(1) Build healthy soil, which yields strong plants that are less prone to disease and pests.
Many of the practices noted below will help protect and develop soil. Think of it as a top priority.
Get your soil tested when planting a new garden and every few years thereafter. Fall is the best time for testing–to allow time to adjust the soil’s pH if necessary–but spring is okay, too.
Here’s the link to UMassAmherst’s soil-testing lab. Cost is $15. Be sure to follow their instructions for soil sampling carefully.
The soil at PPCG was tested for metals such as lead before we established our gardens.
(2) Avoid agricultural chemicals. No synthetic
When in doubt about a product, look for an OMRI rating on the packaging, like the one pictured here.
(3) Use natural materials instead, such as:
composted vegetable scraps,
Natural materials–unlike the agricultural chemicals listed above–provide organic matter that supports beneficial soil organisms and your plants.
(4) Control pests in the least harmful way possible by, for example:
installing barrier netting,
and mingling companion plants.
The goal is generally not to eliminate pests, but to keep them at acceptable, tolerable levels.
Use pesticides approved for organic growing only when necessary, as a last resort.
(5) Focus on prevention.
For example, mulch to thwart weeds.
Mulches from natural materials such as wood chips, shredded leaves, and hay are especially beneficial for the soil. (See 3.)
Mulch also helps to regulate soil temperature and keeps your soil moist.
Learn about the pests and diseases you commonly see in your garden and take appropriate action before they damage your plants. Here’s a very useful guide to the pests, weeds, diseases, and disorders we might see in our region.
Rotating crops helps to keep your soil healthy and also disrupts the life cycle of pests and pathogens that thrive on particular crops and conditions in your garden.