Successful organic garden starts with the soil | Gardener's Way

If you grow fruit and vegetables in this area, you have to deal with slugs everywhere, maggots in your radishes, aphids in your broccoli and brussels sprouts and worms in your apples.

You may also have to deal with cabbage loopers, flea beetles and some other problems that you cannot even identify. At times you may feel that it is impossible to grow some of your own produce without resorting to chemical sprays. So what is a person to do?

At the Federal Way Community Garden, we operate with the philosophy of “grow everything as organically as possible.” By organic, I mean that we use organic fertilizer and compost for our soil nutrition. We do not use any chemicals to control the bad bugs. We also use an organically safe phosphate based product that controls slugs, earwigs and cutworms. We check the plants every day looking for the start of any damage and “nip it in the bud” before it becomes a garden epidemic. Using this approach last year, we were able to harvest produce that not only tasted good, but looked good as well.

The successful organic garden starts with the soil. The reason is that if a plant grows in an optimum way, it will naturally be able to withstand the attack of the bad bugs. I witnessed this last year. I planted two cabbage plants fairly close together — one very healthy, the other a little sickly for some reason. As these two plants grew, the sickly one was attacked by every bug that seemed to come by. The healthy plant 18 inches away had no damage at all.

You can perform a simple test to check the health of your soil. Dig up a one-foot square block that is one shovel deep from the middle of your garden. Spread this soil out on the driveway and count the worms. If you have less than 10 worms in your soil, it needs help. The short answer to making your soil healthy is to add yards and yards of compost. Compost in the soil is like a magnet to the worms.

To stay ahead of the problems in the garden, I use a variety of approaches. For control of the slugs, I use a product called Sluggo Plus. You can get this at Branches Nursery. This also controls cutworms that can be a real problem when you set out seedlings. For aphids, spray them with water. Aphids are not smart enough to crawl back up on the plant. For the leaf miner in the beet and swiss chard leafs, I pinch off the damaged leaf as soon as I see damage. This breaks the life cycle for the insect. For apple and pear damage, I use the nylon footies that I place over the fruit right after I thin the fruit on the trees. I use fabric row covers to control the radish maggot. This year, I am also experimenting with predatory nematodes.

In most of our beds, we interplant with different vegetables (i.e. lettuce, onions and cabbage) in a single bed. In theory, this tends to confuse the bugs that target a specific veggie. Since we have a pesticide free garden, we have lots of little frogs and other good bugs to help us keep the garden in balance.

If you want to see these techniques being used in a local garden, feel free to visit the Federal Way Senior Center Community Garden, 4016 S. 352nd St., Auburn. I am there most mornings and would be glad to show you what has worked for us.

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