By: Staff Reports | Gwinnett Citizen

Organic gardening: facts and fiction
By Tim Daly
Gwinnett County Extension Agent

An important topic of interest to home gardeners is organic gardening.  Many people have a desire to ‘get back to nature’. However, there exist many misconceptions on organic gardening.

Organic gardening is the process of using a multitude of techniques to produce healthy plants that are productive, attractive and more resistant to pests. The practice is labor intensive and requires much planning. Many people believe organic gardening consists of not using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. However, there is more to it. 

Proper soil preparation is a key factor when practicing organic gardening. The development of healthy fertile soil will help provide the plants with the necessary nutrients. Whether you have heavy clay or light sand, you can take steps to improve your soil quality and stimulate the growth of healthy plants. Organic gardeners use natural organic fertilizers and mineral amendments to improve the overall quality and fertility of the soil. Most synthetic fertilizers provide nutrients that are immediately available to the plant. However, they do not contribute to the overall health and long-term fertility of the soil.  Organic matter in the soil is important because it breaks down and releases nutrients for plants to utilize. It also improves the soil’s water and nutrient-holding capacity in addition to providing a habitat for beneficial microorganisms. Organic matter in the soil can be increased by the addition of manure, topsoil, peat moss, compost, and other suitable materials. Also, consider having your soil tested through the Extension office to determine its nutrient levels and pH. 

Choosing varieties of plants that have resistance to insects and diseases will reduce the likelihood of them being attacked by these pests.  For example, some varieties of tomatoes have been bred to have resistance to Fusarium and Verticillium fungal diseases and to nematodes, a microscopic worm that attacks the roots. Look for varieties that have the letters VFN on the labels which shows the tomatoes have resistance to these diseases. 

Remove and dispose of plants showing symptoms of diseases. Reduce the incidence of disease by keeping the leaves and stems of the plants as dry as possible. Use drip irrigation rather than watering overhead to reduce a number of time plants remain wet and also to conserve water. 

Pest control begins by purchasing healthy plants that are free of insects, diseases and are of good quality. Encourage beneficial insects, such as lady beetles, lacewings, and certain species of wasps to stay in your garden. Certain herbaceous plants, such as dill, wild mustards, yarrow, and others provide shelter and food for these beneficial organisms. They should be planted among your vegetables.

There are several organic pesticides available. Botanicals are plant-derived materials such as rotenone, pyrethrum, and Neem oil products. Microbial pesticides are formulated from microorganisms or their by-products that control certain insect pests. An example is Dipel, which contains a species of bacteria that target certain caterpillar pests. Minerals, such as sulfur and copper, are the primary organic materials to control fungal and bacterial diseases. But remember, even if a product is considered to be organic, it is still a pesticide. Exercise caution when using them.  Some organic pesticides are as toxic, or even more so than many synthetic chemical pesticides. 

The practice of organic gardening is somewhat involved, and many people are not properly informed on the subject. By doing some research and learning more about the topic will help increase the chances of success.

Timothy Daly, is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with Gwinnett County. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu