Have you ever seen a Militant Organic Gardener?
It’s poetry in motion.
They can be spotted wielding a sidearm trowel and wearing an expression of determination that could rival any soldier on the battlefield. Their efforts aren’t in vain; they have a passion for chemical free urban farming growing the finest of heirloom veggies. They wage war against certain weeds and embrace the edible ones like dandelion. If there's something in their garden that needs tending to, they'll do whatever it takes to get the job done.
Gardening is America’s number one hobby. When people get hit by the bug it seems you just can’t get enough. Some take it to another level and become militant about it. Their passion becomes an obsession which sometimes can become a bit clouded by gleaning information that just isn’t right. It sounds good to the ears but it’s not necessarily scientifically correct. Today we are going to support the efforts of a Militant Gardener, dispel rumors and old wives tales and hopefully nudge everyone on a path that always makes sense.
A well-informed Militant Organic Gardener is what we should all strive for. In my last blog, The Beginning Organic Gardener, we put in place the foundation for starting an organic garden. At first we embrace the idea that it takes $120 to grow $18 worth of tomatoes. As we get deeper into the organic gardening concept our thought pattern slowly changes. We hear buzz words like: heirloom, genetically engineered vs genetically modified organisms, gray water systems, good bugs vs bad bugs, carbon footprint, recycling and upcycling to name a few. These are all real things but not without controversy. Gravitating to one ideal isn’t good but looking at it scientifically then embracing the practical is key.
Let’s take a look at one wild example and you decide what is best. On the surface fake turf makes sense. It seems low maintenance, never needs to be mowed and always looks great. What can be wrong with that? In reality fake turf harbors bacteria, smells with urine when animals relieve themselves on it, must be washed regularly and gets hotter than asphalt which kills the living soil beneath. Oh, let’s not forget it’s made from petroleum products to with a dinosaur had to die for. The nemesis, real grass, is renewable, safe for pets and children, cools the environment and lawn clippings are a magic ingredient as we’ll find out later in this article.
The Militant Organic Gardener will embrace real turf but will lower the carbon footprint by cutting it with a push lawnmower which keeps them healthier while realizing fake turf is good for miniature golf courses. See how that works?
Planting By Seed.
At first, you’ll be standing for hours in front of a seed rack at the nursery comparing Heirloom seeds to GMO free seeds not knowing the difference between the two. Once you figure it out, you’ll find out you’ll never have to buy seeds again because each year you’ll cherry pick the best of the crop and save those seeds for next year!
Corn, as we know it today, is the only crop that doesn’t grow in the wild. Commercially it grows on 250,000 acres of land worldwide. Besides being used for human consumption it’s processed for cattle feed, fuel and adhesives to name a few.
Make Your Own Organic Soil.
You’re going to find all bagged soils are not created equal. In fact, they aren’t soils at all! A national brand has what the industry calls a “Secret Sauce” in it is an anything-but-organic-fertilizer inside. It gives plants an immediate boost, then…it stops! What the???
The Ultimate Organic Militant Gardner will source out you soil locally in bulk to get started. Or, just start developing your own by making compost from kitchen scraps then mash it up the existing soil. Remember that lawn we cut earlier with our push mower? Save every blade as it’ll be recycled into that compost pile, too. So will every leaf, twig, branch and retired crops you grow. Chop it up real good, put it in a big pile, mix it once in a while and before you know it you’re going to have to the best earthy goodness compost and growing medium made by your own hands. Spike it with some sand and silt and “oh my” will that be great.
There’s a philosophy that a Militant Organic Gardener will have a hinge surgically installed in their back so bending won’t be a problem. With no help from power tools you’ll be bending, twisting and pulling weeds. Once that gets old there’s no shame in spraying organic weed controls. Typically made from food grade citric acid they are designed to cut through the waxy surface of a weed and it’ll dehydrate within hours.
Vinegar can be used weed control in organic gardening. If you buy it from a grocery store you’re purchasing mostly water and only upwards of 5% Vinegar whose scientific name is acetic acid. After diluting you’re basically watering the weeds, not killing them. Instead, buy agricultural vinegar (60-75%) and dilute it according to the directions based on the kind of weed you’re spraying. Certain weeks are harder to kill than others. There will be a learning curve so keep a journal to remember what works and what doesn’t. It’s also imperative to use a Chapin Horticultural Vinegar Home and Garden Tank. The parts are designed to withstand the acidity of vinegar.
Unlike toxic chemicals used in weed control do to the acidic nature of vinegar it a can keep on your shelf indefinitely.
Insect, Pest and Disease Control.
Chances are you’ve heard about using good bugs to fight bad bugs. This is a real thing. For instance, ladybugs have a voracious appetite for aphids. Release them in your garden and when the aphids are gone the ladybugs will move on.
Where there’s moisture you can bet slugs and snails will be in numbers. Copper tape can be attached to pots and raised planters as a barrier those critters won’t cross. Or, sprinkle a few Killer Snails (aka Decollate snails) which are cone shaped snails that will eat garden snails and slugs – it’s kind of like escargot for them, then they feed on rotting organic matter in the soil.
Nematodes are microscopic soil insects/worms that attach themselves to the root of plants killing them off. When a plant dies the roots have small inflamed grape-like balls speckled on with what looks like fungus. The best way to fight these off is with Beneficial Nematodes which you buy from a nursery in a box that feels empty. Inside is a card with wax imbedded with dormant beneficial nematodes. Put this card in a Chapin Lawn & Garden Hose-end Sprayer filled with water, wait for the wax to dissolve then spray away! The good guys will eat the bad guys then the good guys die because there’s nothing to eat any longer. They did a job well done.
There’s so much more the Militant Organic Gardener will use as an arsenal: flowers that ward off insects (marigolds), worm tea for insect control (attracts all kinds of insects including good bugs), companion plants that help each other grow (Native American Three-Sisters planting technique), fish hydrolysate (organic feeding strengthens soil and plants delivered via Hydrofeed) and the list goes on.
When you make that transition from The Organic Beginning Gardener to the Militant Organic Gardener (and you will) I’ll be here to salute you!
Horticulturalist for PBS|KLCS TV, CBS|KCAL News and Syndicated Radio Talk Show Host
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