Gardening organically is easy, healthy, economical and fun. I have been an organic gardener all my gardening life, which began when we moved to Andover in 1967. Shortly after we arrived, my father, an enthusiastic gardener, sent me his entire collection of well-read Organic Gardening magazines. Those boxes of magazines, a borrowed copy of Ruth Stout’s ” How to Have an Organic Garden Without an Aching Back” and and a book club edition of Rodale’s “Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening” became my first gardening library.
Thanks to my printed collection of gardening advice and my father’s stream of letters and torn-out magazine articles, I learned the two primary principles of organic gardening—composting and plant selection. Gardening organically is based on the simple observation that the right plant, planted in the right place in good soil thrives all by itself.
Principle # 1: Soil and composting
Composting is simply returning to the soil what came from the soil. It’s recycling at it’s very best. Mother Nature has always created her own compost. Plant material drops from trees or dies to the ground. It rots and all the nutrients contained in the rotted material return to the soil to nourish the plants growing in it.
The history of successful gardening is the history of well-managed, consistently renewed soil. Throughout history, beds, borders and fields were manured, rotated or allowed to lay fallow for a year to improve the soil. In 45 A.D., Columella, Roman writer and farmer, noted “ The earth neither grows old or wears out if it is dunged. “
All life comes from the soil. Healthy soil produces healthy plants. Healthy plants resist disease. If you work to make and keep your soil healthy, you will have a garden that doesn’t need chemicals to help it grow. In other words, “It’s the soil, stupid!” Healthy soil is rich in humus. It looks good, smells good and feels good. Healthy soil is created by working compost into the garden on a regular basis.
Principle #2: Plant selection
Organic gardeners are careful to chose the right plant for the right spot. If you select well-grown plants that thrive in your area and set them in well-composted soil in the proper exposure, you will have a happy, healthy garden that doesn’t depend on chemical boosts or toxic pesticides.
I learned to interview plants. Buy two or three of the annuals or perennials you are interested in. I usually get three. Read all you can about the plant, including the planting directions on the label. Plant one where you think it should go based on your research, one where you hope it will thrive and one where it would look great but might not make it. The plant that thrives passes the interview, the others go into the compost with a warmly murmured “thank you”.
Organic gardeners do, occasionally, have problems with disease and insect infestations. If that happens, move or remove the suffering plant. Disease and insect explosion are nature’s way of removing stressed plants. An ailing plant is signaling that it isn’t in the right spot or isn’t being nourished properly. Remember to take the weather into consideration when you are assessing damage. The last two summers have been so wet and cool that a lot of plants that would normally thrive didn’t, much to the frustration of this gardener.
All forms of home gardening can be easily handled organically–pots, bed, borders and vegetable gardens. Try it, you’ll like it and the earth will be better for your efforts!
THIS SEASON IN THE GARDEN
The three golden months of summer bring us blooming gardens, just-picked vegetables and fresh, flowering herbs in abundance.
*June, the traditional month for weddings, is named for Juno, long-suffering wife of Jupiter and queen of the Roman gods. Her symbol was the peacock and, indeed, the beautiful month of June spreads itself all around us like the elegant, shimmering tail of her peacock.
July was given it’s name by the Romans to honor Julius Caesar. Prior to that they just called the month “five”, for the fifth month of the year.
August was named for another Caesar, Augustus, Julius’s adopted son and the first Roman emperor. Prior to the Caesars, the month was called “six”.
Those early Romans were a practical sort!
*Herbs are at their peak in the sunny months of summer. Sages, thymes, fennels, yarrows, roses, basils, dills, savories and lavenders fill the garden with fragrant leaves and colorful flowers. Use them liberally in bouquets, salads, sandwiches, sauces and cool summer drinks.
For starters, try the following lavender lemonade. It’s delicious and a little magical!
Camomile Blue’s Lavender Lemonade
Make six cups of lemonade as you usually would, either from concentrate or from scratch. Pour into a clear glass pitcher.
Measure 1 cup of water into a small saucepan. Add 1/4 cup of dried lavender flowers or 1/3 cup fresh ones. Stir. Bring to a boil. Immediately remove the pan from the heat. Cover and allow to stand 6 minutes. Pour the lavender water through a fine strainer to remove the flowers.
Gather the family around as you slowly pour the strained lavender water into the lemonade. The lemonade will turn pink!
Add ice to the pitcher and garnish with a sprig of mint. Enjoy!!!