So, what exactly is organic gardening? The answer appears to be fairly simple and I’d guess most people would have a similar response: Cutting out the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizer in order to promote healthy soil and beneficial insects/reptiles.
It becomes a little more complicated once you begin looking for organic fertilizers containing all of the nutrients your soil needs. There are a lot of “organic” fertilizers which aren’t quite as natural as you would think. In general, try to avoid organic fertilizers that have a nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium (NPK) ratio that adds up to more than 15.
Having correct NPK levels brings us to one of the most important aspects of organic gardening, and gardening of any type for that matter: determining the pH and nutrient levels within your soil. Ensuring that your pH and nutrients are in balance gives your plants a better chance of absorbing the nutrients they need while also protecting our environment from excess nutrients running off into our lakes and groundwater.
Although nothing beats learning your exact soil composition by way of hiring a professional to perform a soil analysis, there are other means to gain an understanding of what’s going on beneath your feet. Organic gardening, above all else, is the act of becoming more in tune with nature and basically learning to “listen” to your garden. You can actually learn a lot about your soil from what weeds are growing in your yard. Here is a list of some common weeds and what they mean for your soil from organicgardening.com:
Chicory and Bindweed – These weeds show that your soil has become compacted. Compacted soil also indicates that your soil organisms, such as worms, don’t have a good environment in which to thrive. With proper organic gardening methods, you can actually bring earthworms back into your soil which then act as natural aerators.
Dandelions – The presence of dandelions in your yard shows that the soil has a pH balance below 7.0, or that your soil is acidic. Some plants actually thrive in acidic soil such as hydrangeas, blueberries and azaleas. pH can be a little tricky to balance without understanding exactly what your pH level is. If you notice dandelions, it is recommended that you have your soil tested before trying any remedies such as adding lime.
Scarlet Pimpernel, Nodding Thistle and Salad Burnet – Any of these weeds in your garden indicate that your soil is more alkaline, or has a pH higher than 7.0. Again, if you have any weeds that indicate that your pH may be out of whack, contact a professional for a soil analysis before attempting any remedies.
Daisies and Mugwort – Wild daisies and mugwort indicate that your soil doesn’t have enough “food” in it, meaning that there aren’t many nutrients. To know exactly what nutrients your soil is lacking will require a soil analysis. Nitrogen can be replenished with fish meal; bonemeal will add more phosphorus and greensand will help with potassium. I will touch on further on natural soil amendments in our next blog.
Common Chickweed – An abundance of chickweed is an indicator that your soil is fertile!
Remember that before you apply any soil amendments to your lawn or garden, contact a professional to conduct a test to determine your soil’s pH and nutrient levels.
By: Wylee Wooldridge