News from the Edible Demo Garden
June 2023: Gardening Organically
The Edible Demonstration Garden is located within the Indian Valley College Organic Farm and Garden and is subject to the same organic growing guidelines as the larger farm. The Marin County Department of Agriculture is accredited by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as an official organic certification agency. Marin Organic Certified Agriculture (MOCA) was developed to uphold the USDA National Organic Program standards through the documentation and verification of agricultural practices in the county.
Volunteers in the Edible Demo Garden, soon come to appreciate the rigor of the MOCA requirements and understand the importance of gardening in cooperation with nature and not relying on synthetic products. Organic gardening is earth friendly and it involves learning how to manage plant pests without reaching for a spray can and growing tasty tomatoes without chemical fertilizers.
TIPS FOR GARDENING ORGANICALLY
Soil consists of a mixture of organic and inorganic ingredients. Both are needed in the right amounts to provide optimal growing conditions. Essential minerals, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium require the work of living organisms in the soil to become available for plants to use. In the Edible Demo Garden, only organic matter amendments are used to improve the soil and provide the needed nutrients. In contrast to synthetic fertilizers that may harm microorganisms in the soil, organic matter added as compost and mulch, provides a slow and steady supply of plant nutrition. The philosophy is to feed the soil so that it can feed the plants.
Keeping soil conditions healthy for the many creatures that live in it is key to successful organic gardening. Organic mulch and cover crops protect against temperature extremes, loss of moisture, and erosion. Tilling or turning the soil should be avoided as much as possible and amendments layered on top where they can decompose slowly.
Select the right plants
Plants in the Edible Demo Garden start out as organically grown seeds planted in a soil mixture of compost and organic amendments called the “breakfast mix”. Seeds and plants should be certified organic, meaning they have met the USDA National Organic Program standards. Some plants sold in nurseries have been treated with neonicotinoids, a persistent type of pesticide that harms pollinators and beneficial insects. The organic label indicates that the plants have not been treated with pesticides.
Organic gardeners strive to anticipate and defend against pests and diseases rather than react to problems after they have occurred. This means staying ahead of the critters by using barriers such as gopher baskets and bird netting and rotating crops to avoid the build up of pathogens affecting certain plants. Vigilance is an essential line of defense. Every workday in the Edible Demo Garden starts with a garden tour to check on the health of the plants and develop a plan of action. Some pests can be removed mechanically either by hand or washed off with water. Diseased plants or plant parts can be promptly removed to prevent the spread of infections. An important benefit of an earth friendly garden is the presence of beneficial insects to help in controlling predators. There are some natural pesticides which meet the criteria for use in organic gardens, but these are a last resort and rarely used in the Edible Demo Garden.
Organic gardening can require more time in fertility and pest management compared to conventional gardening. However, organic gardening is more environmentally sustainable and a very satisfying way to garden.
Find out more on earth-friendly gardening!