Thursday, December 29, 2016

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Organic Garden Management – Part 2

By Lindsay Del Carlo, Trial Garden Manager

Many of our newer gardening customers want to garden organically, so I've asked our Trial Garden manager Lindsay Del Carlo to write the next few blog posts to share our own organic gardening techniques. Here is the second post focusing on pest control and encouraging beneficial insects. - Renee
To see the first part of the series, click here.

No garden is completely pest free, but having a variety of plants that attract beneficial insects can really go a long way toward controlling plant pests by creating a self-sustaining ecosystem. When pests do present a problem, there are now many highly effective products to control them:

Napa Cabbage Under Row Cover
Floating Row Cover. In our trial garden, our premier method of pest protection is to simply exclude them with a soft but effective barrier. We use sheets of white "floating row cover," a multi-purpose, ultra-lightweight spun fabric that can be readily purchased at most good independent garden centers and is readily available online. (Online sources include: Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, Harmony Farm Supply, Gardener's Supply Co.)

These thin row covers are simply laid loosely over the top of the plants in the beds, then fastened down at the sides of the beds so nothing can crawl under. Row covers work by effectively blocking pests out as the plants grow, while still letting ample sunlight and water in through the porous fabric. When the plants are near maturity or begin to flower and need pollination, the row cover is removed. Row cover works wonderfully well to protect against otherwise hard to treat pests such as leaf miners and cabbage moths.

Newer Organic Controls
Organic Pest Control
Actinovate is a relatively new organic product containing beneficial bacteria in a soluble powder that will control a wide range of diseases including powdery and downey mildew, botrytis, alternaria and other air borne pathogens on plant surfaces. It also works as a soil drench to control root decay diseases such as pythium, phytophthora, fusarium, rhizoctonia, verticillium, and other root decay fungi.

Serenade is an organic product the controls bacterial diseases like powdery mildew, rust, and black spot that affect many plants including squash, cucumber, roses, hollyhocks, and zinnias, just to name a few.

Wherever slugs and snails are abundant, a bi-weekly applications of organic Sluggo Plus around garden beds and surrounding garden spaces will definitely control them. Sluggo Plus is also effective against earwigs and sow bugs which are notorious eaters of seedlings.

Safers Soap is a great product made from naturally occurring fatty acids. At the first sign of damage, a weekly spray with Safers Soap is very effective in controlling common aphids, mealy bugs and white flies and other damaging pests like mites and thrips on vegetables herbs and flowers and fruit trees of all kinds.

Bacillus thuringensis (a.k.a. BT) is an effective organic treatment for all caterpillars pests that particularly enjoy eating leafy vegetables and Brassica family members like broccoli, cauliflower, napa cabbage and kohlrabi. As with most of the organic pest products, an application at regular intervals for about 2 to 3 weeks usually provides adequate control.

Bee on Borage
Attracting Beneficials
Not all insects that you see in the garden are harmful for plants and many are actually quite helpful, distributing pollen between flowers or providing food for beneficial insects. A garden of diverse plant varieties also creates an ecosystem that attracts lots of beneficials. Even if you are strictly a vegetable gardener, it's important to plant some flowers and/or flowering herbs to attract pollinating bees of all kinds. Sunflowers, poppies, cosmos, tithonia, monarda, zinnias, marigolds and herbs like lavender, catmint, dill, borage and basil are favorite bee destinations.

Ladybug eating aphids
Yarrow and alyssum are good too, and their flowers will attract lacewings and lady bugs. The larva of these insects dine on aphids, mites and other small insects and their eggs.
Alyssum, bishops lace, chamomile, cosmos, fennel, and monarda are just a few plants that will attract hover flies (aka syrphid fly). The adults look like little bees that hover over and dart quickly away, but they don't sting. They lay white, oval eggs singly or in groups on leaves which hatch into green, yellow, brown, orange, or white half-inch maggots that look like caterpillars. They raise up on their hind legs to catch and feed on aphids, mealy bugs and other pests.

Syrpid Fly
When we grow parsley, cutting celery, dill or cilantro we let some of the plants mature and blossom. Their flowers, along with those of marigolds and zinnias are wonderful for attracting parasitic mini wasps which are parasites of a variety of insects. They have stingers that have been adapted to allow the females to lay their eggs in the bodies of insect pests.The eggs then hatch, and the young feed on the pests from the inside, killing them. After they have killed the pests, they leave hollow "mummies" which we see regularly here in the garden, especially on aphids.  It’s wild!
Parasitic wasp stinging aphid
Having an organic garden doesn’t have to be tricky; what you put into it , you will get right back out of it.  Building healthy soil will give you healthy plants.  Creating biodiversity in the garden will help to have an ecosystem that can sustain itself.  And for those times when you do need a little extra help with those pesky critters, there are safe products on the market that will do the trick. With a some simple garden planning, you can avoid inviting situations that encourage pests and diseases.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Organic Garden Management - Part 1

By Lindsay Del Carlo, Trial Garden Manager
Many of our newer gardening customers want to garden organically, so I've asked our Trial Garden manager Lindsay Del Carlo to write the next few blog posts to share our own organic gardening techniques. Here is the first post focusing on soil preparation and care. – Renee

