Organic Gardening Tips from A to Z

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Organic gardening tip: a concoction of garlic, chili peppers, and water will act as a gopher deterrent.

Those of you who care about nature (and since you’re reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS, odds are you do) can probably think of any number of good reasons to garden organically. But probably the best reason–if you plan to eat what comes from your garden–is the clean, fresh, and safe produce you’ll enjoy when the time is right and ripe. To help you find success, here are some useful organic gardening tips.

Apple Maggots On the Run 

Here is a brew that will trap one of the worst enemies of your apple crop: the apple maggot. Mix one part molasses with nine parts water, then add yeast to produce fermentation. Pour this mixture into wide mouth jars and hang in nearby trees.

Banana Peel Fertilizer

Chop banana peels and add into soil when you transplant tomatoes and green peppers. This will ensure very strong trunks and stems. Banana peels contain 3.25% phosphorus and 41.76% potash. They’re also an excellent fertilizer for roses, but use sparingly; two or three peels per bush at a time is about right.

Carrot Soil

Carrots like to grow in loose, sandy soil. If you have clay soil you will find carrots very challenging. In Midwest Gardening, Denny McKeown offers an excellent solution: “Simply dig a trench 12″ deep and the width of your shovel. Mix sand and peat humus with some of the existing soil (about 50/50), and backfill the trench. Then plant your carrot seeds.”

Daddy Longlegs

Most active at night, daddy longlegs (also known as harvestman), prey on aphids, mites, leafhoppers, and other garden insects.

Eggshell Mulch 

Not only do they add lime, nitrogen, and phosphorus to the soil, eggshells also help to foil cutworms when crushed and sprinkled around seedlings.

Firefly Larvae

In the larval stage the firefly can be considered of material benefit to man. The growing juveniles eat animals that feed on leaves. Their favorite foods are the small snails they share living quarters with in decaying wood and soil.

Gopher Deterrent 

If you have a problem with gophers digging in your lawn try this: put two or three bulbs of garlic, several chili peppers, and some water in your blender and blend well. Pour this down some of the gopher holes and rinse with a strong stream of water from a hose.

Honeybees and Hay Fever

There’s a theory that hay fever sufferers who eat honey produced within a few miles of their homes will find that it alleviates their misery. The pollen of the flowers and weeds, which the honeybee makes into honeycomb, is believed to provide a natural antitoxin.

Insects Can’t Slip By 

Some insects that damage fruit trees crawl from the soil to the branches to lay their eggs. They can be stopped by wrapping the trunk with six to eight inches of tape or grease-resistant paper and applying Vaseline or other grease to the tape. Don’t put Vaseline directly on the tree because it may cause damage.

Japanese Black Pine 

This beautiful pine grows somewhat irregularly. It is an excellent choice if you have a garden near a windy seashore because it is resistant to both wind and salt spray. I have also found it to be a good choice for dry, windy Oklahoma.

Kiwi Plant Management

Unless pruned quite heavily, kiwi plants will become a tangled mass. Prune after the leaves drop. Removing the weaker canes will encourage the stronger ones to be more productive.

Leaf Mulch

Shred leaves and mix with grass clippings to make a good mulch. It will decompose rapidly and give mulched plants the benefits of their many nutrients.

Mice Girdle

Mice sometimes completely girdle young fruit trees. Painting with standard tree wound paints is helpful. Or you might try covering the wounds with white corn syrup and then wrapping with aluminum foil.

Newspaper Mulch 

To make newspaper mulch for vegetables: place several layers between plant rows, and keep them wet so they won’t blow around. Also weigh them down with a few clods of earth. Weeds won’t sprout underneath, and when the papers decompose, they enrich the soil.

Owls Helpers

The tiny screech owl–more often heard than seen–patrols moonlit yards for insects and mice. Lizards, salamanders, and worms may also scooped up during the owl’s nightly forays. The barn owl is probably the most important predator of rats and mice in populated areas, rivaling the house cat in importance.

Painting Trees

Painting the trunks of fruit trees with Tabasco sauce helps deter rabbits and mice.

Quicker Decomposition 

Compost will break down and decay faster if the compost heap is placed in a shady location.

Red Spider Mites 

These little peskies seem to appear suddenly, especially on tomato leaves, when really hot weather hits. Organic Plant Protection (Rodale Press) states: “A spray of two percent oil of coriander will kill the spider mite; a spray of anise oil should do as well.” Frequent spraying with plain water will also help.

Sea Shell Mulch 

Save those sea shells you collected at the beach and turn them into mulch. Face the cups of the shells upwards for those plants that need high humidity. Each time you water, the cups will fill with water and then evaporate into the air around the plant. Covering the top of the pot soil with small shells can also be very attractive.

Thinning Fruit

The sooner excess fruit is removed after flowering, the more likely the remaining fruit will improve in size and quality. A good general rule of thumb for apricots, plums, apples, Asian pears, nectarines, and peaches is to thin them twice as far apart as the diameter you want them to be at maturity.

Umbel Plants

Umbels are the kind of blossom that a certain group of plants produces (“umbel” means umbrellalike in shape). These plants include carrots, parsley, coriander, dill, caraway, anise, fennel, angelica, and chervil.

Plant umbels in moist, rich soil where they will be able to enjoy much shade during the hot months of summer.

Vetch Benefits

Vetches are used for hay, green manure, pasture crops, silage, and as a cover crop for orchards. They are also valuable for renewing soil fertility. Vetches require a cool growing season. The bacteria left in the soil from vetch roots serves as an inoculant and is beneficial to the growth of peas.

Watch for a Cloudy Day 

Bright sun can hurt newly planted seedlings, so always try to transplant them during an overcast day in late afternoon or evening. Shading them the first day or two is also helpful if the sun comes out.

Xerophyte Plants 

Plants especially adapted to withstand long periods of drought or to grow where supplies of water are scare are called xerophytes. Included among these plants are cacti and such succulents as aloes, cotyledons, crassulas, echeverias, haworthias, sedums, and sempervivums. Many of these store water in their fleshy leaves and stems.

Yarrow Benefits

Yarrow has long been acclaimed for its invaluable qualities in companion planting, adding strength to herbs and assisting in the battle against insect pests. Plant yarrow in the same beds with mint, chives, thyme, parsley, basil, oregano, or any other culinary or tea herb. Or plant it in your flower bed to add beauty and protection.

Zigging and Zagging 

Togetherness is one way to practice companion planting–get the neighbors right in there next to each other.

Plant zig-zag rows with onions and beets or carrots and tomatoes tucked into one another. Or use the techniques of intercropping by planting several companions in the same row, one of which might be a protective herb or flower.

Editor’s Note: You can find these and other gardening tips in In Nature’s Hands from Taylor publishing.