Gardeners who are investing in heirloom seeds, tend to prefer to do things naturally. They don’t rely on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They prefer to let nature and history to be leader in their gardens. Part of heirloom gardening is becoming more self-sustainable and capable of growing a garden every year from seeds that have been harvested from last year’s plants. It is a time honored tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation.
People who used heirloom seeds some fifty years ago didn’t rely on the chemicals that are readily available today. They managed to get by and so can we. Heirloom seeds are going to naturally become more disease resistant and won’t need many of the fertilizers that are marketed towards fighting this or that. Adding chemicals to heirlooms seems counterproductive.
Heirlooms are going to grow at their own rate. Dumping chemicals on the plants isn’t going to change the way they produce fruit or how fast they do so. What many beginning heirloom gardeners don’t know about heirloom seeds is the fact they grow at different rates than the hybrids. Heirlooms produce over a period of time and not all at once. The fruit ripens according to the plant’s schedule, not all at once like the hybrids. This is the beauty of heirloom plants. You get unique fruits and veggies and not the cookie-cutter variety that you would see in the produce section at your grocery store.
Organic gardening is increasing in popularity as more people discover the advantages, including the better tasting fruits and vegetables that are harvested from organic plants. There is also no risk of side effects from ingesting harmful chemicals. The jury is still out on the safety of many of the fertilizers and pesticides that are currently available. Some people prefer to err on the side of caution and deal with a few insects and weeds then to put their health in the hands of companies who make money selling the chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
If you are ready to take on organic heirloom gardening, here are some tips to help your crops flourish without chemicals.
The soil in your garden may not need anything extra from you. We have been trained to fertilize everything to get big, beautiful vegetables in a hurry. Organic heirloom gardening is about letting nature take its course. Your soil may need a little help or it may already be in good shape and just need a little feeding here and there. Before you decide what kind of fertilizer you need, do yourself a favor and buy an inexpensive soil test kit to see what you are dealing with.
If you are using the same garden plot you have for years with success, chances are your soil is in pretty good shape. If you have used chemical fertilizers in the past, your soil may be too rich in nitrogen or phosphorus. Before you start dumping nitrogen-rich additives into the soil, check it first. The following are some natural solutions to balancing your soil and feeding your plants.
1-Use natural fertilizers like chicken poop, rabbit or steer manure. These are organic materials that feed the soil. They are high in nitrogen, which helps a plant grow quickly with lots of healthy green leaves. The manure should be worked into the soil before planting. If you are using chicken poop, make sure it isn’t “hot.” Hot is the term used for chicken poop that is still decomposing and releasing a great deal of nitrogen. Too much nitrogen can burn plants. You can buy manure at your local farm and garden store or talk with local farmers who are often willing to give it away or sell it at a very low price. Be prepared to scoop it on your own. You will want buckets or old feed bags to scoop it into.
2-Epsom salt is an excellent way to feed your tomato plants and other vegetables in the garden. The magnesium in the salt is like opening a door and letting the nitrogen and phosphorus in. These are necessary nutrients for all plants, but they sometimes struggle to put out the welcoming mat so to speak. You can do a quick soil test kit to check the magnesium levels in the earth. If they are low, adding a little Epsom salt will get those tomatoes and peppers thriving.
3-Compost will feed the soil while reducing the amount of garbage put into the landfills. Composting your kitchen waste is easy and very effective at feeding the soil, which will in turn feed your plants. You can make your own compost bin or buy an enclosed composter at the local farm and garden store. Almost all kitchen scraps can be placed into your composter. Things like leaves, newspaper and cardboard can also be added to the heap to produce an organic material. The compost is worked into the soil before planting.
4-Earthworms are a gardener’s best friend. Earthworms naturally till the soil, making it easy for the roots of your plants to flourish. The little air pockets the worms create as the roam about underground keep the soil loose. They are also busy eating and doing their business in the soil, which is all great news for the plant roots. It is natural fertilizer that helps plants thrive. Consider buying earthworms and starting your own worm farm to continuously add more worms to your garden soil.
5-Companion planting is something that dates back to the days of Native Americans. This method involves planting certain plants near each other so they will do well. Peas release nitrogen into the soil via their roots. Tomatoes love nitrogen. Planting peas and tomatoes in the same patch will naturally feed the soil. Another common method of companion planting is what is known as three sisters. Squash, corn and peas will all compliment each other and maximize garden space. The squash will act as a ground cover, keeping the weeds down. The peas will release nitrogen into the soil, fueling the corn. As the corn and peas grow, the peas will vine around the corn stalks. The tall stalks will provide shade for the peas.
