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CRYSTAL GARDENS

ENHANCING LIFESTYLES

IT'S TIME TO GO ORGANIC

Our neighbourhoods are slowly, but surely falling silent. Whether in the countryside or in the cities, familiar sounds are receding.

 The chirpings of the weaver birds, larks and warblers which used to announce the break of dawn are getting fainter by the day.

Since ancient times, birds have been used to monitor enviromental conditions. From the Biblical dove that was sent out to scout the raging floods, to the migrants that alert us to the onset of winter in the northern hemisphere, we feel the pulse of nature through birds. That they are becoming scarcer by the day, is an indication of how degraded our environment has become.

In order to raise lush green gardens, picture perfect velvety lawns and bountiful farms we have gone commercial. Any problem in the garden is fixed with over the counter chemical feeds or pesticides-even when safer alternatives are available.

The accumulation of these chemical inputs into the soil kills useful microorganisms which convert organic matter into plant food. In addition it kills beneficial organisms like butterflies, bees, worms, centipedes, frogs and birds through disruption of their habitats, nesting sites and disruption of the food chain. As a result our gardens are devoid of wildlife, and our environment remains polluted with chemical residues. As a home owner with a garden or farm, you can help turn the  tide by going organic.

What then is organic gardening?

It is gardening in harmony with nature, using methods and inputs that do not adversely affect the environment. The organic gardener differs from the ‘chemical warrior’ in that whereas the former feeds the soil, which in turn feeds the plant, the latter applies inorganic inputs, which dissolve quickly into a solution that is then taken up by the plant. For the organic gardener, success depends on nourishing the soil by addition of organic matter to produce healthy plants that are more resistant to pests and diseases.

How then do you raise plants in an organically acceptable way?

First you have to fortify the soil. Enrich the soil with plenty of manure, humus, compost and green manure. This helps to improve the soil structure, drainage and water retention capacity. Besides the presence of organic matter will lead to proliferation of soil microorganisms like bacteria, earthworms, and centipedes, which decompose and mix organic and mineral matter through their burrowing activities. The result is a fertile soil that makes nutrients easily available to the plants in the right form. If you are starting a fresh-with no green matter to make compost, go for natural products like bone meal (this is crushed bones), dolomite,   rock phosphate and rock potash. When worked into the soil, they provide adequate plant nutrition.

Mulching

As the plants grow, dress the soil with a three-inch layer of mulch. Mulch is a layer of organic matter placed on the surface around plants. This could be clippings from the lawn, well rotted compost or animal manure, weathered saw dust (not raw), ground maize cobs and partly rotted leaves.  Mulch serves to suppress weeds and conserve moisture. During mulching ensure that you leave a four inch gap between stem and the mulch to prevent pests moving up the plant. You can even speed up the decomposition of the mulch by applying a microbe solution. This is an organic (actually molasses) product that contains microorganisms which speed up decomposition of organic matter into fine well rotted plant food.

Pest and Diseases

For new practitioners of organic gardening the control of pets and diseases’ is the acid test. However this need not be a major challenge. Haw-eyed vigilance is the first buffer against pests. 

Be on the lookout for any signs of trouble and move to nip it in the bud by cutting out any infected part, and burning it. Garden hygiene is a major element inorganic gardening. Ensure that no dirt and waste lies around as this provides conditions and habitats for disease and pest agents. Inclusion of scented herbs like Chives, Rosemary, Thyme, and Mint into the flower or vegetable beds through companion planting has been known to repel pests.

For kitchen gardens practice crop rotation. Vegetables grown in one patch are moved to another in the net planting. This renders the pets resident in the soil incapable of attacking the new crop.

For a more comprehensive approach to organic pest control -see our previous article on solving lawn troubles the organic way

With time your garden will mature into a living community of different but interacting organisms ranging from micro-organisms, insects and birds. Then a natural equilibrium will be attained where pests will be controlled biologically through natural predators and parasites. Some predators can be sourced externally. The diamond black moth, which devours cabbage, now has a natural enemy in the garden, a parasitic wasp, courtesy of the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE).

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