Organic gardening is growing in popularity and interest. The local farmers market in Evans, which focuses on organic and sustainable garden produce sold directly to consumers, has helped pique the interest of many in the area. While many people are interested in growing organically, organic gardening requires a lot of planning and strict adherence to Georgia Department of Agriculture guidelines.
The first step in organic gardening is to plan ahead. If planning to use organic fertilizer sources or organic soil amendments, these need to be tilled into the garden well in advance to be effective. Ideally, this process should begin in the fall prior to spring planting. Organic amendments don’t provide nutrients as quickly as synthetic fertilizers. Organic fertilizers require time to decompose and release their nutrients. Soil microbes have to convert them into a form that plant roots can absorb. An added benefit of organic amendments is that they can act as a slow-release fertilizer throughout the season. This improves soil structure.
Another important aspect of organic gardening to consider is the restrictions on pesticides, including herbicides, insecticides and fungicides in synthetic and naturally occurring forms. Organic gardening does not allow synthetic pesticides. This means more manually weeding and careful inspection of the garden.
Weeds must be pulled or hoed, with mulch to help prevent weeds. Disease or insect damage must be pruned off plants at the first signs of infestation. The key is to catch all of these problems as early as possible to prevent them from becoming bigger problems and spreading throughout the garden. It is a good practice to become familiar with common garden problems and be able to tell the “good bugs” from the “bad bugs.” For example, lady beetles help control aphids, mites and other insects.
Organic vegetables don’t have to look beautiful. Unfortunately, many times they do not. The commercially grown vegetables in the grocery store are often grown in a controlled environment with pesticides. Organic gardening might produce fruits and vegetables with small spots or blemishes. However, this does not affect the taste.
Here are a few more tips for the novice organic gardener:
• Get your soil tested by taking a sample to the local University of Georgia Cooperative Extension office. This is an important step to do during the planning stage to ensure a proper growing environment.
• Use basic cultural control options such as mulching, pruning, spacing, crop rotation, resistant varieties and planting at the proper times.
• Clean equipment periodically. A 10-percent bleach solution used on pruners and other tools after cutting away diseased plant material will minimize the spread of diseases.
• Water plants as needed and only in the early morning. This helps prevent diseases and promotes the development of a strong, deep root system.
• Evans Town Farmers Market is open every Thursday from 4:30 to 7 p.m. through June behind the Columbia County library in Evans. This market is a direct farm-to-customer venue for local farmers, growers, value-added food producers and handcraft artisans who follow sustainable or organic practices.
• The Columbia County Extension office, at 6420 Pollards Pond Road in Appling, will hold an egg candling class on May 1, presented by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Participants need to sign up for a two-hour block of time starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m., with each block limited to 12 people. Call Bradley or Deborah at the Georgia Department of Agriculture at (770) 535-5955 to sign up for the class.
• The Jefferson Ag and Safety Day will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 6 at the Louisville Loins Club Fairgrounds. Admission is free. Call the Jefferson County Extension office at (478) 625-3046.