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Updated: Feb 15

Gardening the organic way is both easy and far more cost effective — and the benefits are dramatic.   If you’re thinking it’s too hard to switch, think again. First off, it’s not necessary to convert to organic methods in one single giant step. Baby steps are just fine. You can work toward becoming organic a bit at a time to make it easier and more manageable. Even if you are not able to convert 100% to organic methods, you’ll still be helping the environment — and yourself — by using organic products where possible.

In this article, we’ve condensed all the basics down to a few simple steps to help you get started. Along with this guide, you’ve also got us! Bring your questions to Marshall Grain and let our staff of experts help you with all your organic gardening needs.

Organics 101

The fundamental difference between organics an traditional methods is that organics nurture the soil, while traditional methods attempt to force plants to grow. The goal of organic gardening is to create a healthy, well-balanced eco-system that includes both wanted and unwanted insects, birds, and soil-dwelling microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and microscopic animals. Organic gardening actively takes advantage of this natural balance to control pests and diseases. Chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides disrupt nature’s processes by killing off beneficial organisms along with the harmful ones, so you actually lose valuable allies in the war against pests. The first thing to do, then, is stop using chemicals. In most cases, there is a safer, non-toxic alternative available to do the job instead.

Secret 1. Stop the Slaughter!

When your garden is in proper balance, harmful insects can be controlled easily by their beneficial counterparts. Many insects, birds, and soil-dwelling organisms feed on the very things you’d like to get rid of. For every unwanted pest in your yard there is a beneficial garden sentry ready to help you. For instance, ladybugs devour huge quantities of aphids while purple martins eat mosquitoes and other pesky insects. Beneficial nematodes (microscopic soil dwellers) are a natural enemy of grubs, fleas and fire ants. Trichogramma wasps help control webworms and other caterpillar pests.

Speaking of caterpillars, butterflies are especially sensitive to pesticides, and together with bees, these delicate creatures are essential pollinators that keep your flowers blooming and your food crops producing. If the environment is poor, or when there is an infestation, you can supplement native beneficial insect populations by releasing extra quantities of these helpers. Marshall Grain carries ladybugs, praying mantises, trichogrammas, and beneficial nematodes in easy-to-use packages ready to be released into your yard.

When nature alone isn’t sufficient, consider using a repellent rather than a pesticide to avoid killing off someone else’s food source. For example, garlic (available as a spray-on oil or garden plant) effectively repels most insects and even small mammals, while also helping to control fungus. For more difficult or persistent problems, you can broadcast an organic pesticide or herbicide such as neem oil, spinosad, diatomaceous earth or bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) throughout your garden. These products kill off the insects and diseases without polluting the environment or harming your children or pets. Most of them can be used on your garden fruits and vegetables right up to the day of harvest. Our staff can help you choose just the right one for your needs.

Your chemical-free yard will be a much safer and more enjoyable place for you and your family. So stop the slaughter today and switch to eco-friendly alternatives.

Secret 2. Use Organic Fertilizer

What difference does being organic make? Synthetic fertilizers force plants to take up nutrients they may not even need. In fact, they spur top-growth without providing support for corresponding root development. As a result, plants will look good at first, then slump or even die. Organic fertilizers help the soil maintain the proper balance of the three essential nutrients that all plants need to survive: nitrogen, phosphate and potash. These three ingredients are always displayed on the bag as numbers, which represent the percentage of each ingredient in the product. For example, a 5-3-2 organic fertilizer would indicate that it contains 5% nitrogen, 3% phosphate and 2% potash.

If you have been applying synthetic products to your garden, it may take a few months for the affects of these to wear off and for the new organic methods to become effective. Take heart. Your patience will be rewarded. But also don’t wait for your garden to heal itself. As soon as possible, apply a high-quality organic fertilizer. We have several excellent brands to choose from.

This will provide some basic nourishment for the microorganisms in your soil as your garden recovers. Follow up your initial treatment with regular applications of an organic fertilizer two to four times yearly. The best times to fertilize are in the Spring and the Fall.

Secret 3. Enrich Your Soil

You can further restore and enrich your soil by mixing in compost and other organic soil amendments to your flower beds and vegetable garden. You can even apply a layer of compost to your lawn. Just a few of the many options available include horticultural molasses (available in liquid or granules), liquid fish and seaweed products, and soil conditioners such as lava sand or expanded shale. The appearance of Red Wiggler worms is good sign that your soil is healthy. They may be ugly but these critters help aerate the soil, and their castings add more organic matter to the mix.

Secret 4. Keep It Simple

When choosing new plants for your garden, you will be more successful if you stick to plants that are native or adapted to North Texas. There are hundreds of varieties of wildflowers, annuals, roses, ever-green and perennial shrubs, and trees well suited to our area. These native and adapted varieties are hardier than other options, which means they require less water and offer greater resistance to drought, frost, insects, and diseases. You’ll find many excellent choices in Marshall Grain’s nursery.

Secret 5. Mulch, Mulch, Mulch!

Your landscape is an investment. Protect it from unnecessary damage by mulching all your planted areas — even vegetable patches. Mulching helps plants retain moisture during dry periods, insulates them from both heat and cold, helps prevent weeds from sprouting, and adds more organic material to the soil.

Secret 6. Control Weeds Naturally

Weeds are the bane of every gardener, and the best organic solution available is corn gluten meal. Corn gluten meal is a an all-natural “weed and feed” product. A corn by-product, it interferes with the germination of seeds. This pre-emergent herbicide controls the emergence of crabgrass, clover, foxtail, dandelions, purslane, lamb’s quarter, creeping bentgrass, smart weed, redroot pigweed, banyardgrass, and bermudagrass. In trials, corn gluten meal reduced crabgrass by 91 percent over a three year period.

As a weed control product, corn gluten meal works best when used consistently over several seasons. Timing your applications properly is also a key factor. North Texans should put it down early in the Spring (between Feb. 15 and Mar. 15) and again in the early Fall (between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15) depending on the weather. We have Corn gluten meal in spreadable granules, or powder, however, for weed control, the powder is most effective.

For weeds that have already sprouted, try  20% horticultural vinegar. A strongly acidic liquid, vinegar effectively kills green plants. Just spray the crown of the weed and in a few hours, it will shrivel up and die. Grocery-store vinegar, which is less concentrated (usually 5%), actually helps fertilize plants. Don’t get the two mixed up!

Following an organic program makes your gardening job easier in the long run. Once your garden is established, it will continue to work on its own with only an occasional boost. You’ll spend less time fighting problems and more time enjoying what you have. That’s really what life is all about.


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