Organic Gardening Basics

A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.
-Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Letter to all State Governors on a Uniform Soil Conservation Law (26 February 1937)

We went to an organic gardening class at the Natick Community Organic Farm sponsored by NOFA on Saturday and came away with a ton of useful information. The above quote was by far the most eye opening as to the importance of soil quality to society. Soil is a fragile resource that must be protected and improved in the coming years to maintain crops. Read on to access my notes from the day regarding Soil, Seeds, Composting, Planting and more.

Compost
Carbon material important (leaves/hay). Water and lime are also important. There should be a carbon/nitrogen balance. Nitrogen found in foods. Water and air also important to the process.

If you bury food scraps and cover the top with lime you will keep critters away. It is helpful to have a bin where compost is processing and a finish bin for finished soil. Compost should not be put in the garden if food scraps are not completely processed because nutrients will be used to break down rather than going to the soil. In the winter leaves and grass clippings can be used to cover food scraps. Rabbits are a good source of manure. Horse manure should not be used because of the amount of unprocessed matter and seeds. To prevent soil disease do not put tomatoes or tomato plants in the compost.

Planting Vegetables
A tarp can be used to break new ground. Place the tarp over the area that you want to farm for the entire summer. By the end of the summer it can be turned with a pitch fork.

Bowls of water can keep critters away from tomatoes. If they are eating tomatoes it is a sign that they are thirsty. Tomatoes and Peppers should be covered with landscape cloth for weeds. Ditches between planting rows can be covered with leaves. The best time to plant is when it is cloudy, the best time to seed is when it is sunny. Mulching will suppress weeds and keep water in. Straw can be used for this, not hay.Plant onions in clumps, scallions in bunches.

Legumes do not need compost because they are a nitrogen producer. Follow with a leaf producer like spinach with crop rotation. Compost can be added to tomatoes, squash and peppers.

Succession – Plant every 3 weeks so you get fruit throughout the season. If something stops producing enough fruit for meals, take it out and plant something behind it.
Pick
when dry to avoid spreading diseases.
Watering – Deep water vegetables once a week in the evening from about 5pm until 10pm. It is best to saturated the soil rather than a little bit of water each day. Mulch the next day to retain moisture.

Onions can be planted in a runoff area.
Garlic – Plant in October around Columbus day. Mulch with Straw around Thanksgiving. In March Green Heads will form. In June scapes will form. Pick off the curly head before they stand straight or they will get too woody and the garlic head will get too large. Harvest in July on a cloudy day without rain. Harvest when there are 3 – 5 green leaves. Hang in a dark place. Eat in a month.

Seeds
Mail order garlic and many other items from Nourse Farm if in New England. It is important to buy plants from your climate. Other New England options are Fedco seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Seeds should be untreated. Direct Seed Squash, beets, chard, cucumbers, radish, beans and peas. Start Cabbage, basil and Parsley as seedlings directly in beds.

Glass and cold frames can be used to extend the season for items like spinach and chard.

If you have cut worms on tomatoes use Milky Spore. The lawn should be treated too. A collar could be put at the base of the plant. A paper cup would work a few inches above and a few inches below the soil. It should be removable so a tin can would not work. Aphids like still nooks so make sure there is air flow through the garden.

Tomatoes
Determinant Tomatoes – good for a small space. No pruning required
Indeterminant Tomatoes – Tall, a cage will not hold them. When pruning do not cut the V formation. String the Ys.
Plant disease resistant varieties

Soil
No bare soil philosophy. Oats, clover and buckwheat can be planted in bare spots. Newspaper can be put down with leaves on top. Buckwheat in the summer, Oats winter. Oats will die back so you can plant within them in the spring.

Testing your soil
Most important to test for lead content
Soil should be tested for NPK.
N -> Leaves
P -> Flowers
K -> Potassium – Roots
To test the soil mix up soil from many parts of your bed and take 2 cups. Sift and dry and send to U Mass for testing:
Soil Testing Lab
West Experiment Station
N. Pleasant St.
U Mass
Amherst, MA 01003
Ph. 413-545-2311

Useful supplies
Remay – holds back frost. Good for young cucumbers to keep bugs away.
Rebar and a Rebar drill – Can be used to make cold frames to extend the growing season

More information re: Organic Gardening at Four Season Farm – Eliot Coleman

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2 Responses to Organic Gardening Basics

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