It's important to do some basic garden soil testing before you plant or even design your garden.
Check out this video to see what I mean.
Actually, I ideally want to learn a lot about the soil, because by far the best time to improve it is when you prepare a new organic garden bed, before you’ve planted anything.
Before you plant, it’s important to go through some form of vegetable garden design process.
This video will show you how.
Non-toxic pest control is becoming more popular with the growing interest in organic gardening.
I wrote "The Holistic Gardening Handbook" in 2010/2011.
It was eventually published in 2012 by Acres U.S.A. as "Building Soils Naturally."
I also created a mini, condensed version of the original book, thinking it might be a useful thing to have around. I hope you find it so (right-click on the button below to save the book to your computer):
Be sure to still read the article below, because it's one of the most important lessons I have.
In fact, one of the most common questions asked by new organic gardeners is how to get rid of pests without using chemical pesticides.
As a result, you'll find many recipes for homemade "organic" pesticides on the Internet and in books.
For example, baking soda actually works to prevent and eradicate powdery mildew (Erysiphales), blackspot (Diplocarpon rosae) and a few others.
I've even tried it myself just to see and it worked well on roses.
University trials have confirmed its effectiveness. A solution of 1-5 tablespoons of baking soda per gallon of water is generally recommended. Start lower though, as 5 tablespoons can hurt the leaves in some cases.
Efficacy is greatly improved by adding an equal amount of dish soap or insecticidal soap, or an equal part of horticultural oil.
The main benefit of these in this case seems to be that they help the baking soda solution stick to the leaves. I actually used molasses because it provides other benefits than just stickiness, whereas the soap is not friendly to the beneficial microorganisms on the leaves.
So using baking soda can help with certain diseases, but the problem with focusing on moving from chemical pesticides to organic pesticides is that we’re not recognizing the root cause of the pest problem and fixing that instead.
To look at the root cause of the problem, we first need to see why humans eat plants...
We (and other animals) prefer plants that are healthy and full of nutrients.
Sure, most of us seem to have lost a lot of our ability to differentiate between a healthy plant from a not-so-healthy plant, but animals are still very good at it and they choose the healthy stuff.
Even farm animals, who haven't exactly been bred for intelligence, will choose healthy feed over the pesticide-laced, imbalanced feed that makes up the majority.
But this gets really interesting when we look at why insects and diseases eat plants...
What kind of food does an aphid (Aphidoidea) like? What does a disease such as powdery mildew prefer to eat?
We tend to think insects and diseases are making our plants unhealthy, but actually, they are there because our plants are unhealthy.
This is one of the biggest shifts we need to make in our thinking when moving to organic gardening practices, and to me it’s absolutely fascinating.
While animals prefer healthy plants, insects and diseases prefer the opposite. They choose plants that have a nutritional imbalance of one or more nutrients. They literally do not possess the enzymes necessary to digest healthy plants.
In fact, they don’t even see healthy plants as a food source at all. Sounds crazy, right?
Well I'm going to explain it, because this is one of the most important concepts to understand when talking not only about non-toxic pest control, but organic gardening in general.
I won't go into too much detail, but here's the gist of it.
Animals (like us) see with our eyes in the visual light spectrum. Insects, on the other hand, sense much of their surroundings with their antennae.
That’s how they find a mate and that’s how they find their food. These antennae interpret electromagnetic frequencies in the infrared spectrum, which is right beside the visual light spectrum that we see.
Plants also emit pheromones that insects interpret as "food." Not all plants emit these pheromones, though.
It turns out that only sick plants emit them in such a manner as to be seen as food! This finding is one of the most amazing implications for organic gardeners and farmers.
Healthy plants simply do not emit these strong frequencies, so insects do not see healthy plants as a food source. And even if they do land on a healthy plant, for the most part, they do not have the enzymes to digest a healthy plant.
Why do sick plants invite predators to eat them? I don’t think we know for sure. Some people think it's evolution - the plants don't want to survive since it would be a detriment to their species (if sick plants were to continually reproduce, the species would not be as strong and would have a much more difficult time surviving, so they "take one for the team," so to speak).
I don't know about that, but I figure plants don't have the same anxiety about death that we do. All I know for sure is that insects eat sick plants.
As you may have noticed, most insects don’t go around eating any plant species in its path. They usually have just a few species or perhaps a family of plants that are their food and they don’t - they can’t - eat anything else.
That’s why plant predator books are often organized by plant, because when you know the plant that's being eaten, it narrows down the potential predators to just a handful.
It turns out that each insect antennae is shaped in such a way to collect only the frequencies from certain plants.
Other than the fact that they stop most organic gardeners from shifting their paradigm to see that plant-feeding organisms only eat unhealthy plants, non-toxic pest control products have a couple of other problems.
Many of them harm the plants to some degree, and most healthy plants can handle it, but since we’re spraying plants that are obviously already suffering, the damage will often be worse.
Another problem is if we keep killing the offending organism with these pest control products, the predators of those pests may be killed or at least will never set up shop.
For example, ladybugs (Coccinellidae) won’t lay their eggs, which therefore won’t hatch to eat the aphids.
And many of the beneficial microorganisms that would consume our black spot or mildew will be killed when we use baking soda or something similar.
Killing the pests does not change anything. Pesticides do not give the plant the nutrients it needs.
What is the ultimate goal for organic pest control? Create health in your soil and your plants so that the pests never cause any problems.
That's what this series of free lessons is all about.
And that's definitely what my online gardening course is all about.
And it's also why I use (and sell) a handful of organic products that do a very good job of improving plant health to the point where pests gradually go away.
Please let me know below what you think of this way of looking at non-toxic pest control. I would love to get your thoughts.
Continued from What Is Brix?.
The second reason we may conduct a brix test is more practical and useful in our vegetable gardens.
First, we take our refractometer and measure brix in a leaf or especially a fruit from one of our plants, for example a tomato.
When I started learning about brix, I got super excited about organic vegetable gardening. To me, brix is one of the most fascinating topics in organic gardening.
So what is brix? Here's my basic brix definition: it measures the dissolved solids in plant juice, which includes sucrose and fructose, vitamins and minerals, protein and amino acids, and many others.
What is paramagnetic rock dust? Well, let's start with paramagnetism.
The soil in your organic garden is paramagnetic. It isn't magnetic, but is mildly attracted by a magnet and partially aligns with the earth’s magnetic field, so it's paramagnetic. Some soils are attracted more than others, and generally, the more paramagnetic your soil is, the better.
This is apparently because highly paramagnetic soils are more energetically aligned with the earth and even the universe, and actually invite energy into them.
In my part of the world, the vegetable garden is winding down for the winter. Actually, I'm always amazed how some of these plants can withstand the cold and continue producing. We're still harvesting hardy herbs and vegetables from our organic garden in late November.
The wintertime plant defenses are starting to be apparent this time of year in my organic garden. Many plants are exceptionally good at surviving, not just temperature changes but many environmental threats.
Yesterday, I wrote about garden pesticides, so I figure today I might as well cover chemical fertilizers.
Just like pesticides, I used to use these fertilizers all the time as a landscaper and on the golf course.
Even today, there are a couple of lesser-known chemical fertilizers that can be extremely useful in an otherwise organic garden when you're trying to bring back a badly abused soil, but for the most part, we need to stay away from them.
I don't spend much time on garden pesticides on this site because I know most of my readers are already interested in alternatives, but I thought I'd better post a few notes for the gardening newbies out there.
This article is about the downsides of garden pesticides with respect to the garden itself (the health implications for us would be an entirely different article).
When I was younger, I spent the better part of a decade maintaining a 9 hole, par 3 golf course owned by my parents. I sprayed pesticides often. The enemy on the course greens was a fungus called dollar spot. The main pesticide ingredient was chlorothalonil. It killed the fungus really well for about 7 days until I had to come back and spray more.
Philodendrons like the one below often have big leaves. That's probably why Cleve Backster used them in a number of his experiments. Ultimately, he showed that plants can read your mind.
Backster was one of the most well-known lie detector examiners during the 1960s. One day, he was sitting in his office, bumming around on Facebook (okay, this was before computers, so he was probably staring at his typewriter or something). Basically, he was bored.
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