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Gardening Without Pesticides

Beryl Harris

Now that Peterborough has banned toxic pesticides I know that a lot of you are quite perplexed as to what to do to get rid of your weeds etc.

Healthy plants resist disease and insects. In order to have healthy plants we need to have really good rich, healthy soil, especially if you have recently purchased a home in a new development. Often the soil in new developments is shallow and lacking humus and I know that a lot of developers sell the topsoil before they start building! Organic matter is the superstar of soil health. It aerates the soil helping the plant roots to breathe and holds moisture so that the plants can absorb the moisture as well as any nutrients that are available. It acts as a magnet to prevent those nutrients from washing out of the soil in the rain. Organic matter supports many living things in the soil from earthworms to microbes. These feed and aerate the soil and combat disease. So start an annual program of building soil health by adding compost or well-rotted manure. Peterborough Works Department will sell you their well-rotted compost. You can also buy compost at the Ecology Garden on Ashburnham but they do not deliver.

For a good, healthy lawn – over-seed. I did a burn on my property and did not get around to seeding it and within a very short time, it was over run by creeping Charlie. If you have a bare patch of earth the weeds move in right away – next spring I am going to give this patch a layer of Corn Gluten. This product keeps seed from growing (much like birth control pills!) so that eventually you get rid of the wretched weeds. I would suggest that and purchase Eco grass – it is tough and very good. Rural Routes (the Co-Op) sells it. Use lots and lots of seed, this way there will be no room for the weeds.

City life is stressful on all living things, especially our trees. Compacted soil, lack of rooting space, insufficient moisture, air pollution and road salt all take their toll. Insect attacks and disease are usually the symptom of stressed trees and plants, not the cause.

So what can we do? Give our trees the best chance for health by following some basic guidelines:

1) Enrich the soil around the rooting zone with annual applications of compost.

2) Prevent competition from grass around the root zone by mulching around the base of the trees with 2" of wood chip mulch. Ask the men cutting and chipping trees along the road – they will give it to you, so that they do not have to take it to the dump, where they have to pay.

3) Be sure to leave a space between the mulch and the tree trunk.

4) In periods of drought, give your trees a deep drink by watering gently with a soaker hose for several hours over the entire root area, especially before the trees and shrubs go into the winter. 5) Use organic fertilizers to encourage beneficial microbes to protect tree roots but avoid over fertilizing as this too can attract pests.

6) Avoid any construction or change in the soil depth within the tree’s rooting zone (this area extends beyond the tree branches).

7) In the fall, chop up fallen leaves with a lawn mower, leave them on the grass, by spring the worms will have taken them down into the soil – it is the correct fertilizer, and is free!

When I said be careful over fertilizing your plants, too much nitrogen will promote aphid attacks, Carefully consider the growing conditions in your garden, select plants that are best for your area, zone, sun/shade.

The best fertilizers are those made from organic (naturally occurring) sources. They are gentle to soil, and release slowly over an extended period of time. Feeding your plants with organic fertilizers is comparable to giving them a well-balanced meal. Synthetic products, on the other hand, tend to deliver a rapid release of nutrient directly to the plant, like the boost of sugar you get when you eat a candy bar. This bypasses other organisms that help to feed and protect the plant. The end result can be overdosed plants that grow quickly at first, but later become easy prey for aphids and other insects. Even worse, the excess is easily washed away in a heavy rain, ending up in waterways where they wreak havoc on aquatic life. Soils with long term applications of synthetic fertilizers can become more acidic, with reduced ability to support beneficial micro organisms. For many reasons, organic fertilizers are a better choice to promote long term soil and plant health.

A good organic fertilizer can be made by mixing one part of blood meal, two parts of bone meal, and one part of wood ash or kelp meal. This can be sprinkled over your lawn or worked in around your plants in the early spring.

I have been talking a lot about compost so I am going to give you some tips on how to make it. You need 5 ingredients to make your composter work properly:

Organic material

The process works best when you start with a good variety of kitchen and yard wastes – "greens and browns". Greens include vegetable peelings, fruit scraps, fresh grass clippings and young seedless weeds. Browns include leaves, coffee grounds, wood shavings and hay. Greens and browns combine to give you the balance of nutrients you need for composting to work well. For best results, add them in thin layers or mixed together very well indeed – the layers are easier. Chopping up what you add will speed up the process

Moisture

Your compost pile should be about as moist as a wet sponge wrung out. The decomposition process can stop totally if the pile becomes too dry, so add water as needed during hot, dry/drought periods. If the pile becomes too wet just mix in more dry material, and leave the lid off for a few days. I never add water to my pile and it works just fine.

Air

Some air circulation is needed for composting to be odour-free. Poking holes into the compost with a rake or broom handle every now and again or turning it every few weeks help break down faster. I get my grandsons to lift my composter off the pile and move it over, I take the top portion that has not broken down and put it in the bottom of the now empty container and start all over again.

Microorganisms

Your composter is full of life. Bacteria, fungi, insects worms and other organisms all play a role in breaking down the organic materials that you have added. You can add a layer of soil periodically, I use the soil from my summer containers . This makes sure that all the necessary organisms are present at all times.

Time

The breakdown of kitchen and yard waste into compost does take time. Finished compost will take anywhere from six months to a year. The wait is well worth all that wonderful "gold" for your garden.

Relax enjoy your garden – My grandfather had never even hear of synthetic fertilizers, he won the award for the best allotment year after year, even the year that he died he won the cup. He made manure tea, I suggest that if you try it – do not have it near the house for it does smell:

Fill a rain barrel or large container with water put fresh horse =/ sheep/ cattle manure in a burlap bag, tie it up tightly and add it to the water, do not use for at least 10 days - as it gets stronger. You will have to dilute the "tea" before using it.