The search for organic matter should be a never ending quest for gardeners. Even though I don’t consider myself an organic gardener, I’m fanatic about mulch, compost and organic fertilizers. While I have a small compost pile it can’t begin to satisfy my needs—it tends to serve as a repository for trimmings, etc.- Compost Hoe Down. I buy mushroom compost by the dump truck load. I also use Arbor Gate 4-4-3 +Ca organic fertilizer like it’s magic and most of the time my garden seems to be racing Jack’s Beanstalk-Cavalier Fertilizing. I supplement with a little soluble fertilizer on occasion but then I’m also a tad impatient- Organic or not organic. Regardless of the fertilizer source always water it in thoroughly.
George and Mary Stewart were outstanding gardeners and although they’ve gone to their garden reward in the hereafter, I remember the stories George loved to tell. It seems they secured most of their organic matter by driving around affluent neighborhoods looking for bags of lawn clippings or in the fall it would be leaves. George would drive and Mary would snatch the bags filled with organic richness then toss them into the trunk. When the trunk would just barely close they drove back to the garden, unloaded, and the organic “trash snatching” started all over again. I’m sure they could have afforded to buy a load of compost but as George tells it- “We had plenty of time and Mary needed the exercise”.
Unless you have a big garden your organic matter requirements will be more modest. Bags of compost or potting soil will get you started and you can expand your efforts as the demand for more garden space and “Good Stuff” increases. Arbor Gate Nursery is a bonanza of organic products including Fertilizers and Pest Control products such as Nature’s Way Leaf Mold compost, Rose soil blend (roses are demanding just like veggies), Citrus Mix, Blueberry Mix and Herb Mix. All kinds of potting soils are available to get those transplants growing and fertilizers from Hasta Gro to Fish Emulsion, Liquid Seaweed, Alfalfa meal, humates, kelp (more seaweed rich in potassium), gypsum, Greensand and worm castings will keep them growing—you name it they probably have it.
They also carry a wide range of organic pesticides like Serenade organic fungicide, Neem oil, Garlic Pepper tea—(I know it sounds delicious but the pests don’t agree), insecticidal soaps, Mixing Organic pesticide BT (Dipel), Spinosad (discovered in an abandoned rum distillery) and Nolo bait for the grasshoppers.
Once you’ve accumulated the compost and other amendments for the garden, it’s time to begin soil preparation. You can go with raised beds in which case you may just buy a prepared soil mix or you can work with the existing soil by adding 8-12 inches of compost. A tiller can make for a spiffy looking garden like this garden soil worked into ridges or you can go the low-till route and work up the same ridges each year with more compost using a wheelbarrow, spading fork and rake. I’m usually the low-till sort but I’m tempted to rent a tiller this year, stir it all together, and start over with new ridges. The ridges give you better drainage when it rains and pours—right now I’m trying to remember what that looks like. Some folks prefer to plant in hills and no, this isn’t Madonna’s Garden. While you’re working the soil it is a good idea to mix in fertilizer and soil amendments. Basically 2-4 pounds of a complete fertilizer like 15-5-10 per 100 sq ft will get you off to a good start but you can use organic fertilizers and amendments like humates, alfalfa meal, greensand and rock phosphate to grow your garden. Personally I like a lot of organic matter and a little soluble fertilizer to supplement the slowly available organic products.
In the meantime be thinking about mulch. Old newspapers that have been soaked with water won’t blow all over the place and should be laid between rows 8-10 sheets thick with a top layer of alfalfa hay mulch, dried grass clippings, bark chips, pine needles, etc. This will keep the weeds down for a long time and if you sprinkle some fertilizer over the mulch through the season it will impregnate the newspaper with nitrogen so it is ready to work into the soil for the fall garden. Coarse wood chips will need to be raked off first since they will tie up nitrogen if worked into the soil.
For relaxation you can clean up and sharpen hoes, shovels and trowels. Also clean out and test sprayers with clean water to make sure they don’t need new gaskets or spray nozzles.