Here in north Texas, the summers are hotter, longer and drier than ever. Growing an organic vegetable garden in this climate can be... tricky, so you have to utilize every available advantage to get your produce from garden to table. Hopefully my blog will not only provide you with gardening tips but also inspire you to grow more of your own produce, regardless of where you live. If you'll just follow Mother Nature's path, you'll find yourself engulfed in a fresh, nutritious and very tasty world of homegrown vegetables. So prepare to get your hands dirty and use the old noggin for something besides a hat rack.
But really folks, it isn't rocket surgery. After all, I'm doing it, and so can you!
Now I don't know all the tricks — many of the ones I do know, I learned from Mother Earth News and its vast array of resources, but I've tried everything in my garden from Epsom Salts (not naturally organic but a good source of magnesium), to human hair ("No ma'am, I'm not gluing it to my head, it's for keeping rabbits out of the garden."). My advice is to try all the old remedies, the newfangled discoveries and maybe even think up a few of your own. Just make sure you try them out on a small scale before you go spraying wild cow's milk on everything.
Here's a few solutions to common garden problems, specifically how chickens will help you battle the elements and insects.
Last year, I began raising chickens. I truly love farm-fresh eggs, but the main reasons for my new feathered friends are bug patrol and fertilizer production. Other than water, these two elements are possibly the most critical in maintaining a healthy garden.
Grasshoppers have destroyed my crops in the past, but so far this season, I'm ahead of their annual assault. The chickens have kept them to a minimum around the garden while at the same time fertilizing the immediate area for expansion next season. Their coop is inside the garden fence but cordoned off in one corner with a gate to the outside. This allows the chickens to roam the outer perimeter of the garden, keeping the leaf-hungry pests away from the plants. Once the chickens become true free-range birds, they take to bug catching and eating green grasses as in Nature, which also adds nutrition and a better taste to their eggs. I keep the grass and brush mowed short all around the perimeter as well, which cuts back on the grasshopper's food source.
As I worked the garden soil late last year, I added enough chicken manure to just cover the dirt, plus measured amounts of corn gluten, blood and bone meal, and my own compost. I use a broadfork rather than a tiller to bust up and mix the soil. I've found that the high winds early in the year scatter and blow away too much of the finely ground dirt and manure.
By mid-March of this year, I was ready to plant having started my seedlings inside. For years I bought vegetable starts from nurseries but always had trouble with disease, virus and, of course, insects. A few years ago, I made the switch to all heirloom variety, non-GMO seeds. The plants seem to have the ability to fight off those diseases and viruses, and with a little help from Garrett Juice, orange oil, BT and Neem, diatomaceous earth, and garlic pepper spray, my plants are thriving.
Be careful to choose vegetable varieties that grow well in a hot, dry climate if you live in Texas or the Southwest. Most heirloom varieties will stand up to adverse conditions; just research what grows best in your locale. Cedar mulch and recycled ground-cover fabric add another layer of defense against insects plus keep weeds and grasses from taking over. I leave a little grass growing along the walkways for plucking and feeding to the chickens. I have two or three hens that prefer bugs to greenery, so I let them loose in the garden every couple of days for a few minutes to peck out the stray grasshoppers and a few other bugs. Jealousy and some harsh clucking comes from the hen gallery, but Ann-Margaret, Lucy and Ana Marie go on about their gourmet dining, apparently absent of guilt.
Keep a close watch that your birds don't reach for a salad to go with their main course of protein.
The symbiotic relationship between chickens and gardens proves what I've thought all along: There is no substitute for Mother Nature's wisdom and wealth. There's also no need for pesticide, herbicide and genetic modification if you'll allow Her to show you the way to a bountiful, nutritious and flavorful vegetable garden.