Originally created 04/21/00

Consider compost



Whether you are trying to kill weeds in the lawn, keep pests away from your vegetables or just get your flowers to grow, be aware that some techniques are easier on the environment than others.

The idea of growing Mother Nature's way is the philosophy of organic gardeners. Simply put, they don't use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides on their plants. Organic gardeners try to work in harmony with nature and continually replenish resources the garden uses.

Ed Hensley, co-owner of Bricko Farms on Sand Bar Ferry Road, has been producing organic gardening mixtures for 23 years.

"This area was not ready for organics," said Mr. Hensley. "When you said, `compost,' people said, `Where are the cows?' We knew it wouldn't work until we educated the populous, because THAT was the job."

The market for organic supplies has grown tremendously since then, he said.

Organic gardeners say nonchemical practices are better for the planet. They contend that organic growing and the purchase of organically grown products safeguard children, who are more likely to be harmed by pesticide exposure in food, and avoid contaminating the water supply with cancer-causing pesticides.

Building healthy soil is the defining act of organic gardening because replenishing lost nutrients in the soil keeps it productive.

"If you have a good soil medium, your plant will grow better and be more prolific," said Jack Blue, owner of Environmental Life Plantings. "Your pH is a big factor around here in growing anything. Your organic matter and pH are the biggest factors."

About 99 percent of soil in the Augusta area is acidic, according to Mr. Hensley. That means it needs amendments such as oyster shell or ground limestone to lessen the acidity. "It is almost impossible to overlime," he said.

You can have your soil tested through your county extension service office, or you can purchase a do-it-yourself pH kit from most garden stores.

Soil will gradually lose organic matter and useful micro-organisms when chemicals such as synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides are added to it. It also becomes more compacted and less able to hold nutrients and water and requires more and more chemicals to remain productive.

The best way to enrich soil is to add compost. Compost can be purchased or made in your back yard. A good compost pile requires carbon-rich "brown" materials like leaves, straw or shredded newspaper, nitrogen-rich "green" materials such as grass clippings, plant-based kitchen waste or barnyard animal manure and a few shovels of garden soil.

In a pile or bin, layer the materials and keep the pile moist but not soggy. Turn the pile every few weeks to keep air circulating through the mixture. Finished compost will be dark and crumbly.

Organic fertilizers like Bricko Farm's Kricket Krap are renewable and extremely effective alternatives to chemicals.

"You only get out of it what you put in it," Mr. Blue said.

And gardeners don't need chemicals to keep away weeds, pests and diseases.

The key to eliminating and preventing weeds is simple -- mulch. Covering the ground around your plants with shredded leaves, straw, grass clippings or any other degradable material will block sunlight from weeds, smothering them. Mulch also holds moisture well and feeds the garden as it decomposes.

Prevention is the first line of defense against pest infestations. Since insects attack weak plants, select plants suited to the area so they grow strong. The soil should not be too wet, too dry or too shady.

Encourage the pests' natural enemies, including ladybugs, birds, frogs and lizards, to live in your landscape. Add a small dish of water in the garden to help attract helpful predators.

Wiping out the entire insect population, some of which are beneficial insects, with chemicals will drive these predators to hunt elsewhere.

Plant health can be encouraged by selecting disease-resistant varieties and by choosing the right location for plantings. Make sure mature plants have plenty of room for air to circulate and the soil is not constantly wet. Fungus flourishes among overcrowded plants where there is constant moisture and little airflow.

Organic gardening tips:

Choose plant varieties adapted to this region. Choose problem-resistant varieties.

Nourish soil with organic fertilizer or compost.

Start your own compost pile.

Spread mulch around plants to help control weeds.

Leave grass clippings on lawn to feed the soil.

Source: Creative Homeowner Press.

Reach Valerie McIntosh at (706)823-3351 or newsroom@augustachronicle.com.