6-Banana peels buried around plants in the garden is a quick way to add nutrients to the soil. The peels decompose fairly quickly and while they rot, they release potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. They also repel aphids if you have a plant that seems to be getting attacked.
Natural Pest Repellents
Insects and bugs are a gardener’s worst nightmare. They seem to pop up overnight and destroy plants in droves. It is heartbreaking to watch all of your hard work be enjoyed by free loaders. There are plenty of pesticides that have been developed in a laboratory that will kill the bugs. Unfortunately, those pesticides often come with warnings about not eating the food you just sprayed for a day or up to two weeks. That is definitely concerning. The following are some natural remedies you can use that do not poison your food or the soil.
7- Peppermint is an excellent plant to put in your garden. It not only smells great and can be plucked throughout the growing season to jazz up a glass of ice water, but it also repels most pests. Ants do not like the smell of the peppermint and will avoid it. You can also use peppermint essential oil. Dab a few drops on strips of cloth and tie the strips on tomato cages or put on stakes throughout the garden. This is also an effective way to combat aphids that may be attacking your fruit trees. You will need to add more oil to the strips every week or two or after a heavy rainfall.
8-Marigolds are another stinky flower to many pests who would rather avoid it. Planting marigolds around the perimeter of your garden will help deter ants, white flies and even rabbits from going into the area. The downside to the marigolds is the fact they attract snails.
9-Citrus rinds ground up and spread around plants or the perimeter of the garden are another excellent way to keep pests at bay. They are very pungent and are a natural repellent. Ants and aphids will be hurt the most if they attempt to pass the rinds. A component in the rinds, d-Limonene, destroys the hard coating on their bodies and they will die.
10-Ladybugs love aphids! They will dine upon the aphids until they disappear completely. You can buy a package with thousands of ladybugs at your local farm and garden store or order online. They are incredibly inexpensive and are very effective at keeping aphids off your trees and plants. To help the ladybugs stick around, you will want to spritz them with a sugar water solution. You only need about a teaspoon of sugar in a quart of water. Spritz the net bag before you open it to release the ladybugs. The sugar water is heavy enough to keep them from flying away. You want them to take up residence in your garden and on the trees.
11-Soapy water is an effective way to kill the bugs that are plaguing your plants. Use a natural dish soap. Put a tablespoon of Castile soap in a quart of water and then into a spray bottle and spray the leaves where the bugs have taken up residence. The soap destroys the protective outer shell on ants and aphids.
12-A little beer in a flat lid or shallow bowl attracts slugs. When the slugs have moved into the shallow bowl or lid, rehome them. You will want to keep putting out the slug bait until the bowl is finally empty.
13-Coffee grounds are another option for protecting plants from ant invasions. Sprinkle a line of grounds around a plant or the perimeter of the garden. Ants will not cross over the line of grounds. You can often get coffee grounds for free at local coffee shops. You will need to freshen the line every few days or after a heavy rainfall. The coffee grounds work hard in the garden. While they are keeping the ants away, they are feeding the soil. Earthworms love coffee grounds and will naturally be attracted to soil where coffee grounds are decomposing.
14-Tobacco tea has been used for decades as a way of keeping aphids and other pests away from fruit trees. You will need to buy some loose tobacco. Put the tobacco in a gallon bucket filled with water or use an old milk jug. Allow the tobacco to soak in the water for 24 hours. Strain the tobacco from the water. Put the water into a gallon-sprayer and spray the leaves of your trees and other bushes where aphids tend to attack.
15-Strips of foil can be tied onto fence posts around your garden and from branches on trees to keep birds at bay. The foil strips will move in the breeze and it will scare them enough to stay away from your berry bushes and fruit trees. It is a good idea to add new strips. Birds who hang around long enough will figure out the strips don’t pose a threat and they will move in.
Natural Weed Killers
Weeds are the bane of a gardener’s existence. They grow ten times as fast as any vegetable plant and spread like wildfire. It is a constant battle to keep the weeds down in the garden so your vegetables can get the water and nutrients you are lovingly putting out. It is a battle that many people give up and choose to use herbicides that can be extremely harmful to the soil. They may have won the battle, but they will have lost the war. Herbicides often strip the soil of nutrients and only the hardiest of weeds are able to thrive in the damaged soil. It can take years for it to become healthy enough to support a garden. Weeds are a problem and it is next to impossible to get rid of every last one at the same time, but you can use some natural methods to keep them down enough for your vegetable garden to thrive.
