The holidays have come and gone. Resolutions have been made and broken. Now we New England gardeners are faced with that long, dismal wait before we can start our gardens, and it’s a good time to think about those resolutions we never made: the garden resolutions. If you make – and follow - some of the resolutions below, you’ll not only feel virtuous, you’ll be a better gardener.
Hand-pickk those dastardly Japanese beetles!
Resolution #1. Take the pledge to be an organic gardener. That means using NO CHEMICALS in the garden, no matter how dire the circumstances. Japanese beetles devouring your roses? Get up earlier and handpick them every morning. Weeds in the walkway? No herbicides. Pour boiling water with salt on them, or yank ‘em. Burn them with a blow torch. And forget 10-10-10: no chemical fertilizers, either. There are lots of easy solutions – if you know what to do.
A flame weeder like this can "nuke" weeds in no time.
Resolution #2 Read more about organic gardening in this down time before we plant spring seeds. Go to your local library or family-owned bookstore and see what’s available.
Are you a vegetable gardener? Get a copy of Ed Smith’s The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible (Storey Publishing). Ed and his wife, Sylvia live in Vermont and largely live on what they grow. It is well illustrated, and full of fabulous information. They are all, organic, too. This book has stayed in print for 19 years and sold over a million copies.
This is a great book about vegetable gardening - organically
Another good book to obtain
is “Insect, Disease & Weed I.D. Guide” by Cebenko and Martin, Editors
(Rodale Press). It came out in 2001, but is still readily available. Organic
gardeners have to be a little bit smarter and better educated than chemical
gardeners, and this book will not only help you identify pests and diseases, it
will offer organic solutions. It’s easy enough to spray a pesticide on a bug,
and it will die. But knowing what the bug is, a little about its life cycle,
and how to combat it without resorting to chemicals is better.
Resolution #3 Use more compost. Instead of looking for a bagged fertilizer to improve your soil, think long-term. Although bagged organic fertilizers have their place in the scheme of garden things, nothing is better for your soil than compost. Compost is not high in nitrogen, but it introduces beneficial microorganisms to your soil. A teaspoon of compost can contain up to 5 billion bacteria, 20 million filamentous fungi, and a million protozoa. No bagged fertilizer can do that.
Composted cow manure is great stuff - buy it from your local farmer by the truck load!
Compost also improves the
tilth of your soil. Most of us have soil that is either too sandy or too full
of clay. Who do you know that has the “rich, well-drained soil” that every
plant book prescribes as the appropriate soil for your favorite plant? We have
to make our own soil. We have to nurture it, and improve it until we reach the
age of 99, when either it is perfect, or we no longer recognize perfection.
Compost helps your soil get there.
Resolution #4. Resolve to mulch more. Mulch will help to smother weeds, add organic matter to the soil as it breaks down, and reduce water loss from evaporation or run-off. Leaves are great anywhere, bark mulch is good in flower beds, and straw, grass clippings and compost are good in the vegetable garden.
Ground hemlock bark mulch here helps keep down weeds, and hold in moisture.
Resolution #5. Decide now that you will not let any weeds flower and produce seeds. That means that you have to yank the weed or cut off any seed heads of weeds when you see them - even if you all dressed up and are leaving for the airport. You have to grab the seed heads off that big weed on your way to the car. Stuff it in your pocket, or put it in the trash. But don’t let the weeds spread their seeds.
My favorite weeder, the CobraHead (www.cobrahead.com)
Resolution #6. Experiment. Every year plant something new, whether a new flavor of tomato or type of zinnia. Try veggies you’ve never grown, and learn to love eating them. Kohlrabi and rutabagas are actually delicious. Try a new type of watering device, or get a new weeding tool (such as the CobraHead, my favorite). Plant a new species of tree, one that flowers.
Try growing kohlrabi this summer. Good in salads or stir-fries.
Resolution #7. And last but
not least, resolve to keep gardening fun. Don’t bite off more than you can take
care of. Try not to get discouraged if beetles eat your lilies or the phlox
gets moldy. Gardening is supposed to be
fun - that’s why so many of us do it. Accept that organic gardeners suffer some
losses and that no gardener can have success with everything. In the meantime,
enjoy the winter, and learn more about organic gardening now - so you’ll be
ready come spring.
Read Henry's blogs every week. You can get an e-mail link by clicking here.