13 May 2010

Grow Your Own, Pt. I: Plants vs Plants

All week, we have been talking about organics: organic meat, organic produce, etc. Often, it can be pretty expensive to buy the organic stuff though. Growing your own produce can be a much cheaper solution, and then, you can be 100% sure of what you're eating. Plus, there really is nothing on the planet quite as good as a fresh tomato, right off the plant, still warm from the sun!

For those of you with a green thumb, I'm sorry to say I'm not one of you! But, my mother comes from a long line of good gardeners (it just managed to skip me, I guess). As she was my inspiration for getting into organics and natural foods, I wanted to share some of the things she's done in her garden to keep herself, and her plants, healthy, without the use of any chemicals.

So what are the main concerns in a garden? The two biggies are pests from the plant kingdom (something I am all too familiar with – even if you have no talent for growing things, if you have a hand or two, you can be recruited to weed), and pests from the animal kingdom (bugs and deer and such).

Plant Kingdom

Conventional “Wisdom”

Conventional farms employ the use of herbicides to deter many weeds. The problem is they kill anything green, and goodness knows what the chemicals do to you in the long term. The USDA tracks  “-cides” levels in random samples of many popular fruits and veggies, determining “safe” levels for each herbi-/pesticide, but I'd rather just stay away from them in general.

Another approach

Well, from what I've observed, the best way to keep a garden weed-free (or as close to it as possible) is first to prevent weeds. My mother spends countless hours early each season doing her best to prevent what weeds she can. This is always a good idea, because it means I can stay in the shade on the deck drinking a coffee instead of sitting in the blazing sun weeding (and proceeding to get a horrible sunburn on my back or legs when I become a weed-pulling-robot and lose track of time). So here are a few steps you can take to prevent weeds

  1. Pull what young weeds you can find. If they die young, they can't grow up! At a minimum, make sure to pull weeds before they have the ability to seed, spread, and wreak havoc among your garden.
  2. If you have the time and/or ability, you can do something called “solarization.” Basically, you till your plot, and then water the turned dirt to get the ground moistened. Place a large sheet of clear plastic over the dirt and anchor with something heavy. Left for several weeks, the sun will eventually burn what weeds try to develop, avoiding them getting a foothold in your land. (This is also a great solution for late frost in your garden. If you have delicate seedlings, and the weather is forecasting unusually low temperature, by covering your plants with plastic overnight, it will help insulate them against frost.)
  3. Mulch!! My mother is the mulch queen. Here's what she usually does:
  • Prep a base layer: Once the ground is prepared, she'll place several sheets of blank newsprint paper over the ground (avoid using regular newspaper, since the inks can contain toxins – not good for you OR your plants). You could also use several inches of shredded paper, but again, beware of ink.
  • Another alternative is to use long sheets of plastic. First cover your tilled ground with long sheets of plastic. When planting your seedlings, cut small slits in the plastic to access the ground. (this can be great for your plants, especially in the early parts of the season, as it will have a greenhouse effect and help keep the ground warm around the tender young roots. (Just remember to pull up the plastic every year – it doesn't biodegrade)
  • Finally, surround your seedlings with a nice thick layer of mulch; you can use straw, dried grass clippings, leaves, or wood mulch. They even make mulch out of recycled tires, but since rubber doesn't break down, I'd stay away from it for the sake of the environment (and your soil).

The great thing about mulch is not only does it insulate your plant roots and prevent most new weeds from forming, it also creates a barrier against many common garden bugs. And it truly does keep the remainder of the growing season largely weed-free. You'll still get a few here and there, but you know what? If you didn't have to pull a single weed, where's the satisfaction? (Just kidding Mom, I really don't want to weed! I'm perfectly satisfied just taking your veggies!)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails