Organic Gardening Blog

Welcome to my organic gardening blog. At certain times of year I post gardening tips weekly and other times much less frequently. Sign up for my ebook over to the right (or near the very bottom of the page if you’re on mobile) if you want to get my best stuff :)

Insect-Eating Birds In The Garden

Larry Hansford is an avid reader of this blog and he recently asked me if I’ve written anything about attracting insect-eating birds into the garden.

I said not much, would you like to write a little something?

And so he wrote about his garden and he filmed the video below.

If you’re reading this and have your own experiences with insect-eating birds, please share in the discussion area down below. Thanks!

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Major Plant Nutrients

While calcium and phosphorus are often considered the most important minerals among organic and biological gardeners and farmers, we know it’s not that simple.

Granite quarryA granite quarry in Madrid province, Spain.

All nutrients need to be there in sufficient quantities and proper ratios for optimal health.

Still, there are only a handful we focus on as being the foundational nutrients, with the rest supplied mostly through things like compost, sea minerals and rock dust.

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Calcium and Phosphorus

Calcium and phosphorus are two of the most important nutrients for plants.

Blossom end rotOne of the most common “disease” symptoms in tomatoes – blossom end rot – is really a sign of calcium deficiency.

Conventional gardening and farming largely ignore these, especially calcium, in favor of short-term remedies.

Organic gardeners often ignore them, too, in favor of organic matter such as compost.

We need organic matter, but we need the minerals, too.

These foundational minerals build the optimum environment which soil biology needs in order to flourish.

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Supplementing Nutrients

Microbes and plants need nutrients.

We can supply most of these nutrients through good mulches and well-made compost, but not only do we need the nutrients, we need them in specific amounts in relation to each other.

NPKThe old paradigm.

That’s where a small amount of specific fertilizers come in, to move towards these ratios. Organic matter generally can’t do it alone, so this is a vital step.

There are several definitions of the word fertilizer. In many countries, in order to be considered a fertilizer, a product must have a certain amount of total nitrogen, available phosphate and soluble potash, often written as NPK.

Notice that it’s available phosphate and soluble potash, not total.

This has an unfortunate consequence for organic fertilizers.

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Effective Microorganisms

Dr. Teruo Higa started studying microorganisms in the 1960s and 1970s, mostly at Ryukyus University in Okinawa, Japan.

By the early 1980s, he was perfecting his liquid culture of specific “facultative anaerobic microbes” that provide amazing benefits when combined together in specific proportions.

KefirKefir is also made with fermenting microbes.

Facultative anaerobic means microbes that can live both in air with oxygen and also in low oxygen conditions.

They’re also called fermenting microbes and some of them are responsible for making your bread, beer, wine and yogurt.

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Microorganism Inoculants

Do you have too much compost?

I know I don’t. It’s always in short supply. Most of us don’t have too much organic matter in our soil either. In fact, most of us don’t have nearly enough.

Healthy soilMicrobes are the most important element of healthy soil.

The same goes for microorganisms. We generally need more of them.

That cause of their deficiency may be that we don’t have enough organic matter for them to eat, we have big monocultures in our landscape, we’ve used pesticides or chemical fertilizers, we’ve used drip irrigation or otherwise withheld water from the landscape, we’ve been tilling our soil, or even because of the generally toxic environment we live in with pollution, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals around.

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Indoor Composting

Perhaps you don’t have the room or inclination to make a full-sized outdoor compost pile.

Fortunately, even a small amount of compost can be highly beneficial.

This article outlines two methods of composting your food scraps that can be done right in your house.

Bran bokashiBokashi made from bran of some kind, sprinkled on food scraps.

Bokashi

Bokashi is a fermented material, often rice bran or wheat bran although it can be made with many other kinds of waste materials such as sawdust, grain mash from breweries, and other grain scraps.

Bokashi is fermented by mixing it with the liquid microbial inoculant called Effective Microorganisms (EM). It’s done today because it makes some of the most incredibly beneficial organic matter possible for the garden, but traditionally, it was also a method of making use of waste products.

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Cover Crops

Cover crops are traditionally thought of as plants used when the garden or field is empty, such as over winter and sometimes over summer.

But I like to broaden this definition to also include plants used during the growing season, inter-planted with food crops or even in ornamental beds where they’re sometimes called groundcovers or living mulch.

CrotalariaCrotalaria or “rattlepod” is a leguminous green manure often grown in the tropics. It’s great for fiber and building soil, but poisonous to large mammals.

They’re also referred to as green manures, generally when they’re going to be incorporated into the soil after a certain period of growth.

A good goal is to make sure your soil is always covered with plants, and cover crops help achieve this goal.

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Compost Tea

There’s been a lot of excitement in the last 15 years about the benefits of compost tea and nearly as much confusion about what it is.

The benefits are all the same as those things microbes do in the garden that were listed in the soil food web lesson, with insect and disease control and plant health being the main reasons people use it.

TeaNice with biscuits, but it won’t do much for your garden.

The confusion happens because of the name.

Gardeners have been making a form of compost tea for centuries by putting a small amount of compost in a pail of water, sometimes inside a burlap sack, stirring it once in a while for a few days, and then applying that water to the soil.

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