The secret to having a good organic garden is to feed the soil and build the ecosystem. You want to strive for balance in your garden. If your soil is unbalanced, with too much of some things and not enough of others, your plants will not thrive. You can remedy that by having your soil tested and amend with organic materials to bring things into alignment.
Building the ecosystem takes a bit more time. I believe it takes three full years of following the guidelines for organic certification before one can be certified. There is a reason for that. It takes that long for things to begin to work together. Building the ecosystem means to have plantings that attract beneficial insects that will feed on the not-so-beneficial ones. Leaving things flower and go to seed in your garden will help do that, which is an additional advantage, besides seeds, of saving seeds.
Learn all you can about the insects you attract in your garden. According to the book Great Garden Companions, Pennsylvania leatherwings will feed on “many kinds of insects, including cucumber beetles, grasshopper eggs, caterpillars, root maggots, rootworm larvae, and most soft-bodied insects.” The photo shows a Pennsylvania leatherwing on a spearmint plant in my garden. I let spearmint wander in the wild parts of my garden and it attracts many kinds of beneficial insects when it flowers. Plant it and they will come is so true! Find more information about feeding the soil and building the ecosystem at Homeplace Earth.
Besides amending your soil and planting to attract beneficial insects, look to cover crops to build your soil and add organic matter. Whether you have clay soil or sandy soil, the answer to enhancing it is to grow cover crops. Once you have experienced the wonderful things that cover crops can do for your soil, you will embrace them and never look back. Start now and plant cover crops in your garden this fall.
Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth.
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