what goes into their bodies.
On the other side of the coin are those that think organic is just a bunch of hype. Their argument is that we have survived for hundreds, literally thousands of years, without worrying about how we grew our food. On that note, for hundreds of years we didn’t farm with chemicals that eventually found their way into what we eat. As the demand for higher yields increased, the use of chemicals to provide that yield also increased.
As with discussing any methodology, there are those people who give organic its bad rap because, even though they say they are using all natural products, in reality they are not. Thus, the naysayers contend that folks pay the higher price for something they are not getting. But, as the saying goes, don’t let a few bad apples ruin the whole barrel.
I truly believe that when you get back to nature, with anything, it is just better for you. So, getting back to my natural garden, I think that after five years of experimenting, plowing through failures and rejoicing in successes, I can honestly say that it is not only possible to grow a thriving garden with no chemicals, but it is almost easier and more rewarding.
Let’s start with the plants themselves. Heirloom seeds and plants really have the edge. They have been around for generations and have adapted to their environment, making them stronger and more resilient to insects and diseases. Plus, it is a good feeling knowing that you are keeping varieties that have been around for generations alive.
Next, feeding these babies can be all natural too. Let me say that commercial fertilizer is not all bad, but it is well…commercial. Basically, plants need the big three, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium to survive and thrive. They can grow and produce on these but if you add micronutrients, it gives them that extra boost.
Most commercial fertilizers don’t contain micronutrients, however natural sources do. Compost, coffee grounds, egg shells, Epsom salts and many other common household items supply all the food plants need to grow. What they don’t have are additives, chemicals and other nasty things. On top of that, the price is right, most of these items are by-products that get tossed anyway. You just have to know what nutrients each one provides.
I have even conquered the bug problem. So many folks think that the only thing that “knocks them dead” are the products laden with harsh chemicals. It took a little experimenting but I have found natural products that work just as well, sometimes even better.
There are various products, made with natural ingredients, that are an insecticide, miticide and fungicide all in one. I use this religiously, even before any signs of bug infestation. It can be used on all plants, vegetables, fruits and flowers and takes care of most all things that like to chew on plants.
There are a few exceptions, like the inevitable Japanese beetles. Here is where neem oil comes in. Made from natural byproducts of the neem tree, it is both biodegradable and non-toxic, so much so that it is used in many home products such as toothpaste, cosmetics and soaps.
It only targets leaf sucking and chewing insects and kills them at all stages of development including egg, larvae and adult. It is also a great fungicide.
If you want a double whammy, try neem oil with pyrethrin which is found naturally in some chrysanthemum flowers and kills insects on contact with deadly nerve toxins. Although purely organic, pyrethrins are potent and can be somewhat toxic to animals.
Last year I had an especially bad infestation of squash bugs. Pyrethrin, combined with insecticidal soap, killed them dead.
These are basically all the products that I use in the garden. It’s nice having only a few that will keep insects at bay and help the garden to thrive.
Now, weeds are another story. I have not found any herbicide that will only target weeds and not harm garden plants. Don’t we gardeners wish there were such a product…maybe someday. Until then, there are basically only two ways to control weeds in the garden.
I prefer the old-fashioned way of rototilling between the rows and hand-pulling the ones in the rows. This also serves the need to loosen the soil so plants can “breathe.”
The other way is to smother the weeds. Laying mulch like straw, old newspapers or other material between the rows will prevent weeds from growing. It is just a personal thing, but I like to see the soil, dig my toes into it and be able to stir it for the plants.
My garden is proof that the natural way works. For many, it is just a matter of changing how they think about gardening. Getting back to basics is healthy for plants and people both. For me, the proof positive is when you can snag a tomato, green bean or any other garden offering and eat it right then and there. There is nothing fresher or better and the best part is that you just know there is nothing bad going into your body. That’s what it is all about. Yep, I’m rockin’ nature and nature rocks!
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