There is a steadily growing interest in home production of organic food. For most home gardeners, utilizing organic methods of production comes naturally and can easily be implemented with little difficulty. The first principle of organic production is to feed the soil rather than trying to just feed the plant. A healthy, biologically active soil is your best tool in having a successful crop. Plants that perform poorly due to an unhealthy soil can also be prone to disease and insect issues.

Lance Ellis

Lance Ellis

You can create a healthy soil by increasing the organic matter, which thereby increases the microbial activity in the soil. There are many beneficial microorganisms in the soil, but without something to decompose they really aren’t active, and most importantly nutrient content and availability may be hampered. Sources of organic matter include composted manure, peat moss, composted tree leaves and garden residue. Ensure that you have good water drainage, as a wet stagnant, garden is a dead garden. Good drainage can be accomplished through adding a small amount of sand with your organic matter. Too much sand added in place of organic matter can create hardened and compacted garden soil. If properly applied, this mixture of sand and lots of organic matter will create a good balance of drainage, nutrient holding capacity and sufficient air spaces in the soil for plant roots to take hold.

Another option for increasing organic matter in the soil is planting your garden into a green manure crop for a season. A green manure crop is simply a crop of plants that you grow and then till into the soil before it goes to seed. If you don’t want to give up a whole growing season, try growing a green manure crop in the fall after your garden has pretty much finished its production. In our area, a good fall green manure crop would be peas or beans. Select fruit and vegetable crops that are naturally insect or disease resistant. This preemptive step will reduce the use of chemicals to control pest issues later on in the season. Use mulches to hold moisture around your plants, and reduce evaporation as well as keep weeds at bay and reduce your workload. You can also till small weeds up before you plant to help reduce their numbers.

To help reduce insect numbers, try introducing beneficial insects which you can buy through local nurseries or online. An example is controlling aphids with ladybugs. If you want beneficial bugs to help you in your garden, then avoid using insecticides as they will kill both beneficial and detrimental insects. Later in the season, populations of destructive insects can multiply, and without the natural predators around in sufficient numbers, they can devastate your garden. Scout often in your garden for problem bugs, and create an environment that invites predatory bugs to come and live in your garden. Certain plants attract these beneficial insects, and interplanting them in your garden helps to balance insect populations. Rotate crops every year in your garden to prevent a buildup of soil born diseases, and practice good sanitation in the garden area. Good sanitation means removing infected or diseased plants from the site and composting any residues rather than just leaving them lying around and being an incubator for future bugs or diseases.

Lastly, try planting your crops earlier or later to avoid insect life cycles. For example, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts can be planted earlier, and if given sufficient protection from damaging freezes, will be able to grow and produce prior to when the insects come out and injure them.

Lance Ellis is the University of Idaho Extension educator for Fremont County. He can be reached at 208-624-3102.