Organic Gardening Techniques
Ray R. Rothenberger and K. Hildahl
Department of Horticulture, University of Missouri-Columbia
The success or failure of the organic approach depends on how gardeners use and prepare organic matter. Organic matter improves soil tilth and prevents soil compaction and crusting. It increases the water holding ability of the soil and provides a more favorable soil environment for earthworms and beneficial microorganisms. It slows erosion, and in later stages of decay, organic matter releases nitrogen and other nutrients to growing crops. Carbon dioxide from decaying organic matter brings minerals of the soil into solution, making them available to growing plants. Many soils of the world have been ruined, mainly because they have been depleted of organic matter from prolonged cultivation without proper soil management.
Sources of organic matter
Animal manures. Where available, animal manures are excellent sources of organic matter and nutrients for the soil. It is best to apply manures after they have been composted and partially broken down. Fresh manure may be applied directly to the soil, but this should be done in fall and plowed down so that there is adequate time for sufficient breakdown and ammonia release before crops are planted.
Those who do not have access to fresh or composted animal manures may find packaged dried manures for sale in nurseries and garden stores. Because fresh, composted manure contains high amounts of water, an equal weight contains fewer nutrients than dried manure. Also, the fertility of manures from different sources varies widely. Table 1 gives some average figures.
Table 1. Major constituents of animal manures (percent)
|Nitrogen||Phosphorus||Potassium||Calcium||Magnesium||Organic matter||Water content|
To interpret the table, note that each 100 pounds of fresh cattle manure contains about one-half pound of available nitrogen, while 100 pounds of dried cattle manure contains about 2 pounds. Compare these amounts to a common commercial fertilizer such as 10-10-10, which contains 10 pounds of nitrogen per 100 pounds. By observing the nutrient content of the major constituents of a fertilizer, a guide to the appropriate rate of application can be developed.
I highly recommend the book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades: The Complete Guide to Organic Gardening. The author, Steve Solomon, developed the complete organic fertilizer recipe. Even if you garden strictly with ornamentals, this book will help you understand our climate, cold spring soils, and what our plants need for year round health. Solomon goes into detail about our soil structure as well as the need to fertilize specifically for our unique situation. A must read, in my opinion, for gardeners in the maritime Pacific Northwest.
Book Description: Here's a fully revised edition of this regional bestseller- considered to be the definitive food gardening manual for the Pacific Northwest. This is the bible of vegetable gardening for anyone turning the soil west of the Cascade Mountains-from Western British Columbia to Northern California. It includes the basics of soil, when best to plant, the art of composting, what varieties grow well here, which seed companies are reliable, information on handling pests, and an extensive section on the cultivation of each vegetable.
Gardening for the Homebrewer: Grow and Process Plants for Making Beer, Wine, Gruit, Cider, Perry, and More
By co-authors Debbie Teashon (Rainy Side Gardeners) and Wendy Tweton