Colorful California Landscape: A Water-Friendly Garden
Colorful California Landscape:  A Water-Friendly Garden

Organic Gardening

Organic gardening (also know as organic horticulture) is based on knowledge and techniques gathered over thousand of years.  In general terms, organic gardening means a sustainable, holistic approach which involves natural processes, often taking place over extended periods of time.  Chemical-based horticulture focuses on immediate, isolated effects and reductionist strategies.  The main differences between organic gardening and chemical-based gardening is philosopy and approach.  Organic gardeners treat the soil as a dynamic, living organism.  Chemical gardeners view soil as dirt, something for chemical solutions.  For organic gardeners, a healthy soil is productive soil.

In the organic system, soil is a living organism that provides nutritional support for people but also has nutritional needs of its own (Organic Gardening Magazine, August 2010).  For those who think soil as nothing more than dirt, it may take an attitude adjustment to view soil as a living collection of creatures, along with minerals and bits of living materia: iron oxides, unicellular bacteris, actinomycete filaments, flagellated protozoans, ciliated protozoans, amoebae, nematodes, root hairs, fine roots, elongate spingtails, and mites.

All of these substances have an essential role in organic soil health and the quantity and quality of an organid garden's glory.  They break down the huge, unwieldy proteins and lignins in straw, leaves, and the wastes and remains fo living creatures into simple, accessible compounds, like nitrate and ammonium, that plants transform back into fruits and vegetables.

When it comes to firing up a garden's residential soil microbes, the organic shed is filled with practical, adoptable soil-building tools, which for each can be grouped by the benefits they provide

Soil Fertility and Regeneration

Key tools in organic soil fertility and regeneration include cover crops, crop rotation, compost, soil aeration, and mulch.  Legume cover crops, such as winter peas or clovers, and edible legumes, such as beans, have the ability to transform nitrogen from the air into nitrogen in the soil.  Legumes can provide the main serving of nitrogen for heavy-feeding crops like corn, melons, and tomatoes.  After the crops are harvested, buckwheat or cereal rye cover crops can be sown to capture leftover nitrogen, saving it in a stable form to make it available for the next rotation.

Microbes require certain working conditions to furnish the nutrients necessary for healthy harvests.  Fresh air and a steady supply of food and water, plus protection from temperature extremes, will ensure productive soil.  Covering the soil with biodegradable mulches, regularly incorporating fluffy composts, and minimizing compaction with good bed design are great ways to make sure the microbes stay munching and the plants producing.

Keeping the beds planted with crops or cover crops or piled with mulch encourages roots and earthworms that will work to make the soil airy and loose. If the soil already suffers from compaction problems, try growing a cover crop with a big taproot, such as the tillage radish (also known as oilseed or daikon radish), to break up the hard subsurface soil layers.  These crops are also great at bringing up minerals and micronutrients from the subsoil that shallow-rooted crops have a harder time reaching.

To keep your garden healthy, give it organic matter and humus to survive.  Organic garden fertilizers should only be used to supplement soil fertility and not as a long-term sole source fertility program.  Plants that are regularly fed fertilizers become "lazy" with poor root growth, since they do not have to "work" to find food.  It is important to supplement organic garden fertilizers with compost, manure and cover crops as your primary source of additional nuturients.

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Stewardship requires the recognition that we are all caretakers of the environment and economy for the benefit of present and future generations. We must balance the impacts of today's decisions with the needs of future generations. - The Minnesota Round Table on Sustainable Development (1998)