Question: “I am trying a organic diet and want to grow my own vegetables without using pesticides. What is the best way I can grow lettuce & spinach without using harsh chemicals?”
“Also I have alot of clay in my yard, what type of dirt should I use?
Do I have to use a fertilizer? And if so what kind would you recommend? (Not my own!LOL)”
“If you know of any great websites that tell you about growing your own vegetables (especially organic) I would greatly appreciate it.”
Great questions! You are going to love growing your own vegetables!
Let’s start with preparing your beds. So you have clay! Clay has gotten a bad rap and causes a lot of people to not even attempt gardening. Soil is a mixture of three types: sand, silt and clay. These types are just descriptions of tiny rocks. Sand is the biggest of the tiny rocks, silt is much finer and clay is actually the smallest and flattest. Sandy mixtures drain rapidly taking fertilizers away with the water. Clay actually has an electrostatic charge that can really be a problem if it is churned up with a rototiller for instance or walked upon when it is wet. Management of any soil is first knowing what you’ve got to work with and you can send in a sample (s) of your soil for a free analysis or small fee to your local extension service. People have learned so many tedious but erroneous ways to improve their soils, especially clayey ones. What does one make by mixing lime, gypsum, crushed rock, clay and water together? Concrete. No wonder people become disallusioned with gardening.
To make soil better just remember the ONLY WAY to make any soil type better for plants is to add DECOMPOSED ORGANIC MATTER. I just put it on top and let the micro and macroorganisms of the soil come alive and eat it and take it down into the soil and poop it out. Plants thrive when you feed (with decomposed organic matter!) your soil or rather the micro and macro organisms. Plants need a soil that is ‘alive’ to thrive and uptake more readily Nitrogen(N), Phosphorus(P) and Potasium(K) plus micronutrients (Boron, Magnesium…blah blah blah).
pH of your soil (acidic to alkaline) is also an important factor, critical for some plants for survival. Home tests aren’t reliable. You are pretty safe as long as you don’t add anything to change pH without knowing for sure what your soil’s pH is! For example, I see people putting lime on their lawns every year like a ritual. Along with moss killer (usually with ferrous sulfate that lowers pH while lime raises pH) Your garden soil should be close to neutral (7). Don’t mess with it unless you get it tested.
As for fertilizer, remember the following; Fertilizer is not ‘food’, more is not better, and if you want vegetables (flowers first of course) make sure your fertilizer is higher in P and K than N by percentage…at least equal in percentage. If N is higher than P and K you are going to promote VEGETATIVE growth. Don’t become confused here. Vegetative growth means lots of stems and leaves. You want REPRODUCTIVE growth, flowers, seeds, fruit…vegetables!
Next, drainage. I wish I could draw but here goes. Envision beds in your garden that are 2 1/2 feet to 3 feet wide at the top, at least a foot higher than your ‘paths’ so the sides slope towards your paths. The length is whatever you want. The paths are wide enough for a wheel barrow, a lawnmower (yes, you can have lawn for your paths!)or a rototiller. I’ve even had beds that were 4’X4′ square. It will look like a graveyard sort of. You walk on the paths not on your beds just like you don’t walk on your bed in your bedroom, right? I plant my vegetable seeds all over the top of these graves after I lightly tamp the soil firm and smooth. Then, using a rock rake, I flip soil lightly and thinly on top of my seeds. The salad stuff I put in a hot pepper shaker (like Round Table Pizza?) and mix it all up. Seeds like radish (globe and icicle), carrots, beets, spinach (early and late), all the lettuce types I can find and sprinkle them all mixed up on the ‘salad bar’ bed. I cover beds containing root vegetables and those of the cabbage family with ‘row cloth’. It’s a light, white, tightly woven cloth that I keep loose over the new seedlings so they will have room to grow but carefully bury the edges with soil and a few stones. This keeps out a few pests that lay their eggs and ruin root crops, cabbage crops…after the pest’s season for laying eggs is safely past (you can look it up or call your extension service in your area for info). Oh, Water goes right through it so no problem.
I was trying to address drainage. By raising your beds you create great drainage. You don’t have to use wood or stones to shore up the edges. Every winter you plant a ‘cover’ crop like annual rye grass, clover…lots of choices, dig it under when you turn the soil in the beds (fluffing it up) and it adds great organic matter while it kept weeds from setting in over winter! Looks great too. Wood and stone would just give housing for slugs and you wouldn’t get to turn the soil over easily. Paths stay the same each year if they aren’t lawn, you can gravel them with 3/8 minus or sawdust or chips or whatever so you don’t get mired in mud. They get compacted and I love gravel. Finer gravel or crushed granite looks more refined and easier on bare feet.
You never use pesticides unless you’ve got a problem that is LISTED on the label. Also, you HAVE to read the label from top to bottom FIVE TIMES and keep it with the bottle. I rarely use pesticides, don’t need to. I know how not to make mistakes and if I do I know simple ways of manual pesticide. Scissors! I go out and start chopping all slugs, big and small. I love to find cutworms! They are even worse than slugs. I also know that most insects HELP you with the bad pests. Non selective pesticides/herbicides I NEVER use…especially because of bees.
Another story. I hope this helps. I’m a Master Gardener, Pesticide Operator, Landscape Architect and have been a gardener since a child. My fingernails I have given up on.
The more you understand the easier it is to get out there and enjoy being part of the natural world. In this way you are Organic! I just won’t get on my soap box about the misconceptions of words like ‘Natural’, ‘Synthetic’, ‘Chemicals are bad’, ‘Drugs are bad’, ‘Organic’…sigh, just become Garden Savvy and learn how to become a good cook using frest stuffr and spices, stay away from canned, boxed and frozen foods as much as you can. That is all you need to do to eat well. Another soap box of mine I dearly love to talk about.
Oh! My favorite mulch is ‘Gro-Co’ but not for the garden, I use a cover crop during the winter for my vegetable garden. I swear by ‘Gro-Co’ on all planting beds, it is the ONLY product that is tested and you know what you are using. I’ve installed topsoils and other ‘organic’ mulches only to find they were ladden with weed seeds or worse pesticide residues. A few times I found to my horror everything I had planted died because of this. Don’t have to worry about that with ‘Gro-Co’… I added this because I had to snicker at your comment ‘not my own’…It is called something else whereever you are but look it up…I NEVER USE BARK. IF A CLIENT WANTS BARK I TELL THEM TO FIND SOMEONE ELSE.
Whatever you use it just needs to be DECOMPOSED. Never, never use plastic either. Drives me nuts. Undecomposed material used as mulch( anything that blocks out light stops weed growth, plant growth and is termed a ‘mulch’) causes the decomposer organisms to come alive, multiply to do the work of decomposing something that used to be alive, is now dead but not decomposed. Fact of life. Until the bark or whatever needs decomposing there isn’t enough food (decomposed stuff) for the rest of the soil organisms and they go to sleep (become dormant). Meanwhile the decomposers need lots of NITROGEN for energy and the plants suffer greatly. Use of Bark is literally causing deserts in our urban areas. Nothing for the birds to eat…either. If I were king I’d order bark to be ILLEGAL to use on gardens. OK …I could write books and make money….? Grin. Happiness is Gardening…