Friday, August 30, 2013

Breaking Hard Soil with Fermentation

Natural Soil Improvement and Recovery

The food scraps that you throw away after dinner could be the secret to restoring life in your dry, cracked and seemingly inhospitable soil. Through food waste composting, an organic gardener or farmer can break up tough ground, encourage active soil life, increase air flow and revitalize the nutrient content of soil long thought to be a lost cause.

Fermented food waste reintroduces organic matter to your garden or farmland, making it one of the most simple and economical methods of soil improvement. While your hard soil may have difficulty retaining soil, food waste can make up for this shortcoming. Most plant roots make their home in the top six inches of soil, and will thrive once a generous covering of organic matter is added to the ground. The moisture retention of the food waste and the eventual growth of deeper roots will become two of the most important factors in breaking up your hard soil.

More importantly, fermented food wastes provide a haven for microbes that your soil may currently be missing. Is your hard soil made up mostly of clay? Even better. The small particles that make up clay soil provide enormous surface area for soil microbes to occupy. Once introduced to the tough ground by fermented organic matter, soil microbes begin digesting some of the minerals there and converting them into nutrients that boost plant growth, weakening the soil’s resolve. Their excretions bind soil aggregates together, loosening their composition and increasing aeration. Other soil life, such as worms and beneficial nematodes, can be introduced once the moisture, roots and microbes have begun their work, creating larger channels for aeration and converting even more of your forbidding soil into life-giving nutrients.

Much of the dead, tough soil in our country once supported plant life. Harsh pesticides, irresponsible irrigation methods, synthetic fertilizers and the death of microbial life has led to barren ground that will not support vegetation without responsible farming and gardening methods. Fortunately, these conditions are reversible. By using fermented food wastes to restore the organic life that artificial chemicals have taken away, you can easily restore your soil and starting growing vigorous healthy plants that will bring pleasure, and maybe food, to your home.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Natural Soil Detoxification

The Three Steps to Detoxifying Soil

While it may be tempting to try to replace toxic soil or relocate your plants to another area to grow, it is rarely an option and not your best bet. Soil can be reclaimed, toxicity can be reduced or eliminated, and your land will be the better for it. Whether you have faced environmental contamination or you are trying to reverse the effects of previously used pesticides and artificial fertilizers, by following three steps you can clear up contamination and make your crop growth even stronger than it was before.

  • Step One – Remove: Isolate the source of the contamination and make sure that it will not be a continued threat. This may involve changing the water source you use from contaminated well water to collected rainwater. Only proceed once you are confident that your soil will not be re-contaminated in the future.
  • Step Two – Reclaim: Generously apply activated charcoal to the contaminated area. Activated charcoal is a virtual panacea for absorbing and filtering out toxic chemicals. The charcoal will also encourage the growth of beneficial microbes; to further these efforts, apply EM-1 Microbial Inoculant soon after your charcoal application. Probiotic conditioners will help revive the soil microbes that make up your garden’s natural immune system.
  • Step Three – Rejuvenate: Continue using probiotic soil supplements to provide a natural combat force against further contamination and to re-introduce vital nutrients to your soul. You may also wish to purchase earthworms and beneficial nematodes to speed up your garden’s soil detoxification.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Proper Watering – When and When Not to Water Your Lawn or Garden

We all know plants need water to grow strong, but too much of anything isn’t a good thing. Let’s discuss some dos and don’ts when it comes to watering your lawn or garden, as well as ways you can determine your vegetation’s watering needs.

  • Water thoroughly. Most plants concentrate their roots anywhere between 6”-12” below the surface, and getting adequate amounts of water down to their roots can take time. 
  • Consider mulching your garden. Mulch will reduce the runoff your soil experiences, and slows the evaporation of water sitting on the surface, not to mention the cooling effect it provides during hot days.
  • Limit your watering to once a week. One thorough watering is better than a daily routine so your plants don’t become stressed with too much water to absorb. This also helps to avoid fungal and pest problems.
  • Water your plants during the hottest part of the day. Aim for early morning or early evening watering cycles so there isn’t as much heat to potentially evaporate your watering efforts.
  • Water the leaves. Plants are smart and know how to distribute their water appropriately. Watering leaves can encourage mildew or other growths that flourish in moist areas.
Helpful Tips
  • What type of soil do you have? A clay-based soil will draw water away from a plant’s roots and will take much longer to drain completely. If your soil is mostly sand-based, you run the risk of losing nutrients too quickly for the plants to absorb them. In either case, try adding EM Bokashi compost to your soil to improve its moisture retention by increasing microbes and organic matter.
  • Have you ever tried to predict the weather based on your garden’s surrounding environment? For example, it’s a safe bet that you’re looking at clear skies and more sun in the coming days if there is an abundance of bats flying around at night. On the other end of the spectrum, you could be looking at some rain showers if you see trees that are turning up or retracting their leaves.
  • If your leaves are developing brown edges, you might have water stress on your hands. Consider scaling back the amount of water you give to said plants.
  • If you want to keep track of your yard’s or garden’s water levels, consider buying a rain gauge.
  • You could also buy moisture meters at your local garden center. These little gadgets go into soil and measure the amount of moisture. They can tell you when to water and when not to water.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Cover Crops: the Organic Gardener's Green Manure

Adding Cover Plants to your Organic Garden’s Rotation

Some of the toughest work in your garden can be accomplished by enlisting the help of other plants. You may already familiar with the concept of cover plants as green manure – plants are grown and returned to the soil as fertilizer before they reach adulthood – but cover plants serve other vital functions in your organic garden as well.

