13 May 2009
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
Gardening by the numbers for some, 10-10-10 plus 1-napthyl methylcarbamate, is like painting by the numbers, a hasty approach that produces a garden lacking depth, thick with shallow-rooted, short-lived, lush greenery and few, if any, valuable organisms---bees, worms and mycorrhizae, those thready, white, soil fungi.
This is a garden on steroids where continued use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides guarantees abundant outcomes and depleted soil, needing more doses to sustain itself---an endless cycle.
Once the fix is withdrawn, though, the numbered garden will decline rapidly to illness and infestation. Going cold turkey can be stressful, unless the detox interval is supported with organic nutrients, preferable, however, to seasons of addiction to pricey, petroleum-based, blue-green stuff.
When disease and insect predators assault this luscious garden, filled with plants, pumped-up with thin-walled, bloated cells, the garden will need its own set of costly long-term, meds. I imagine aphids discovering such a garden, intoxicated with the juice of these stems and leaves.
If you choose to nurture your garden using organic tactics some costs will decline, like money spent on chemical aides.
Research shows that organic techniques also help the garden weather drought conditions with significantly fewer losses and lower irrigation expenses.
Some costs will increase, especially time: pulling weeds by hand, culturing and applying compost and mulch, handpicking tomato hornworms and Japanese beetles, power-washing mites and lace bugs.
For gardeners short on time and space, commercially produced compost and organic mulch will sustain healthy, robust plants, well defended against disease and insect predators with minimal damage.
These choices are not unlike the time investment in personal wellbeing with a healthful diet and daily exercise.
Beneath the organic mulch and compost, homegrown or not, live your gardens partners. They are the mycorrhizae, fungal hyphae, white, hair-like threads that deliver mineral nutrients and water between and among roots, and the mycorrhizae themselves.
The transfer highway benefits all---each root, each fungal hypha exchanging what is needed with one another.
Dense hairy mycos also crowd out disease and pests like Verticilium, the scourge of tomatoes. Mycos prevent the transfer of harmful heavy metals---lead and zinc, for instance.
To cultivate these allies the gentle gardener avoids over-fertilizing especially with phosphates, the P in the N-P-K of fertilizers, the middle number in the 10-10-10.
Read the labels on those potting mixes. Limit phosphate-rich composted manure. Give up excessive tilling which disrupts the mycorrhizae webs.
Invite the mycos families to your garden with rationed watering. Ban synthetic substances; for mycos multiply and extend their beneficial territory during the stress of a minor drought and slight nutrient deficits.
Mycos thrive in a varied setting; so increase plant diversity in your gardens. With monocultures, too much of one thing is a grand invitation for an equally grand disaster. Pests will rip through them more rapidly than through a grouping of varied plantings.
Employ the soils micro herd and networks to your gardens benefit. Feed them judiciously with organic matter and they will reward you.
Tip of the Week
Think of mulch as a poultice for the newly installed plant, or refreshment for the spring awakening. Fill a five gallon bucket, up to two thirds with water; press into the water, handfuls of coarse compost or mulch until bubbles cease rising, then apply the gloppy mess, three inches from the plants base.