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Do your part, garden organically

Go organic, make a green garden

Posted: April 21, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 21, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Green Landscape Nursery Manager James Green with shelves full of organic fertilizers.

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So you’ve decided to do your part for the environment, as well as your own health, and this year your backyard garden is going to be “organic.” But what exactly does that mean, and how do you accomplish it?

What you are really seeking is a garden that uses only “natural” materials, according to Richard Green, owner of Green Landscape Nursery in Saugus.

That term includes both truly “organic” things (of, relating to, or derived from, living organisms) as well as some helpful inorganic things, such as gypsum, which is a very garden-beneficial, naturally-occurring mineral.

What you are leaving out are non-natural pesticides and herbicides and petroleum-based fertilizers.

 

Organic seeds

If you really want to start from organic scratch, so to speak, you might consider using organic seeds in your garden.

Organic seeds are harvested from truly organic plants, where neither the plants nor the soil around them has any contact with chemicals for the prior five years, Green said. And you can get these seeds for a vast array of vegetables and other plants.

 

Soil conditioning

When it comes to conditioning your soil before you plant, Nursery Manager James Green favors two products: E. B. Stone Organic Planting Compost ($5.99 for 1.5 cubic feet) and Greenall Soil Booster ($7.99 for 1.5 cubic feet).

The first is truly organic, he said, but it must be blended with your existing soil.

The second is “natural,” in that it contains gypsum, and it “can be used straight,” and doesn’t have to be blended with existing soil.

Richard Green explained that you have to be careful what you put in your organic garden, as some soil amendments might contain products derived from sewage, and so could contain the hormones or antibiotics that sometimes end up in sewage.

 

Fertilizer

When the soil gets warm, and soil microbes get active, organic fertilizers really come into their own. And Richard Green said one of the most important aspects of organic fertilizers is “you can’t burn plants with them,” as is easy to do with inorganic fertilizers.

He explained that in the SCV, with the high alkalinity of the soil and high mineral content of the water, plants are already stressed — especially when the heat is high. Inorganic fertilizers release their nutrients too fast and add further stress.

He said organic fertilizers, on the other hand, “are like an IV drip,” continuously adding just the right amount of multiple nutrients that plants can easily consume. “They increase the microbial action, which makes the soil permanently better,” he added.

Inorganic fertilizers “are like a hamburger, fries and coke,” Green said. They work, but there is no long term benefit.

He also noted that, in the past, organic fertilizers cost more than inorganic fertilizers, but that is changing as petroleum prices go up.

 

Root enhancement

Green offered up one of his “secrets” to gardening, which just happens to be organic. It’s the use of beneficial root fungus, which helps plant roots absorb nutrients.

“It helps plants consume all the things they need. It makes their ‘mouths’ open big,” he said, “and it makes the roots of the plant grow like crazy — almost overnight.”

He added that this root fungus is already in many organic fertilizers, but you can purchase it separately (Xtreme Gardening Mykos, $14.99 per pound).  “It works on any living plant, even lawns. And a little goes a long way,” Green said.

There are so many new things available for organic gardening, Green said, and “hardly anybody is aware of them.” He said it’s like a changing of the guard as people begin to use them to make their gardening experience easier, enhance production and lessen mortality.

 

Garden pests

When it comes to organic pest control, things are booming, and Green said you can eliminate almost all pest problems without using chemical insecticides. The shelves at Green Landscape nursery are filled with multiple products to do the job, from copper anti-slug tape to plant-oil-based animal stoppers. For example NEEM ($16.99) is an organic-oil-based insecticide, and Safer Caterpillar Killer ($13.99) contains an amoeba that kills caterpillars but is harmless to everything else.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” Green said. “It eats the caterpillar from the inside out. You make a decision to strike to eliminate them without harming the beneficial guys. And it’s also not exposing us to pesticide use.”

Green said, among other insects, it works on geranium bud worms, petunia bud worms and, especially, those big tomato worms.

Another good product is Spinosad. “Leaf miners are a problem on citrus everywhere,” Green said, and Spinosad is an organic pest control product that is very effective on them. You can also buy sticky leaf miner traps, which can take out thousands of them at a time.

It might surprise you to know that earthworm castings, worked into the soil, can help plants fight off pests. Green Landscape Manager Jessica Lawrence said that, over time, the castings improve the immune systems of the plants, making them more resistant to pests.

Ants

While you might not normally consider ants as garden pests, they can be a big problem because they have an affinity for the sticky fluids aphids produce. Because of this, Green said ants will actually transport aphids from place to place, for greener pastures, so to speak, and will protect their aphids from predators. To help you eliminate aphids, you need to eliminate ants.

Green said borax-based ant traps work very well. “The ants swarm them like honey,” he said. “They carry the borax back to the queen and it kills her almost instantly.” He added that you can wipe out all the ant colonies for many yards in this way, without harming any beneficial bugs.

 

Predators

Natural insect predators are an excellent way to control garden pests. Ladybugs ($8.99 for 1,500-plus) will eat aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites, thrips and other soft-bodied insects — eight to 10 times their body weight each day. Praying mantis will eat any bug they can catch, and you can buy two mantis egg cases, containing 50 to 200 eggs, for $9.99.

Though Green Landscape was out of them at the time of my visit, you can also purchase decollate snails, which feed on other snails and slugs. And when they run out of food, they become dormant, Green said.

 

Aesthetics

And finally, to improve the aesthetics of your garden, Green suggests you encourage birds, such as hummingbirds and finches, to nest there. “They also eat bugs,” he added. You encourage the presence of these birds by “augmenting their foods” he said.

Overall, when it comes to organic gardening, Green said you should use as many organic products as sensible “without paying through the nose.”

Green Landscape Nursery, 26191 Bouquet Canyon Road, Saugus, CA 91350 (corner of Bouquet and Cinema Drive). 661-255-8838.

jwalker@the-signal.com

661-287-5524

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