1. Choose the right plant for the right place. Don’t try to grow something that is not suited for your particular soil or cultural accommodations. Sun, shade, soil pH, drainage and temperature all must be considered. This fact is easier said than done and will require endless experimentation. This endeavor is part of the challenge and fun of gardening.
2. Feed your soil. Constantly add organic materials such as compost, shredded leaves, dried manure, straw, sawdust, etc. and as they break down they will provide an environment for the incredible number of micro-organisms that make for a healthy soil and healthy plants.
3. Utilize diversity in your plantings. Include those plants that have been scientifically proven to attract beneficial insects and pollinators and those that can potentially repel garden pests.
4. Recycle all of your organic material. Kitchen scraps, leaves, pruning debris, fallen fruit, etc. should all be composted and returned to your garden’s soil.
5. Do not use synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. They will instantly kill off beneficial insects, bacteria, and fungi, destroying the natural, healthy soil food web.
6. Do not compact your soil. Establish paths and raised beds so that there is no walking or kneeling on planted areas. The pore space in the soil must be preserved where water, air, roots and microorganisms live in harmony to support plant growth and health.
7. Do not till your soil. Roto-tilling and continual “turning over” soil causes loss of organic matter, destroys the soil structure and creates havoc with the microorganisms that provide a healthy soil food web. Add organic matter to your soil in the form of mulch.
8. Rotate your crops. Provide for at least a three-year rotation and if not possible due to space constraints, plant a cover crop for a year or two to enrich the soil.
If every organic gardener worldwide had one trait in common, it would be that they all make compost. It could be said that the addition of compost to any garden soil is the essence of the organic garden. All garden soils benefit from the addition of compost whenever it is available. Compost helps to aerate the soil, providing home to millions of living organisms that assist in a plant’s ability to take up required nutrients. In that sense, it acts as a fertilizer. The compost could be used as a mulch, spread on top of the existing soil as often as possible and certainly mixed with the existing soil when installing new plants.
Compost is easy to make. It is simply the end result of a pile of organic matter decomposing into a rich, chocolate-brown material that looks good, smells good, feels good to touch and is often referred to as “black gold”. Technically, compost will result from a combination of any once-living organic material, either animal or vegetable. It all decomposes in time. The modern day compost pile does not use animal material and due to antibiotics and other medications given to many farm animals, even manure is not always recommended. Should manure be available from organically raised farm animals, it can be safely added to any compost pile.
A compost pile or “heap” can be created anywhere a three or four foot square section of earth is available. It can be located in the shade, in the sun, in a dry area, a damp area, virtually anywhere. Simply toss your organic material on the ground, building up a pile to four feet high and given enough time, underneath it all you will find compost. Weeds, leaves, kitchen scraps (don’t include meat or dairy products), coffee grounds, over-ripe fruit, tea bags, nut shells, seaweed, pine needles, sawdust, human or animal hair clippings and the list goes on and on. It will all decompose into perfect compost.
Should a neater look be desired, an actual bin can be constructed, preferably two or three adjacent to one another. Any material that would keep your organic “litter” contained will work. A wire cage, scrap lumber, concrete masonry block, old pallets, just about anything will work. Modern compost bins can also be purchased in many designs and configurations.
Some tips on composting would be:
1. Try to chop or shred your debris as small as possible. The smaller the particles, the faster the decomposition.
2. Try to layer the material as much as possible. Cover kitchen scraps with a layer of shredded leaves, for example. Even a bit of soil works as a layer. Alternate material within the pile as much as possible.
3. Keep the pile damp, not soggy. The dampness of a wrung-out sponge is about right.
4. Aerate the pile from time to time. Turning it over with a pitchfork or shovel will work and moving it all into another adjacent space works great. This is the reason for having two or three bins side by side.
5. Anything not fully decomposed and still recognizable (such as avocado skin or pits, eggshells, etc.) should simply be tossed back onto the pile. They will all disappear in due time as the compost is formed.