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Organic Gardening

Our garden is on the West side of the house in a well drained flat area. The year before we planted we spread the area with about 1 foot of raw manure and covered it for the rest of the summer. In fall more manure was spread and the area again covered. The following spring the area was tilled with not a sign of sod or weeds. Soil testing is important, and is done every fall. If soil needs lime it is applied in the fall because it takes 6 months for all the minerals to dissolve to a usable nutrient for plants.

Each year when our fields are hayed, we save several large round 1200 lb bales for mulch. The round bales are easy to roll out in thick mats to prevent weed growth and conserve moisture. The areas used for tomatos, squash, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage plants have hay put down before planting, then the hay is parted and the seedlings planted.

Seedlings are raised in a spare room, with lights to supplement the sun. We start the seedlings in trays and transplant after the second leaves are matured. Then each seedling is transplanted into individual pots and placed in trays. Several weeks before planting all the seedlings are brought outdoors first on the porch and then gradually into the sun so they are all hardened before planting.

Before the seedlings are planted we prepare a hole, dug oversized, by putting some well composted manure in the bottom and covering with a spade of soil. Then each hole is filled with water twice to allow the ground under the hole sufficient moisture to draw the roots down. The seedling is placed in the hole and the roots covered with soil. The hay is then pulled back around the plant. Each plant then gets soaked with water.

Seeds for other plants are planted in a combination of rows, beds, hills and close rows. The beans, and turnip are planted in rows. We hill the corn, and squash, and the carrots and peas are planted in close rows about 6" apart, usually in groups of 3. The beds are 3' wide and accommodate onions, lettuce, herbs, scallions, beet greens, beets, swiss chard, radish, and spinach.

As plants mature and are harvested, many plots are seeded successively for season long produce. Lettuce and radish are replanted every 2 weeks along with spinach. Beans and peas may be successively planted every 3 weeks.

A pesticide is any substance applied to control a pest, many organic farmers do not like to call natural pest control agents pesticides. Getting to know your pests and targeting them directly rather then using a broad spectrum pesticide is an important aspect of organic gardening. Pesticides that are organically certified usually have less environmental and health hazards, but that does not mean that they are not without hazards for the user. Organic pesticides usually have a short breakdown time and will breakdown into nontoxic rather then synthetic substances. We control pests using organic pesticides like Rotenone, B.T. and pyrethrum.

Rotenone is a plant derivative, controlling by contact and stomach poisoning. It is a slow acting poison that has a short residual, and is non toxic to bees. Pyrethrum is another plant derivative, its advantage over Rotenone is the rapid destruction of flying pests. We have a lot of stink bugs and Pyrethrum is a much better control over those flying pests. B.T., other wise know as Bacillus thuringiensis, is a microbial pesticide. B.T. is very effective against the cabbage worm, but must be applied frequently as it's effectiveness is limited to 2 days. We find once a week is enough to control the cabbage worm.

We go to market once a week, produce is picked fresh in the morning and washed before taking it to market packed in ice water to keep it fresh. It is important to offer a variety of nice looking fresh produce. To keep your vegetables fresh in an open market, shade and plenty of ice water is necessary. Offering your best will keep customers coming back to you for more.

A large part of gardening is also putting the garden to rest after the season. We pull all old vegetable matter and compost it or feed it to the animals. The pigs love the broccoli and cauliflower plants, and the cows will demolish the corn stalks. All the stakes, poles, and netting is taken out and put away and the garden spread with manure and lime if necessary. Then when spring comes it will be ready for shallow tilling and planting.

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Certified or not, that is the Question!

Organic farming started long ago when the first farmers were homestead style farmers. These farmers relied on animals not only for meat but to plow, fertilize and help harvest food and fiber plants. Fertilizer was called manure then and pesticides were either unheard, of or herbal remedies. Companion planting was practiced for the benefit of each crop.

With the onslaught of industrialization soil fertility and pest management became big business. Artificial chemicals were developed and applied without regard to possible damage to atmosphere, groundwater, soil, beneficial insects, birds or animals including humans. The manner of growing one type of produce in acres practiced by farmers today encourages pests to pray on the bounty. Animals crowded into confinement areas to raise quick meat are also prone to many ills that are not present on small diversified farms.

Organic farming now a days is shrouded in mystery, and allure, but it is in reality what many homesteaders have been practicing for years. Why buy fertilizer when the animals provide it for you, why pay to dispose of weeds, leaves and household scraps when it can provide a lovely compost pile of rich earth. Wood ashes may be spread out to add alkalinity, and lessen the pile on the local dump. Diversified plantings often provide insect control, not possible with single crop plantings.

Like all good things the Government has decided to interfere so city folk can be sure they are getting organic produce, which means homesteaders will have to pay to use the name organic. Now instead of practicing good land stuartship to grow healthy reasonable priced foods, we must spend hours trying to fill out long, poorly constructed forms and pay out money to apply to become "certified organic".

We went that route last year with MOFGA, the form took days to fill out, and was very unfriendly to small producers. Maybe a large farm plants 10 acres of carrots or 1/2 acre of lettuce but I plant 6 rows of carrots, or 4 squares of lettuce and replant regularly. The form was in well before the deadline of March. In July when I was ready to take food to market still no word from MOFGA, finally the end of July the inspector came and looked over our garden and what we used for insect management. All seemed OK but by September I had not heard a thing. A call to headquarters told me that I was certified but the certificates had not gone out. The second week in September I finally got my certificate, 3 weeks before the end of market. The MOFGA people didn't see anything wrong with me paying to be certified at the end of the season but assured me that next year all will be accomplished earlier. I do not think I will bother to find out.

Organic farming is something we do to provide us with the best produce possible, without toxic pesticides and fertilizers. Most people I deal with at market do not care weather or not the item is "certified organic", they are just looking for fresh vegetables. I will continue to plan and plant an organic garden and if the law passes it may have to be labeled chemical free, but it will be the best I have to offer to my customers.

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