Extension: Reader trying to manage transition to organic gardening

Q: In reading about organic gardening and trying to change many of my family’s farming traditions, growing hybrid tea roses is in conflict with my new thinking. At this point I am thinking that my rose garden should be considered a toxic-waste site. And I have read about so many organic gardeners who have pulled up all their hybrid tea roses and given them away. That is something I’m not ready to do. I have found a copper-based fungicide that I have used on my tomatoes but have not tried it on roses. What about fertilizer and insecticides?

Answer: When shifting your production practices to organic gardening, you must rethink much of what you do in the garden. Start by considering the garden as a connected system of soil, plants, earthworms, insects — including pests — beneficial pollinators, and the prevailing weather conditions of temperature, precipitation, wind, etc.

For organic gardening to be successful, start with healthy soil, best cultural practices and a healthy plant. Pay attention to weather conditions and water when necessary so that plants do not become stressed. A stressed plant is more likely to become a site of disease and insect infestation. Keep weeds in check. Weeds will rob your plants of nutrients, water, and often harbor diseases and insect pests. Plant a garden for beneficial insects to encourage them to help you with pest control and pollination. Never wet the foliage of plants. That encourages the development of diseases in our climate. The best practice is to always water at the base of the plants. There are many organic pesticides that can be used when you do have problems. Copper products work well as a fungicide. There are many formulations of the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis that are available as insecticides. Another class of organic pesticides is the botanicals that are formulated from plants. Some examples are citrus oil, nicotine, sabadilla, pyrethrin, rotenone and neem oil. Always read the complete label on any pesticide whether organic or not. I would encourage you to take a class at the extension on organic gardening. To start receiving the newsletter list of upcoming programs, call (336) 703-2850 or send an email to coop-ext-registration@forsyth.cc.

Q: I purchased some wine. It was grown using biodynamic practices. Can you tell me what that terminology means?

Answer: Biodynamic farming is a system of agriculture that uses many of the same practices as organic farming, such as not allowing the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and requiring a three-year transition period. BD is considered to be more of a philosophical approach to the overall structure of the farm and is acutely focused on building soil health. Soil fertility is improved through the use of special preparations that encourage the growth of soil microorganisms, as well as the use of composting, cover cropping with legumes and the incorporation of livestock as part of the farm system. Farms can be certified as biodynamic by Demeter USA. Some farms are co-certified as both organic and biodynamic. Demeter biodynamic certification does have requirements in addition to those for organic certification, such as a minimum of 10 percent farm area for biodiversity preservation, reduction in off-farm inputs and use of the BD preparations. Some, but not all, biodynamic farms use astrological calendars and other cosmic indicators to determine the timing of farm activities such as planting and harvesting. An interesting article about biodynamics is available at this link:http://www.extension.org/pages/28756/the-science-behind-biodynamics#.VJRMjV4CA. The article includes links to Demeter USA.

Mary Jac Brennan is the commercial horticulture agent for small farms and local food for the Forsyth Cooperative Extension. Contact Mary Jac about commercial production, local foods, and sustainable agriculture questions. For information on home and gardening issues, contact the Forsyth Cooperative Extension office at extension@forsyth.cc or call (336) 703-2850.

Source: http://www.journalnow.com/home_food/home_garden/garden/extension-reader-trying-to-manage-transition-to-organic-gardening/article_294817ba-8792-5882-bc3d-d8cf748cb904.html