I am honored to have Muriel write this guest blog post for itsnotthedestination. her quest to become a successful organic gardener is her journey... She has learned along the way and has much to share in the way of gardening knowlege... Thank you, Muriel, for this contribution:
Managing an organic garden is much like managing life. It requires balance in all its phases from soil prep to harvest. The foundation of a stable and prosperous life is developing a belief system that will encourage good choices. One that is too rigid stifles spontaneity and one that is too loose can lead to missed opportunities. The foundation of a prosperous garden is the soil.
I think everyone has the same basic goal in that we all want to get the most out of life. Whether our motivation is emotional, spiritual or material, we all strive for the most bountiful harvest we can coax out of our world. Organic gardeners share that same philosophy, but the challenge is to conquer the evil and foster the good in our vegetable beds without harming ourselves or others. That takes patience, vigilance and hard work. It is easy to vanquish the agricultural enemy with a giant dose of malathion, but, just as in war, to win by force is to accept the resultant collateral damage. The aphids, cabbage worms, cucumber beetles and leaf borers will most certainly be gone, but so will the lady bugs, praying mantises and lacewings that feast on them, not to mention the honey bees. The impatient and heavy handed gardener merely realizes a temporary victory in that the pests will return, and this time with a clear playing field. Ecological diplomacy and patience solve perceived garden crises more permanently than drastic measures.
Ladybugs do not fly after dusk, so if they are deposited in the garden in the evening and they locate food (aphids, scale, mites etc.) they settle in and start eating pests and laying eggs. Patience is a virtue. It has taken three weeks, but my cucumbers and melons are now a veritable ladybug nursery and the aphids are well under control. Knee jerk reactions create temporary fixes.
snail or slug, it’s mandated that you kill it. Beer traps catch a few, but the most effective weapons are timing, location and the foot. I never let a rain pass without a snail hunt. It brings them out in force and they are easy prey for a stomp. I netted over 300 in 15 minutes the last rain we had. Early morning is optimum for the hunt. I invert pots in corners of the garden and catch them where they hide. Deterrence is another strategy to keep the slimy critters away from tender plants. I noticed they were really going after the beans more than anything, so I chose those as my target area. Slugs have tender bellies and don’t like to crawl across sharp surfaces. I save all my egg shells, crush them and lay a barrier around the plants that are most vulnerable. Walnut shells or cocoa husks will also work. Making it unpleasant to attack slows the enemy down and averts conflict.
In life, it is important to choose our friends carefully. We’ve all seen the successful teen who chooses the wrong friends and ends up “tanking.” The same is true for vegetables. Some combinations create symbiotic relationships that benefit both plants and others end in poor harvest. I once bought plants that were labeled as broccoli from our local high school and they turned out to be broccoflower. It is the Voldemort of vegetables. Nothing will grow next to it. It thrived and everything else withered and died. Ironically, it tasted like cauliflower and no one in my family would eat it. Epic fail! The next year I planted fennel and peppers together. Neither did well. Then I discovered a website called Gardens Ablaze which has a companion plant chart. Now I plant basil with tomatoes, oregano with peppers, pole beans with corn (they use the stalk for a pole . . . no staking required and put nitrogen into the soil for the corn), and, with the right choice of allies get a much better yield.
There is much to learn from organic gardening that could benefit the world. It’s all about balance, patience, integrity and respect. It’s about managing our enemies without destroying ourselves and our allies. It’s about remaining open to accepting whatever harvest gift the day might bring and savoring the joy of the first tomato, melon or cucumber. It’s about conserving resources and giving back to the earth and making choices that carry the most benefit and least harm. It’s about recognizing that nature has provided us with solutions that eliminate the need for us to forcefully control our environment. Perhaps it should be a requirement for the world leaders to spend an hour a day managing an organic garden. Maybe, then they would understand how to maintain self-sustaining, peaceful and productive nations.