Compost Disease Control Organic Gardening Organic Pest Control Soil Improvement and/or preparation

Organic Gardening – Success – How long will it take?

Long before I ever started with gardening I knew that “organic” or “working with nature” would work.  I knew I would be successful.

And I have been.

In addition to being successful I have experienced most of the problems that gardeners face with clay soil, sandy soil, poor soil, pests, disease, and having certain crops fail.  I’ve over come or controlled these problems using my simple way of gardening.

That’s how I’m able to help you.  I know what you’re facing and I know what to do about it.  If I don’t know — I’ll tell you.

I have far less problems with each passing year and am anticipating even fewer problems in the years to come.

Through all the problems I had a great incentive to keep gardening:  I wanted to eat.  Since I wanted to eat I couldn’t give up even if I’d wanted to.

In spite of the many books and articles written that try to make gardening seem complicated — it’s not.  But  — it does take some basic information and it takes a willingness to do it nature’s way (if – you’ve come to see the harm in doing it the chemical way) and the patience to wait a bit.  It’s most likely not going to happen in one season.

One reader — only in her 3rd season of gardening said, “I don’t know if they (various fertilizers) will help but I need to try something! I don’t know if I can take another year of doing so much work for so little return!”

How Soon will You Get Results?

How soon you get the results you want depends on how well you work with nature and where your garden is.  How was the land used (or abused) before you even arrived on the scene?

In my current location and the previous one I saw results the first year and great results by the 3rd year.  Although I was surrounded by abused soil (farm land) I was fortunate that the land on which I had my gardens had not been too abused — at least for 25 or 30 years.

If you live on land that was previously farmed using conventional methods of farming — you’ll have more trouble and it will take more time. That land is most likely totally dead and you’ll need to restore life to it.

Another trouble spot would be in small yards of row homes or housing developments. Very often the top soil that was originally on the land is scraped off and sold.

Another problem spot would be around the foundation of fairly modern homes, since the poorest soil is often placed around the foundation — not to mention all the poisons that are sometimes sprayed around homes for termites and other pests.

Other Problems that Slow Down Success

People come to organic gardening by different roads. Many folks are so steeped in the brainwashing of the chemical companies that it’s difficult for them to imagine gardening without using chemicals.

Other folks — by their very nature — want to add a little of this and a little of that. They want a quick fix (programed into our society) for every problem in the garden.

Seeing the Big Picture and What Really Needs to be Done

If your soil is dead — your plants won’t do well.  If you’re feeding the soil — it’ll be alive with hundred and hundreds of micro-organisms  that work to convert minerals and nutrients into forms that plants can use.

They’ll carry those nutrients to the plants, carry water to the plants and do everything that needs to be done for the plants for you to get the bumper crops you want. These organisms and your plants work hand in hand with each other.

Just dumping something on the soil — doesn’t work.  There is a process that nature requires.

That’s why — if you dump for example bone meal on the soil (which I do NOT recommend) to try to help supply more calcium to your tomatoes  for example— it doesn’t work.  The soil life has to transform the bone meal before the plants can use it.  That in all probability will take until next year. And if you put it on without even knowing if your soil needs it — you could be doing more harm than good.

Fish emulsion, kelp, and compost can all help your plants. BUT – they in and by themselves can not do what living, healthy soil can do. They’re of the most benefit when the soil is what it should be.

What You do Now will have a Big Effect on Your Garden Next Year

Your success next year depends a lot on what you do for your garden now thru fall.

Cover crops can make a big difference and are the best way to keep soil covered. They’ll help improve soil and supply a lot of the nutrients that otherwise would not be available to next year’s crops.

When planning your cover crops keep the principle of diversity in mind: After you use buckwheat in a bed, plant something different to follow the next crop.  After you use rye plant a different cover the following year and so on.  That’s the way to get the most benefit from your cover crops.

This process will improve your soil, feed your soil and thus better feed your plants. It will also help prevent pests and disease.  That’s the kind of pest control that has been big-scale organic farmer Bob Quinn’s success strategy for the last few decades. (See my post – Organic on a Large Scale Does it Work?)

Leaves  – They’re high in nutrients and break down to perform wonders in your garden.  Get all you can.

If for some reason you are unable to get cover crops or leaves — keep your soil covered.  Straw or pine will do well.  (When I didn’t have cover crops I used leaves and pine in the fall and straw the rest of the time.)

Final Thoughts

Is gardening easy? Yes!  Most of the so called “hard work” is in soil preparation — but that need only be done once if done properly.

But like anything worth doing — it takes a little thought,  preparation, and patience to be successful.


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  • Theresa, I thought that preparing the soil meant clearing off last years crop remains, and raking it nice and smooth and brown on top. What a joke!!!
    When I looked out and saw that nice smooth bare surface,even and flat, I just KNEW I had done a good job. There was not one earthworm to be found in that garden, and if any had been brave enough to show up, I would probably have removed them in case they would mess things up!!
    Now my soil is never seen, it’s under a bunch of messy straw, or is covered by a cover crop, or has something planted on it. But the amount of worms and other critters doing their job under there, is just fantastic to see. It’s a whole little world of activity under there.
    Just arranged to go to my friend’s house at the weekend for a load of her leaves. She lives on 2 acres and always has lots of them to be gathered.

