Organic products for garden
My kids eat vegetables under protest. I was the same at their age, only I took the wolf approach and swallowed them before my taste buds knew what hit them.
The quality of vegetables, though, makes all the difference. The Lowcountry is flush with locally grown, quality produce, much of it grown organically or, at the very least, naturally.
Naturally grown is not the same as organic. If you want to garden organically, the Organic Materials Review Institute identifies qualified products you can use. The OMRI logo will appear on the label. You also can look up products on www.omri.org.
Many natural products have to be applied more frequently to achieve acceptable results. The tradeoff, however, is that most are safer around people, pets and in the environment. Regardless of the product, always read the label. Just because something is natural, doesn’t mean that it’s harmless. Here are some examples:
Natural fertilizers boost soil vitality by increasing microbial activity. Microorganisms feed on natural fertilizers and slowly release nutrients.
Bone meal and fish emulsion are popular organic fertilizers. While some fish products are deodorized, most stink. Milorganite is natural fertilizer made from processed wastewater.
Regardless of the product, be sure you are supplying nutrients in adequate amounts. Milorganite does not contain potassium, which frequently is deficient in Lowcountry soils.
Compost is another means of increasing soil nutrients while also improving soil structure and vitality. Mushroom compost and cotton burr compost are expensive but effective. Bulk compost can be purchased at Bees Ferry.
Conventional insecticides can have negative effects on beneficial insects as well as people and pets. In some cases, an insecticide can reduce beneficial populations and cause a delayed yet significant rebound of the pest population.
Releasing beneficial insects does not guarantee results since they can just as easily move to your neighbor’s garden.
Horticultural oil and insecticidal soap have limited effects on beneficials. They need to be applied on the insect pest to be effective.
Neem oil, however, is an insect repellent that can be applied on the plant to ward off insects. As a bonus, Neem oil also has fungicidal effects. Keep in mind, oils and soaps can cause slight damage if applied improperly, so be sure to read the label for appropriate rates and conditions.
Insect growth regulators prevent immature insect growth. Unless you or your pet molt, it’s considered safe.
Most nematodes are plant parasites, but there are carnivorous nematodes that consume caterpillars, grubs and mole crickets.
Bacillus thuringiensis is a bacterium that produces a protein toxic to specific insects. Various Bt products control caterpillars, fungal gnats or mosquitoes.
Certain Bacillus strains can behave as a preventive fungicide. There are also botanical products, such as citric acid and mint oil, that can be used as disease preventives. Potassium biocarbonate can control disease such as powdery mildew on various vegetables.
Sulfur and copper are inorganic fungicides. Inorganic, in this case, simply means they don’t contain carbon. Copper-containing fungicides have long been used to control bacterial diseases. Bordeaux mixture is a product containing copper sulfate and lime.
Organic weed-killers are nonselective herbicides. They are most effective on annual weeds in planting beds or vegetable gardens rather than the lawn.
Essential oils, herbicidal soap and herbicidal vinegar products can be used to burn down foliage. Reapplication may be necessary for acceptable results. Essential oils smell delicious for days while vinegar smells like what you’d expect. Herbicidal vinegar is not the same as what’s typically in the kitchen cupboard.
There is one organic herbicide called Fiesta that claims to be a selective herbicide for lawns. However, some sources are skeptical about its effectiveness.
Corn gluten is an organic pre-emergent herbicide as well as a nitrogen fertilizer. As a pre-emergent, it’s not as effective as conventional products, but some reports claim that continued use increases the residual effect, improving performance over time.
Nonetheless, corn gluten can be used as a nitrogen fertilizer, and whatever pre-emergent effects that occur are a bonus.
Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.