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Try Gardens With An Organic Twist
By Kelli McPhail
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Gardeners may want to consider the organic gardening trend this year when deciding how to care for gardens and the environment at the same time.
Organic gardening means growing and marketing healthy foods that have not been treated with synthetic chemicals, only natural fertilizers and pest control measures.
Dr. David Nagel, a horticulturalist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said many people choose to garden organically because they want to be environmentally friendly. Others have different reasons.
"Enjoyment is another more popular reason to grow organic gardens," Nagel said. "People like the idea of planting a garden and watching it grow, while knowing the whole process is happening without synthetic chemicals."
Other people grow organic gardens to make a profit. Organic fruits and vegetables have become popular in the past few years and because the food is naturally grown, prices are higher.
Even though relaxation can be a reason for gardening, Nagel said organically grown fruits and vegetables may take extra time and work, especially in Mississippi.
"To plant an organic garden in Mississippi, you need a map of times and places for all crops," Nagel said. "Also because of our mild winters, it is hard to increase the organic matter of the soil and an outside source of organic matter should probably be used."
Pick a well-drained plot of land on which to grow the crop. If the only spot available holds water, plant in raised beds.
"Get some loose, dry topsoil and mix it with compost, leaves, aged manure and any other organic material you can find to form 24-inch high raised beds," Nagel said.
Nan Johnson, a long-time organic gardener now living in Water Valley, said natural soil fertility management helps the plants be more disease- and pest-resistant.
"My favorite way to give nutrients to the soil naturally is to use green manure," Johnson said. "Green manure gives the soil nitrogen and results from annual grasses or legumes planted in the winter or summer. After these crops have grown, you till them under so they become incorporated into the soil, leaving the soil with organic material. This costs little, there are no poisons put into the soil, and you do it all by hand."
Planting the correct number of seeds can also make a difference in the final results.
"Many times people plant a whole packet of seeds in a small space thinking that at least some of them will grow," Nagel said. "In the plant's search for air and light, weak stems that never fully recover are produced."
Because seeds contain everything they need to grow, except for water and sunlight, it is important to cover the seed with soil just over two times its size.
Once the organic garden is planted, a key to a successful crop is pest control. In Mississippi, hand removal may be the most efficient bug control in a small scale organic garden.
"A shade cloth enclosure to screen insects as well as direct rays from the hot sun might be helpful," Nagel said.
Nagel also said pests can be kept away from the garden and crop damage can be reduced by planting insect-repelling plants like marigolds, attracting natural enemy insects such as praying mantis and lady bugs, and using less-toxic pesticides.
"Our climate is ideal for both fungi for both fungi and bacteria," Nagel said. "Plant the garden so wind can blow down the rows. Keeping leaves as dry as possible is one of the best disease control measures."
Released: May 4, 1998
Contact: Dr. David Nagel, (601) 325-2311