Wild Grapes on the Ranch

Wild Grapes on the Ranch
Wild Grapes on the Ranch

Friday, May 6, 2011

3 keys to my organic garden

When I first started gardening organically I was armed only with books and magazines that swore it was not only possible but beneficial to garden with out chemicals and pesticides. As a gardener for many years using what it thought were the conveniences of chemicals it was hard to convince even myself that this was even remotely possible. However, now that I have been hard at it for the last 6 years I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what I believe to be the 3 keys to organic gardening.

Attracting beneficials:
I have found this to be my favorite thing about organic gardening because it give me a perfectly legitimate excuse to justify buying flowers that don't produce veggies that we can consume. The right ones, however, do attract the "good" bugs that an organic garden SO needs. It is common knowledge that lady bugs are good for the garden but the why of it is not always clear to everyone. Lady bugs are very effective "bad" bug predators. Aphids are the most well know example of their favorite "soup de Jour". They also LOVE dill weed and are attracted by it right into the garden to set up shop. Hence, plant dill, attract lady bugs who dine on aphids, no problem! The best explanation I have come across was in the book "Animal , Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. So check it out if you want to know more about the ins and outs. Among my favorite beneficial attractants are Lavender, Cosmos, Blanket flower, Rudbekia, and Mumms. 

Companion planting:
I run a very loose ship when it comes to my garden. Plants just appear! Arugula pops up at will, sunflowers from the first year of the garden visit every year, tomatoes volunteer from last years seed, Hopi red Dye Amaranth peeks through weeds in the bed to announce its presence, just to name a few. But I find myself grabbing my companion planting reference every year at this time to remind me of all the little details of what plays nice together. I have "Carrots love Tomatoes" just one of many garden references written by Louise Riotte. She details the intricate web of planting crops together to maximize the plant health, production and vigor.
I would also lump crop rotation in with this section because it is so critical to avoiding diseases and insect issues that not rotating your crops can cause. I follow simple crop rotation rule of planting nothing from the same families in the same area as the previous year for 1-3 years. An example, avoid planting cucumbers where your watermelons were last year, same family and same nutrients being depleted from the soil. Same goes with Brassicas, or cole crops ( cabbages, lettuce, broccoli, etc) and legumes. 

Last but not least:
MULCH! The use of mulch for weed suppression is paramount if you don't want to spend countless hours pulling weeds out of beds that have been fallow. I know this because every year I don't get to it fast enough and BANG! Weeds everywhere. I recommend mulching twice a year to keep on top of it. Once it starts to get warm slap on a layer and again when the weather gets cold. This is where your compost comes in handy. Keeping a compost pile/heap/barrel can save you time, money and energy if you use the black gold right out of your own pile each year. Just remember to keep it moist to promote breakdown and keep feeding it. And speaking of moisture...lets talk about your watering system. You may be wondering how watering fits in with mulch, well, here goes! Water is critical to plant life and can be made so much more effective with the use of, you guessed it, MULCH! Each plant has its own watering needs and desires and for the healthiest plants these needs should be met. The tomato is a classic example of specific need for a plant because it does NOT like over head watering. They prefer to be watered at their roots. 

I bring in plants to attract butterflies too!
Cabbages growing where peppers were last year. 
The bees just love this sage in my herb area made from repurposing old culverts into planters.
This was my quick over view of some handy tips for organic beginners. I will detail all of these subjects over time so stay tuned and feel free to make additional comments and references as need. 


  1. I can't remember if you put bark down around your plants. Is that what you mean by mulch?? If you do put bark down what do you do with the old bark when it is time to replant or add new compost or soil?