Rick Daniel

Master GardenerS

Iím sure most of you have heard of organic ardening. As a Master Gardener, it is referred to within our organization as Earth-kind gardening. To avoid conflict or confusion, weíve decided to refer to this practice by an increasingly popular term, natural vegetable gardening.

To understand the differences, here are the definitions of all options.

Organic gardening Ė† The science and art of gardening by incorporating the entire landscape design and environment to improve and maximize the garden soilís health, structure, texture, as well as maximize the production and health of developing plants without using synthetic commercial fertilizers, pesticides or fungicides.

Earth-kind gardening uses research-proven techniques to provide maximum garden enjoyment while preserving and protecting the environment. The objective of Earth-kind gardening is to combine the best of organic and traditional gardening principles to create a horticultural system based on real world effectiveness and environmental responsibility. This is accomplished by promoting water conservation, reduction of fertilizer and pesticide use and reduction of landscape waste entering landfills.

Natural gardening Ė These gardeners are similar in the basic philosophy of the organic gardener, but not as strict in their choice of soil amendments. They will use a safe natural product that has good organic matter in it, even if it contains a minimum amount of preservatives, colorings, etc.

First, letís consider why to utilize natural vegetable gardening techniques. Iím sure most of you have heard about sustainability. Most of us are trying to decide how we can contribute our fair share to sustaining our planet and not over-utilizing our natural resources.

Did you know that if every person on this planet consumed at the same rate as the people here in the United States, that it would require 5.2 planets to provide for our current population? While the rest of the world is trying to catch up to us, we need to be working towards consuming far less, as unfortunately we do not have 5.2 planets to sustain our existing and ever expanding population.

If youíve considered becoming a natural gardener, the vegetable garden is the one place that makes the most sense. The chemicals we ingest in our bodies on a daily basis should be of concern to all of us. The amount of carbon footprint required to ship foods around the world should also be of concern. When you purchase food at the grocery market, you have no idea where it came from, how it was raised and if it is safe to ingest in your body. I could go on and on, but most of you know there is a valid reason to be concerned, so letís get on with the information about how to raise your own vegetables, naturally.

A natural gardening approach incorporates low analysis fertilizers, low-nitrogen natural organic fertilizers, fertilizing based on soil needs and fertilizers loaded with trace minerals. It also works within natureís laws and systems, treats soil and actual problems, improves soil and plants for natural resistance, utilizes beneficial insects and uses teas and homemade mixtures over chemicals.

First and foremost with any natural gardening program is soil preparation. Here in Ellis County, our primary soil is black gumbo clay. Black clay clumps together and needs to be amended before using as garden soil. The best amendments are compost and expanded shale as well as other organic materials like leaves. Besides for physical amendments, we also need chemical amendments, which can be determined best with a soil test. Once you know what needs to be added, you need to know the natural resources for those chemicals. Organic chemical amendments may include animal manures, blood meal, bone meal, cottonseed meal, fish emulsion, kelp spray, green sand, lava sand and molasses.

Once your garden is growing, you will need an ongoing fertilizer program, as well as a good pest control program. In addition to the chemical amendments mentioned above, foliar fertilizer feeding is a primary component of any natural program. The best foliar fertilizer is compost tea made with your own home grown compost.

One advantage of natural gardening is utilizing beneficial insects over insecticides to control pest. Planting good companion plants, such as nasturtium, marigold and morning glory attract beneficial insects such as lady bugs, green lace wings and others to assist in controlling pests. Additional pest control can utilize natural agents such as BT, Neem Oil, Plant Wash and solutions containing vinegar or citrus juice.

Hopefully, you are already on your way to becoming a natural gardener and this article has peaked your interest in this subject.

Like any subject, if you want to know it well, you need to research and study.

You can contact the Master Gardeners at 972-825-5175 to learn more about Earth-kind gardening. I also recommend that you come by the Waxahachie Farmers Market on a Saturday morning and visit with the Ellis County Master Gardenerís booth, a booth of one of our local growers or stop by our local organic products provider. One of the best sources for information is the internet and just Google anything you want to know.

As a final thought, you may decide that one approach is best for you and you may focus on that approach, but you need to be flexible.

My goal is to be as organic as possible. However, if my garden is being attacked by pests that can destroy my hard work and my current food crop, I may have to alter my approach to utilize the best means to attack that current pest. I would still rather consume a product that I know utilized the least amount of chemicals, rather than purchase the same product from somewhere where the approach might be to use every chemical possible to realize the greatest production.

Rick Daniel is an Ellis County Master Gardener, vegetable gardening specialist and guest columnist in the Daily Light. For further information, contact the Ellis County Master Gardeners at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, 701 South Interstate 35E, Suite 3, Waxahachie, or call 972-825-5175 or e-mail: ellis-tx@tamu.edu.