Start Here: Basic Organic Practices

(1) Build healthy soilwhich 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 syntheticOMRI

  • fertilizers,
  • pesticides,
  • or herbicides.
  • 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,
  • composted manure,
  • bone meal,
  • and seaweed.
  • 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:

  • handpicking pests,
  • 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.

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