While most gardeners practice a certain amount of natural gardening by rotating crops each year, composting, and planting in sunny, well-drained soil, they still rely on chemicals to fend off insects.
Yet the trend to biodynamic, or organic, gardening goes on.
The essentials of biodynamic gardening are simply that of applied ecology. Organic scientists have known for a long time that the normal and natural condition of the soil should be upset as little as possible.
The top six inches of soil contain minerals, organic matter, water, and air. If you dig below this surface you find less and less of these nutrients. Of course, soils vary in content but all soil can have the right ingredients if the proper care is taken.
The first step is to plow shallow enough so that these elements are not turned under, thus bringing the subsoil, with little of these nutrients, to the top.
People who do deep plowing have to add more fertilizer.
If you feel your topsoil is inadequate, you can add bone meal, compost, sawdust, and other organic materials. These should be added in the fall so that the winter snows and rains can give them a chance to penetrate. They will give back the natural food required by the plants.
One of the greatest objections to artificial fertilizers is that they introduce some poisonous elements and create an imbalance that is hard for nature's forces to overcome.
Obviously, you have to disturb the soil before planting, if only to destroy the competition of the weeds, remove stones, and the like. Also, if you have clay in the soil, you must make the soil porous by aerating it. But set the garden tiller so that no more than six inches is dug up.
If you have done your homework in the fall and mulched, composted, limed, etc., you don't want to waste all that good material by plowing it under.
Cultivate the soil after the crops are four or five inches high.This should be done gently. You might add a side dressing of compost or other organic material as needed. Just remember, if you add chemicals in any form, you will undo all the natural work the organic way provides.
The best tiller of all is the earthworn. If you have plenty of them, you are already ahead.
The environment of living plants is very complex and almost defies study, but certain physical forces have a direct impact upon the growth and development of plants that can be easily recognized. The first is the soil, while the second is the factor of insects, animal life, and plant diseases. Biological management means reconciling the conditions of a healthy, enduring, producing system with the environment.
Every garden has its growth stimulators as well as growth inhibitors. Whatever is needed for good production is within the garden itself.
Pests in the form of insects are older than gardening. Intercropping is a good preventive measure against them. For instance, you repel the cabbage fly by intercropping with tomatoes, sage, or rosemary. The beetles that attack your asparagus hate the presence of tomato plants nearby.
To avoid wormy radishes, sprinkle wood ashes in the row while planting the seed.
There is a definite pecking order of plants. The relationship between the arrangement of plants affords them not only a higher source of energy but protection as well. It has been established that the Mexican bean beetle is repelled by the beans being planted near potatoes and, in turn, potatoes are protected from the Colorado potato beetle by the presence of beans. I plant my potatoes with beans alternating in every other row.
Caulifower does better if celery is near it. Sweet corn does better near beans or peas since these vegetables replace the nitrogen which corn takes from the soil. The herb tansy will keep cutworms and cabbage worms away. In many cases plant diseases are induced by repeating a crop in the same place.
Simply, plants grown together interact and influence one another.
Frank Lloyd Wright talked about organic architecture years ago. The famed architect said buildings should blend and reflect the true nature of their site. This, in a symbolic way, is the essence of companion planting.
Many and varied reasons are believed to exist for the benefits derived from plant combinations. There are the aroma and the exudations coming out of the roots that may influence the health and growth of its companions. However, one of the most apparent combinations of crops that should not be grown together because of these exudations ara cabbages and tomatoes as well as cabbages and potatoes.
Potatoes are a very fussy vegetable and do not like any of the vine family. Also, you might watch a potato patch that has sunflowers bordering on it. Neither sunflowers nor potatoes will do well.
Companion planting alone will not develop better plants without the basic growth conditions of sun, air, water, and temperature.
There is also the matter of pest control the organic way. Tansy, for instance, if planted near open doors, will keep flies and ants out of the house. The fact that many houses of earlier days had an herb garden near the kitchen door was not just for convenience, but also to keep the house free of unwelcome visitors as well.
Coriander, one of the earliest herbs, contains an oil used in many emulsion sprays to kill spider mites and cotton aphids. Anise, popular as a culinary herb, is also good for fleas and mites on dogs. Plant rosemary or wormwood in the garden to control snails and slugs.
Peppermint will repel the white cabbage fly. I might add that it will also take over the garden, as will wormwood, if not controlled. For beans and onions plant some summer savory. It improves the growth and flavor of the onions. Basil planted near tomatoes will help them overcome both insects and disease.
A great deterrent to the cabbage worm is thyme. While sage is good for carrots, garlic is good everywhere. It, together with the marigold, will keep nematodes away from plants.