16-Nothing can replace the work of your own two hands. Weeding is a part of gardening. The key is to do a little weeding every day to stay on top of the fast-growing plants. Use a small spade to keep the weeds down between the rows.
17-Vinegar and salt are a wicked combination that will get rid of those pesky weeds that grow around your garden border or in your garden pathway. You will need a gallon of standard white vinegar. Pour in a cup of salt and blend together. Put the vinegar and salt solution into a spray bottle and drench the leaves of the troublesome weeds. You may need to do this for several days to get them to die off. Success varies, but most people find the weeds are killed and new ones do not come back. Using vinegar alone will kill the weeds, but new ones tend to pop back up in no time. Never spray the plants you do like with this solution. This works better if it is done in full sun.
18-Soap and vinegar is another option. It is essentially the same as the vinegar and salt, but the soap isn’t going to damage the soil. Mix one gallon of white vinegar and one ounce of standard dish soap. Pour it into a spray bottle and soak the weeds you want to get rid of. This is an effective method and kills the weeds within 24 hours with just one application.
19-Newspaper is a great way to recycle, compost and keep weeds down all at the same time. Save your own newspapers or volunteer to take some from your neighbors. Spread the newspaper around the base of your plants, leaving a couple of inches of space open around the stem. Spray the paper with water to keep it from blowing away. Add a layer of mulch to the paper. The paper will keep the weeds down while attracting earthworms.
20-Boiling water seems too easy to be true, but it does work. Pouring boiling water on weeds will kill them without hurting the soil. Be careful hauling full pots of boiling water to the garden. The boiling water kills the weeds that have sprouted. You will need to pour more boiling water over the new weeds that are bound to sprout in the following days.
21-Baking soda is another weed killer that has been used by organic gardeners. This is one you want to use with caution. Pour the baking soda on the weed and then add some water to help the roots soak it up. Don’t use baking soda to kill weeds that are close to vegetable plants in the garden. It will reduce the pH levels in the soil, which kills plants, but also kills your veggies.
22-Corn gluten is a nice preventative measure against new weeds sprouting. However, only use this around the borders of your garden. It stops all new seedlings from sprouting, including your vegetable seeds. Sprinkle the corn gluten around borders and edges to keep the garden area tidy. It would also be beneficial to add the corn gluten on your garden pathways.
Organic gardening is not only great for your health and the health of your soil, but it is also much cheaper than buying a wide range of chemical fertilizers and other treatments. In many cases, you will find the organic methods are more effective. You can be proud of your organic heirloom garden. The taste of the organic produce you harvest from the garden is definitely worth a little extra work.
Extra Tips and Hints for Organic Gardening
There are plenty of other things you can do to feed your garden naturally while keeping pests at bay. Check out the bonus section filled with additional tips and tricks to make your organic garden thrive.
- Nasturtiums planted around plants in the garden can help repel aphids, cucumber beetles and white flies. The pretty flowers look great along the edge of a garden border or mixed in with your vegetable plants.
- Dill is an excellent herb choice for your garden. There is a trick to planting it. Dill attracts hornworms that thrive on tomato plants. You can draw the hornworms away from your tomatoes by planting the dill on the opposite side of the garden. Planting dill between rows in the garden will help repel spider mites and aphids.
- Chives are another dual-purpose plant in the garden. They can be planted around the border to repel Japanese beetles and carrot rust flies. However, chives are prolific and can quickly take over an entire space in a single season. You will need to be diligent cutting these back and taking care of the seed heads before they have time to drop their seeds.
- Basil is a good friend of the tomato plant. No wonder basil and tomato work so well together in soups and sauce. Basil adds flavor to tomatoes while repelling flies and mosquitoes.
- Petunias are a pretty addition the garden border or between rows. They repel leafhoppers, aphids, tomato worms and asparagus beetles.
- Planting sunflowers as a border for your garden will help draw the aphids away from your plants. The aphids love the sunflowers, but unlike most plants, they can handle the invasion and still thrive. You will get some beautiful flowers and if you choose the right kind, a healthy snack at the end of summer.
- Garlic is an excellent choice for repelling root maggots, coddling moths, Japanese beetles and snails. However, it shouldn’t be planted next to peas, beans, potatoes or asparagus as it slows growth. It is an excellent companion plant for tomatoes and will help prevent red spider infestations.