A few summers back, I tried to have a completely organic garden…and failed. Miserably.
My garden was free of all pesticides and chemicals, and the only protection was fencing to keep the wildlife out. Good cultivated earth, nutrient-rich topsoil, seeds, sun and water only. It’s amazing how these simple ingredients can invite a whole slew of little things, overnight even, that will take over your entire carefully tendered space.
My organic experience ended up looking like, well, a science fiction experiment.
Several strange creatures swarmed my garden, and at times my entire yard. The party had started, and it lasted for weeks until there was nothing left but shriveled up left-behinds. Tomatoes with half-eaten craters, sad, shrunken butter lettuces and things that didn’t even get around to growing before they were unearthed with insectile wrath and their remnants left to decompose in the neatly blocked off garden space. There were so many different varieties of garden parasites and insects that I’m surprised I didn’t actually hear them laughing at my wildlife barricade.
Money, effort but mostly confidence, all gone with the garden. Confidence lost not on organic growing, but on my naïve attempt to idealize that if I sowed, nature would cooperate and yield.
So, what was learned?
Well, a need to find a possible organic middle ground, of sorts. The thing that I did not necessarily heed in creating an organic garden were the fact that the insects will come, so you need to be ready for them. Having a back-up plan will help you fight off unwelcome lodgers once they appear.
Try to control insects with a natural alternative to pesticides. Some report a bit of luck in keeping away a variety of pests by repetitively spraying a combination of garlic, dishwashing liquid, hot peppers, and mineral or vegetable oil. However, it is also harmful to beneficial insects that you want to keep around, so careful application is a good idea. Additionally, the pungent spray may also take some of the fun out of your garden for rabbits and other wildlife that love to dig up your hard work.
Aside from a homemade mixture, I was stubbornly unwilling to consider any insecticide at all, even organic recommendations from others with far more gardening experience than I will ever achieve. Of course you don’t want to up the toxic value of your foliage, but you don’t to be under attack from giant tomato worms either.
If selecting an over the counter treatment, doing some homework on what the labels mean beforehand can help. Some pesticides that are labeled as organic are not any better than their commercial counterparts, they just have tricky labeling. Look for items made from only natural resources, not man-made chemicals.
If you follow the basics of chemical free gardening, but find that you are still in the midst of a swarm, you may have to apply some integrated pest management (IPM) strategies that favor natural methodologies. The IPM approach employs an assortment of pest-ridding techniques, like crop diversity, planting disease resistant crops and introducing insects, animals and plants that naturally control pests.
Chemical pesticides are used as a last option, and when combined with organic efforts, utilize the safest treatment available. Direct application to affected areas is used instead of treating entire plots as not to contaminate more of the garden and soil than necessary.
My inexperience did not entirely get me down, and I am sure at some point I will attempt another garden that entails more than a few seasonal cucumber and tomato plants (tomato worms now at bay). When I do, I will be sure to be a little more prepared for some natural encounters.
Do you have any organic gardening recommendations that work? Please let me know in the comments below so I can test them out!
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