The title is a pretty big promise, but it is true. We’ve gardened for forty years; picked weeds and hoed many a row in the hot sun—and we’ve
had plenty of crop failures. I still don’t know it all,
but I do know I don’t spend near as much time in the
garden since I began mulching the whole thing more
than ten years ago. We’ve produced organic vegetables
for two farmers’ markets for several years. Now we are
back to feeding just our large family plus some extra.
We put up a lot of food for the winter. This is all made
much easier by mulching and good soil amendments.
I was raised on the farm and my parents used some
chemical fertilizers on the garden and the fields, but
minimal amounts. Thankfully, we couldn’t afford
more. My mom began reading about organic gardening. We learned that chemical fertilizers are too pure.
They blend the major nutrients, but seldom do they
have boron, copper, manganese, iron, cobalts, or aluminum. There is seldom enough calcium and magnesium to balance the NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and
Plants lacking these nutrients quickly fall prey to
insects and disease. Remember, insects are not evil.
They are just a clean-up crew! They only eat plants
that are not perfectly healthy. They are part of nature’s
rule that only the strong survive and reproduce. In my
garden, sometimes there is one broccoli or cabbage
that is full of worms and the next plant has only one
or two. There must be a different vigor and energy in
the seed and soil of each plant. Their immune systems
are stronger or weaker. A well-balanced soil will produce much healthier crops.
I don’t claim that attaining this well-balanced soil is
an easy formula. But I can give you clues and options.
Organic fertilizers usually contain a wider variety
of nutrients that release slowly as they decompose.
Chemical fertilizers feed the plant, whereas organic
fertilizers tend to feed the soil which, in turn, feeds
the plant—if your soil life has not been killed by
chemicals. It is an interesting circle. Chemical fertil-
izers at first produce fast, obvious growth. But they
leach out of the soil and kill the healthy bacteria. This
causes nutrients that are in the soil to be locked up,
and the plant is not able to adsorb them. The normal
response to this is to put on higher rates of chemical
fertilizer, which makes the problem worse over time,
until there is no life left in the soil.
There are many options to adding fertility to your
garden. Use whatever you can get. Your kitchen
waste can be composted. I have become lazy and do
not maintain a compost pile. Instead, I dig a hole in
whatever raised bed is empty and bury the waste. I do
this all 12 months. I just dig a whole large enough to
throw in the bucket of scraps. I cover the hole with
soil right next to it, creating a hole for the next bucket
of scraps. I work my way across the whole bed this
way. In the summer, all of this decomposes quickly (in
the winter, more slowly). You can also do this around
the dripline of fruit trees. Our major problem is that
we don’t have enough scraps for the whole garden!
Plant materials can be used as nutrients. Grass clippings, weeds that you have pulled out, or any other organic waste can be used. Put it in the compost pile or
dig it under the soil, or use it as mulch. Just do not do
this with the kind of weed that regrows as soon as its
roots contact the soil. (Weeds like Bermuda grass and
other perennial weeds will need to be left in the sun
until they are dead, or they will resurrect themselves!)
If you are blessed with lots of tree leaves, heap them
in a big pile and make leaf mold. This can take up to
three years. You can speed up the process by shredding them, stirring them, keeping them moist and
adding a little soil and manure. This will introduce
microbes for better digestion.
Manure is an excellent source of fertilizer. It is best to
compost it. At the least put it on the garden in the fall,
giving it some time to decompose. If you put straight
fresh manure on the garden in the spring, incorporate