  • Pest control – Flowering crops can attract predatory insects, such as solitary wasps and lacewings, and protect your organic gardening efforts from aphids and other pests.
  • Weed control – The shade provided by leafy cover plants can prevent the growth of nuisance plants so that they are not able to take root before you begin growing your next primary crop.
  • Water control – Cover crops slow down soil erosion by creating a breaker between rainfall and the surface of the soil. They also slow the rate at which water travels below the surface and can significantly increase soil moisture once they are tilled into the soil.
The most well-known purpose of cover crops, however, is their use as a fertilizer. To profit from their use as a green manure and from the benefits listed above, simply sow the seeds from your cover plants and allow them to grow until they begin to flower (or produce seed heads, in the case of grains). It is important to kill your cover plants before they mature too much; they are meant to aid your primary crops, not to be crops in their own right. Simply mow over the crops or cut them down with a trimmer, allow the clippings to dry for a couple of days, and then dig or till the clippings into the soil.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Examples of Homemade, Organic Pesticides

Synthetic, chemical-laden pesticides can do more harm than good to a garden, lawn, or any other type of vegetation you might try to grow. Not only is the health of your plants and vegetables in question, you also put yourself and your pets at risk of accidentally ingesting such chemicals. Using natural, organic pesticides improves the health of your garden and some handy pesticides can even be made using simple ingredients you might find lying around the house.

A few months ago, we touched on the benefit of using organic, natural pesticides and some household items that can help you get the job done. Let’s discuss a few more options you have for homemade pesticides.

All synthetic pesticides are based on a natural toxin found in plants or some type of organisms.

Chrysanthemum is where pyrethroids originally came from. Nicotine from the tobacco plant is toxic and makes up the main ingredient in termite control products. Oils are the main aromatic components of plants. You can buy them concentrated and mix with soap to emulsify in water and help stick to the plant. Citronella is probably the best known mosquito repellent. It comes from a geranium commonly called the mosquito plant. Tinctures are naturally-extracted concoctions of a plant material in an alcohol solution. You can make your own tinctures or extracts following traditional recipes. We like to use EM-1 to make extracts. The acids in EM-1 extract the properties from the plant, leaving them in the liquid that is strained and sprayed on plants. We generally will add plant material when making Activated EM-1. Activated EM-1 is much less expensive than alcohol and the fermentation by-products add several beneficial compounds for plants that alcohol alone will not.

Do you have an ongoing battle with ants or roaches? A mixture of orange citrus oil, water, and soap works as a great deterrent for these pesky, little creatures. Mix three tablespoons of castile soap, an ounce of orange oil, and about a gallon of water together. Shake the mix and you can spray it right on the bugs in question.

Another great ant treatment is a mix of citrus oil (a dozen drops or so should do it), a teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and around a cup of warm water. Shake the mix and spray it on your ant-infested areas.

Having problems with aphids? Do you also have a friend who smokes? Invite them over to your house for a get-together and have them deposit all of their cigarette butts (hopefully organic tobacco!) into a container with some water. Allow the mixture to sit for at least 24 hours. If necessary, dilute the mixture with more water until it is pale brown in color. Filter out the butts, and spray directly onto your aphid-ridden plants to take care of the little leaf eaters. Just be careful to not use this mixture on tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and other plants in the solanaceous family.

Keep those flies and wasps away from your plants with a few drops of eucalyptus oil near plants where you tend to find them congregating.

One of the easiest deterrents of pesky insects is something you can plant right into your garden, dispersing it throughout your other crops and flowers. This is known as companion planting. There are several books on the subject. Give it a try! Plant some garlic bulbs! Not only will this distinctly aromatic plant deter those garden invaders, but you can use it for a myriad of recipes in the kitchen.

While organic pesticides are a great option for controlling the inhabitants of your garden, proceed with caution before making a widespread change to your pest control routine. If you have multiple plants that are in need of treatment, pick the worst of the bunch to test your homemade concoctions. It’s better to lose one plant to a too-high concentration of pesticides than to lose the whole group. Using soil conditioners like EM-1 in combination with your homemade pesticide efforts will result in strong, healthy plants grown in a safe, pest-free environment.