Our trial garden has been managed organically for over 25 years by observing organic cultural practices that produce a thriving, healthy garden:
  1. Good soil preparation is basic and vital to growing a healthy organic garden and using cover crops, organic fertilizers and compost helps to improve soil structure and fertility and increase both overall plant health and resistance to pests and diseases.
  2. Crop rotation helps to decrease the need for excessive fertilizer and prevent build-up of soil disease. No garden is completely pest free, and there are now many useful new organic pest control products on the market for effective pest control.
  3. Having a variety of plants that attract beneficial insects helps to control pests by creating a working, self-sufficient ecosystem. 
My posts will explain these classic organic techniques one by one:

It All Starts With Building Healthy Soil – Using Compost to Build Great Soil
Finished aged compost
to add to garden beds
Throughout the gardening seasons, every time we start or transplant a new crop into one of our raised garden beds, we first prepare the soil by adding a few inches of aged compost and turning it into the top 8 inches of the soil with a fork. Compost is an excellent soil conditioner, improving the soil structure and adding micronutrients that feed plants.

In our extremely sandy soil, the compost acts like a sponge that holds onto water and helps keep soil from drying out so quickly. In a garden with denser clay soil, adding compost aides in keeping soil loose and non-compacting so it will drain better.

Compost also provides plant roots with more air space which is actually vital to plants. Whether you make it or buy it, be sure your compost well aged, and completely broken down for the best availability of nutrients. Renee's Garden offers a good Compost Guide if you want to learn how to make your own low-cost, nutrient-rich compost. 

Fertilizing Regularly Is An Important Part of Organic Practice
Organic Fertilizers L to R:
Liquid Kelp, Sustane grainular,
Earth Worm Castings,
Fish Emulsion
In addition to preparing our soil with compost, we also consistently use good organic soil amendments and fertilizers. Earthworm castings are the end product from worms digesting organic materials, and it is odorless and non-toxic. A little goes a long way with earthworm castings and they contain abundant essential elements plants need for healthy growth and can really make a marked difference in your garden.

Organic fertilizers provide vital nutrients and help plants to build strong tissue, making them more pest resistant. Synthetic fertilizers, although they work very quickly to promote quick growth, encourage fast development of very soft plant tissue that becomes a magnet to pests like aphids and mites which can easily penetrate the plant tissue to feed on it. Knowing the fertilizer requirements for different crops is important to avoid over or under-fertilizing and so that the crops can be rotated properly.

We use a granular, certified organic fertilizer called Sustane. (Fertilizer brands are regional, so inquire at a good independent garden center for what is available in your area or look online). This granular fertilizer breaks down slowly in the soil to feed plants over a long period of time. Organic fertilizer in liquid form is faster acting than granular fertilizer. For heavy feeding crops (see your packet back), we also supplement the slow release granular fertilizer with a liquid kelp/ fish emulsion mixture (1 tablespoon each liquid fish emulsion and liquid kelp per gallon of water) as either a foliar spray or soil drench to give plants of any age a quick boost.

Crop Rotation Controls Disease and Maximizes Nutrients 
Crop Rotation is a very important practice which helps to avoid depleting the soil of nutrients and a build up of soil pathogens. Some vegetables are heavy feeders and deplete the soil more than others. 

Nitrogen fixing Rhizobia
nodules on Fava Beans
For example, heavy feeding varieties like tomatoes, corn or squash should be followed by lighter feeding leafy varieties like lettuces and or root crops such as carrots. Then we follow that second crop with a with soil-building legume crop like beans or peas were a fall cover crop like bell or fava beans.
Legumes actually enrich the soil because their roots have nodules containing nitrogen fixing Rhizobia bacteria that convert the nitrogen from the air and make it available for the plant to use as food. These nodules are very noticeable when you pull up a plant by the roots and look carefully. After our legume crop is cut and harvested, the remaining roots are left in the ground or composted so the root nodules will break down and release all the valuable fixed nitrogen for following crops.
Garden map for planning
crop rotations
For example, Nightshade family vegetables are susceptible to soil pathogens like verticillium and fusarium, so it is helpful to rotate their place in the garden each season.

Rotating varieties of the Mustard family helps us avoid build up of soil dwelling cabbage maggots and other mustard family pests. We keep a simple chart of our garden bed plantings each season so that we can easily keep track of what the next rotation should be.  

Cover Crops Offer Nutrients and Protection
Turning in cover crop
Planting cover crops is a great way to protect soil from erosion from winter weather and rain. When our growing season slows as winter draws near, final harvests are made from those beds we will not be planting again until spring. We protect this uncovered soil by planting a cover crop to both enrich the soil and protect it from the elements. In our area we use Pacific Gold mustard and a legume crop like fava or bell beans, or a blend of oat grass, bell beans and purple vetch works best. (Cover crop components vary in each region of the country: consult a local Master Gardener or knowledgeable staff at a good independent garden center to find out what is best used in your area).

The cover crop also takes up extra nutrients in the soil that would otherwise be leached out by driving rain. In spring, the cover crops can be dug back into the soil, thus releasing the captured nutrients. In our trial garden, we do this mainly with Pacific Gold mustard which is low growing and easy to dig back into the soil. It also has a more powerful effect against soil diseases when allowed to decompose directly in the soil. Other cover crops like legumes which grow much larger, we prefer to pull out and compost the cover crop plants. They will break down in the compost heap much faster this way, so their nutrients are ready to be added back into the garden beds as part of the compost added when we prepare for planting spring. 

Part 2 of this article will be published next month.
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