The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that while the doses in which most pesticides are applied pose minimal risk to humans, they have been linked to neurological damage, cancer, allergies, and hormonal disruption. Why risk it? It’s easy to garden successfully without persistent and toxic chemicals.
The Best Plant Food
“The ability of the plant to resist all kinds of threats and stresses has to do with being properly nourished,” says Grace Gershuny, organic farmer, consultant, and coauthor of The Soul of Soil. “Just like you, the plant is what it eats,” she explains.
To give your plants the best dinner, nourish them with compost (see “How to Compost” below) and avoid synthetic fertilizers. Not only does compost contain trace nutrients and a host of microorganisms to keep your soil and plants happy, but it also improves the soil’s texture. Synthetic fertilizers, on the other hand, cannot offer these benefits and can even kill the microorganisms and earthworms your garden needs.
A Word About Water
The best way to provide moisture to your garden is to keep it there, so mulch around your plants to reduce evaporation. Mulch can come from many sources—grass clippings, wood chips or sawdust, shredded leaves, straw, black and white newspapers, cardboard, even cotton cloth. An excellent multitasker, mulch also smothers weeds, moderates the soil temperature, and even discourages some pests.
Don’t overwater. Only if the soil is dry below the top three inches of the soil do you need to water. Watering near the base of plants is best; it puts water where it’s needed while preventing the spread of fungal disease on the leaves. Leaving plants wet overnight makes them more vulnerable to disease, so water early in the day.
Keep It Lively
A garden thrives on diversity, so mix a variety of plants in beds and rows, and rotate them from year to year. Some plants, like corn and beans, work together by providing nutrients and climbing frames for each other. Garlic, nasturtiums, and many herbs repel pests. “Trap” crops, like eggplant, actually attract pests, luring them away from your prized tomatoes. Many plants, such as sweet alyssum, dill, and sunflowers, attract birds that will also snack on unwelcome insects. Finally, interplanting makes it harder for pests to dine. Broccoli-loving moth larvae are stymied when they can’t easily move from broccoli to broccoli because another less delicious plant is in the way.
Enjoy your garden, knowing that whatever you grow, organic methods keep you—and the earth—healthy