Heat, drought hard on organic garden

June 2, 2011

Be nimble to adjust to hot weather in organic garden

This hot, dry spell we are in can wreak havoc on plants, so here are a couple of suggestions tailored for the organic garden.

First off, if you are having to water a lot, remember that city water treatment chemicals can build up and also stunt microbial life in the soil. So, it would be worth your while to invest in a chlorine filter. It screws into your garden hose. Filters are available at pool supply stores or online. If you don’t have a pond that’s untreated or rain barrels, this is the next best thing.

Second, frequent watering leaches nutrients from the soil. The best and easiest way to replenish the soil short term is by a top dressing of worm castings. Just apply a thin layer at the plants’ roots.

Third, the high humidity and cool nights with blazing heat during the day is stressing plants so that many may exhibit powdery mildew or blights, especially on tomatoes. You can remedy this organically by using Serenade Garden Disease Control. It is OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) listed, approved for certified organic crops. It is not a chemical or poison but contains Bacillus subtilis, a soil-dwelling bacterium that controls leaf blight, black mold, powdery mildew and many other diseases.

Nothing beats rain water, but these steps can help your 4×8-foot Jim’s Plot weather the drought.

Another tip that may not endear you to your neighbors, but helps, is allowing the weeds to grow between your plants. In this heat and humidity, the weeds trap moisture in the soil and shade the plants’ roots. This goes against the fencerow-to-fencerow monoculture industrial farming scenario, but it works well on small plots.

Allowing buffer zones, also, that is tall grass weeds to stand between rows or at various junctures, also encourages beneficial insects and gives cover to helpful fauna, such as toads, birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

While we’re at it, don’t be afraid to allow a planting to “go bad.” For example, we had some pretty expensive lettuces we planted in early spring that were almost immediately attacked by insects. But we waited to see what would happen and were rewarded to find that the bugs went for the lettuce but left our chard, carrots, beans, peas and other plants unmolested. The lettuce patch became what’s called “a trap crop,” that is, a patch specifically set aside for bugs to feed on, so other patches are left alone.

The main thing in growing organic is to allow your crops to discover their “feet,” and come into balance. You’ll win some and lose some, but by encouraging good soil and soil nutrients, and supporting helpful methods, rather than poisoning or destroying, allowing growth will be beneficial for you and your garden.

Reader response: I planted clover as a cover crop and now it’s taken over my garden!

Boy, that’s a problem I wish I had – and am actually trying to achieve with one of our fields!

For a cover crop, we planted a mix of New Zealand white clover and strawberry clover that’s supposed to be heat tolerant and withstand drought, while also crowding out weeds. It also provides 110-165 pounds per acre of nitrogen, which is sorely needed in our field.

To “solve” the clover “problem,” just till your crop strips about 3 feet across with 3 feet or more between the rows, and cover the strips with either newspaper, WeedGuard paper or cardboard. Poke a hole in the cover and plant your seed there. Next year, repeat the procedure 3 feet over, sliding your cardboard or redoing your WeedGuard or newsprint (both of which should have biodegraded).

In this fashion, you are allowing the clover to grow except where you are directly planting.

You also are constantly replenishing the soil in old areas while also enriching next year’s plot – essentially labor free. It’s also great for honeybees!

Organic Ag Grants: On May 24, the USDA released the Request for Applications (RFA) for its Organic Transitions Program.

The goal of the program is to support the development and implementation of research, extension and higher education programs to improve the competitiveness of organic livestock and crop producers, as well as those who are newly adopting organic practices.

The deadline is June 30. For more info, see: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/organic-research-rfa.

Food desserts: Gov. Haley Barbour recently signed into law a bill to establish a panel to study “food deserts” – that is, rural and urban areas in Mississippi where there are no outlets for fresh produce.

They might consider what local folks in Nashville are doing. In cooperation with Vanderbilt University, grocers, local farmers and health care professionals have started a mobile market. It’s essentially a walk-in trailer with healthy, nutritious food.

They identified the major issues as distance, time, childcare and transport. So, it travels to food deserts with produce for sale and is operated by volunteers.

Good idea! For more information, visit www.nashvillemobilemarket.org.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

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