Agri Leader

Organic gardening has many benefits

Central Florida's Agri-LeaderIn Florida, many homeowners spend much of the spring and summer working in their yard or garden. At one time or another, most home gardeners have used pesticides and fertilizers to improve growing conditions. However, studies have shown that making a shift toward organic gardening methods will help preserve our environment. While this may seem like a daunting task, making just a few small changes will make a big difference in the health of our planet. One way to go organic is to use compost in your garden instead of fertilizers. Compost is created when organic matter such as grass clippings and leaves is broken down. This is a great way to reduce solid waste and to amend the soil in your garden. Compost has been found to improve conditions in both sandy and clay soils. You can place it on top of mulch or brew it with water to make compost “tea”. According to Sydney Park Brown of the University of Florida, IFAS Extension, compost must be made of materials rich in nitrogen and those that are rich in carbon. Some examples of nitrogen-rich materials are grass clippings, kitchen scraps and manure.
Carbon rich materials include leaves, twigs, shredded newspaper and coffee grounds. Leaves and twigs should be shredded to speed up decomposition. If you use kitchen scraps in your compost, stay away from oily foods, bones and meat. Scraps such as eggshells, fruits and vegetables make the most nutritious compost. Avoid using diseased plants, weeds and infested roots to keep pests and diseases at bay. Once you have decided which materials to use, you can make a compost pile. Place this pile in an area of your yard that is away from drying winds and be sure you can reach it with a garden hose. Compost materials should be layered and not reach a height of more than three feet. After seven days, turn the compost to mix the materials and water it occasionally. When it is ready to use, compost should be crumbly and brown. Since it is hot this time of year in Florida, your compost should be ready to use in 4 to 6 weeks. Organic gardeners avoid using chemical products to control damaging garden pests. There are a variety of natural products that can keep insects away that won’t harm our environment. Neem oil is a botanical insecticide taken from seeds of the neem tree, which is native to India. The active ingredient in neem oil acts as a deterrent to feeding insects and also provides protection from some fungal diseases such as powdery mildew. Products made with citrus oil extracts are also good natural insect repellants. These products are low in toxicity and protect plants against insects such as mites, aphids and several species of flies. Citrus oils are also used in natural pet products to kill fleas and biting flies. If you find yourself dealing with heavy insect infestations during the summer months, you may want to use something a bit stronger such as horticultural oils. Summer oils are light-weight and are applied to plant leaves during the summer months. Dormant oils are used during the fall months for continued pest control. A mineral insecticide known as diatomaceous earth offers control of aphids, slugs and millipedes. This dust is sold in two forms, natural grade and pool grade but natural grade is the one you want for insect control. Your plant choice also makes a difference when using organic gardening practices. Plants native to Florida are easier to grow with fewer chemical products because they are adapted to our growing conditions. Always avoid invasive species that can take over native plants and compete with them for food. Native plants are also drought tolerant and require less frequent irrigation, which will conserve water. Other ways to save water are using drip irrigation and adding a rain sensor to your irrigation system. You will find that you have less insect activity on your native plants, as well. Organic gardening may require some getting used to, but the environmental benefits are immense. While many people fear organic practices are more expensive, most natural products are priced similarly to chemical products. By taking a more natural, common sense approach to gardening, we can have beautiful landscapes that work with our environment instead of against it.