If you want to put basic organic gardening techniques to use in your own yard, three local experts with different backgrounds are eager to share their expertise with you.
"Growing your own food organically is easier to do than you think and incredibly rewarding," says Amy Hicks, 43, of Amy's Garden, a USDA certified organic family farm that grows 10 acres of produce and cut flowers in Charles City County (www.amysorganicgarden.com). She sells at farmers markets in Richmond and Williamsburg, and provides "member" customers with weekly flowers and produce through Virginia's Community Supported Agriculture at http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/vagrown.
"As organic farmers, we strive to build soil life by utilizing compost, organic mulches and crop rotation which help keep the land healthy and productive for future generations," Hicks said. "We also plant cover crops that fix nitrogen, add organic matter to the soil and provide habitat areas for beneficial insects and wildlife."
On Saturday, you can hear her elaborate on these principles when she joins Lisa Ziegler of The Gardener's Workshop, a cut-flower farm in Newport News, and Heather Driscoll of My Sister's Garden, an organic lawn and landscaping company in Virginia Beach, for a daylong organic gardening seminar.
The "Benefits of Going Organic: Flowers, Vegetables and Lawns" will be held 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. at Warwick River Mennonite Church, 252 Lucas Creek Road, Newport News. The event includes lunch and a walking tour of Ziegler's nearby farm. The cost is $40, and advance registration is required at 877-7159 or http://www.shoptgw.com. Proceeds benefit a local food pantry.
In her business, Driscoll, 38, says she abides by the basic principles of organic land care's goal to build soil that's alive with beneficial micro-organisms. No chemicals are used, claims her website at http://mysistersgardenorganics.com.
"The use of toxic pesticides harms trees and woody plants and stays around a lot longer without a healthy microbial population to decompose them," she says.
"The toxins contaminate the soil, seep into the water table and threaten our water supply. We encourage clients to accept a few weeds as a part of a more natural environment," Driscoll said.
"For insect control, scouting is important. The fear of the presence of a pest insect does not always requirement treatment."
Here are some favorite organic gardening tips from Hicks and Driscoll:
•Build organic matter in your soil.
•Hand pick pests as much as possible. Use a color photo pest guide to ID good and bad bugs.
•Use organic mulches – compost, straw, chopped leaves or paper – in a vegetable garden.
•Plant flowers that attract beneficial insects.
•Do a soil test in your lawn so you can correct problems properly.
•Grow a variety of lawn grasses that suit your environment – sun, shade, tidal flooding, etc.
•Allow white clover to flourish in your lawn. The low-growing green tolerates drought and provides the lawn with beneficial nitrogen.
•Top dress your lawn with a light layer of organic compost, or make compost tea (cloth bags of compost seeped in water) and apply it to your lawn through a hose-end sprayer.
•Research weeds in your lawn and learn what they tell you – dandelions thrive in soil compaction, low pH, low calcium and excessive potassium. Crabgrass conditions include low-mowing height, low fertility and drought or excessive watering.
•Love the bugs in your yard – healthy turf contains a variety of beneficial or neutral (neither pest nor beneficial) insects.
•Aerate your lawn – there is an entire web of life beneath your feet that needs to eat, drink and breathe – and aeration helps provide air pockets.
•Use a mulching mower and leave clippings, which are 90 percent water, to break down on the lawn. Never cut more than one-third of the grass blade at a time.
•Water your lawn properly – deep, thorough watering, an inch per week during no rainfall and in early morning hours.
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