Saturday, December 12, 2015

Composting and Growing Organically

Growing Organic

I hear this comment a lot, "You can't grow _____________ organically."  Of course you can!  Everything on my property, garden, berries, orchard, lawn, flower beds, and landscape shrubs and trees are all grown organically.

We've become mindless gardeners relying on chemical quick fixes without even understanding the purposes or the effects those chemicals have on our gardens, food, and our health. 

Organic gardening is much more than growing without chemicals.  Organic growing methods combine the science of soils and plant biology.  All your gardening problems start and end in the soil.

Organic methods focus on building your soil structure and maintaining a healthy soil food web.  The soil microbes then provide the plants with nutrients, disease resistance, increased vigor and pest resistance you need to get a bountiful harvest.

The goal is to establish a living soil teaming with life. You are a microbe manager. Building soil structure and a healthy soil food web are both accomplished by adding organic matter in the form of compost, aged manures, or green manures. This matter feeds the microbes and the microbe activity provides the nutrients for you plants.

Your goal every year is to return quality organic matter to the soil.  Technically you don't need a green thumb but a brown thumb and a very good wheelbarrow.

The Soil Food Web

Plants are amazing.  They control the soil food web for their own benefit!  Working with nature and not against her only makes sense.  The rhizosphere is a very small jellylike zone around the roots containing a mix of soil organisms.

Why are they there?  Plants secrete chemicals called exudates.  These wake up, attract, and encourage specific beneficial bacteria and fungi.  As these organisms die or excrete wastes, nutrients are available right at the root zone of the plants. There is a relationship established that benefits the microbes and the plant.  Chemical fertilizers kill microbes and never build your soil structure.

So what can you grow organically?  Everything.  Choose to grow organically you will have larger, healthier, and more reliable harvests. The more you educate yourself about soils the more you understand what you need to to and how to do it.

The book, Teaming with Microbes, opened my eyes and helped me understand what my goal was as an organic gardener. I'm so glad that the interest in organic gardening is growing.  Gardening organically will feed your family and not your frustrations.  It is also more economical and easily sustainable if you have your own manure factories- horses, cows, goats, ducks, or chickens.


Now is a great time to start composting so you have a source of organic matter available.  We have goats, chickens, and ducks.  The goats provide the bulk of our compost.  We clean out the stalls which have goat pellets, pine shavings, and old hay (goats are picker eaters than you think).  All this is put in a pile.  Compost piles need to be at least 4x4x4 feet in order to generate heat. Try to add equal parts of brown and green material. They also need to be kept moist and turned occasionally.  This allows air into the pile.  Anaerobic decomposing produces a smelly mess.  Aerobic decomposing does not smell.  No smelly compost piles.That's the goal.

When building your pile no fancy system is necessary, but on a small scale it does make it nice.  We use a backhoe to turn our pile. You can build the pile over time adding kitchen vegetable scraps and lawn clippings (from a chemical free lawn), animal manures, hay, and straw.  Wet the contents as you add materials.  It's a good idea to keep the top flat and indented so the water soaks into the pile and doesn't run off the sides. Eventually start a new pile and let this one cook.  Wet and turn it occasionally.

I realize the are entire books written on composting and by having differing brown to green material ratios you can produce  different types of  compost.  This is one area of gardening, you do not need to stress over or over complicate.  Basically, if you put it in a pile it will eventually decompose.  By piling it at least in a 4x4x4 pile, wetting, it, and turning it you are speeding up the process.  So if you have a shovel and a bare piece of ground and materials you have everything you need to start composting.

Compost Contributors
The "pile" and next years organic matter.

Four good reasons to grow organically:  my grandkids!

1 comment:

  1. I am SO glad you are blogging about gardening in New Harmony. I need HELP! Thank you, thank you :)