  • Every fall, I would cover my raised beds with 6″ of mulched leaves and lawn clippings. I tried just letting it rest on top till spring and have also tilled them into the top 6″ of the existing soil in the fall. I get different results. I am considering turning the top 6″ over twice (two weeks apart) then leaving them clean and bare this fall in an effort to destroy overwintering insects that use the mulched surfaces as a protected survival area.I grow veggies until the last frost which doesn’t allow me to get a cover crop started. What say you?

  • Thanks Ray. Hearing that you are learning from my posts keeps me writing!
    You’re making good steps in the right direction. Delighted to hear that you are starting with cover crops. Buckwheat is so easy and a good cover crop to start with.
    I think it’s a good move on your part to forget about the bone meal. You might want to read this post again

    Appreciate your taking time to let me know how you felt Ray.

    Sandra – your story made me smile! Loved it!
    You’re luck you know someone who has leaves that you can have. Leaves are just about the greatest thing to improve soil!

    Hi Tee Jay – Your method of covering your bed with 6″ of mulched leaves and lawn clippings was an excellent approach. Tilling into the top 6″ is ok, but leaving it on top for the soil life to pull into the bed is even better.

    I know you’re a recent subscriber, so perhaps you have not read any of the past articles. Otherwise – you would know exactly what my response would be about leaving your soil clean and bare. It’s THE worse thing you can do. For all the steps forward you take — leaving the soil uncovered is like taking twice that many steps back.

    I hear the “bug hiding in the mulch” thing a lot. In my opinion — doing away with the mulch is like throwing out the baby with the bath water.

    Taking steps towards improved soil health is the best thing you can do for pest control. The healthier your garden is — the less problem you’ll have with pests. Of course, you have to take action during the season as well and do what you can (as I have mentioned in various posts) to make sure you kill the ones in your garden to keep them from wintering over.

    You may want to try nematodes in your bed in the spring. They’ll kill the soft bodied larvae in the soil. (Won’t harm earthworms.)(Still won’t take care of squash bugs.) That can be helpful from time to time.

    I grow veggies until the last frost as well. I underplant with cover crops at least by some time in September. If that is impossible for you — leaves on top of your beds are excellent.


  • Theresa, I am so thankful I found your blog. What a goldmine of information you bring to me. I am forever greatful. It almost makes me smile at how timely your posts are. They seem to come right at the time I am second guessing my approach to gardening. Thank you for your reassurance.


  • Hi Toni,
    What a lovely comment. Thank you so much for taking the time to let me know how you feel.
    Keep on keeping on. I’m in your corner.

  • I am trying cover crops for the first time this year. I just cut the buckwheat I sowed a couple weeks ago where my fall transplants will go. And ordered a variety of other cover crops to try at the end of the season.

    As for leaves, last year I used all the leaves from our yard and piled them into the garden. They were probably 18″ deep, and in the spring I removed them to a new compost pile, since they had only broken down maybe one third of the way. Should I not have done that? Before I sowed/put in transplants I mixed in all the finished compost from the previous year, then mulched thickly with pine straw.

    Also, we back up to a wooded common area and I could get even more leaves, but I worry about introducing ticks to the garden. I contracted Lyme last year just from going in and out of the wooded area where I was keeping my compost pile.

  • Glad you’re starting to use cover crops Heather.

    It was not “wrong” to compost your leaves. I don’t — only because it’s just something else to do.

    I always like the years that Bill has time to cut up the leaves with the lawn mower. The end result is so nice and my favorite way to spread my leaves. BUT — that doesn’t happen often — so I spread the whole leaves — like you did.

    They don’t all break down over the winter when they’re put in whole — but that is not a problem. You might want to re-read my post (It addresses making sure the leaves are loose rather than big clumps matted together.)

    They’ll eventually break down as the hot weather progresses. No need to remove them from the garden.

    It was good to mix in all the finished compost and then mulch thickly with pine straw in preparation of planting. (To sow seed you just pull back the mulch and seed.Then replace the mulch in a thin layer and add the remaining mulch as the plants grow.)

    Ticks have been awful this year and I hate them! They seem to come out of no where and I’m absolutely fanatical about checking for them. So I understand how you feel. You just have to do what you feel comfortable doing. If you don’t feel good about getting the leaves from the wooded area because of ticks — just don’t.

    I would not keep my compost pile in that area anyway. Sends up all kinds of alarm bells in my head. I’d want to have it where I could keep an eye on it and I think having it in the woods can give opportunities for more problems. (Not only ticks – but snakes, etc.)

    The good thing that I can think of about having the compost pile in the woods — you introduced some different soil life to your garden. That will increase the variety of micro organisms in your garden soil. So even if you move your compost pile to where you can keep and eye on it — you already have that good introduction of diversity to your garden.

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