Everything you do in your garden to encourage healthy plant growth helps to prevent pest and disease problems. It’s common sense—backed up by scientific research—that healthy plants arc less likely to be attacked by insects or infected by disease. Promoting plant health is an integral pan of organic gardening. From the moment you sketch out a planting scheme. prepare a bed for planting, or buy a pack of veggie seeds or a potted peren-nial. pest prevention should become a part of your gardening practices.
Preventing Problems by Promoting Plant Health
Prevention starts when you’re paging through seed and plant catalogs: Look for cultivars that are described as pest tolerant or disease resistant. How and when you plant. how you water and fertil-ize. and ultimately, even how you clean up your gardens in fall can play a role in keeping plants healthy.
START WITH THE SOIL
Cultivating healthy soil is at the foundation of growing healthy plants. Good soil helps plants nurture themselves. Roots flourish in healthy soil. They’re able to find and use nutrients as needed. which helps the plant grow strong and resilient. When grown in poor. compacted soil chat is low in nutrients. plants will grow weakly and be stressed by nutrient deficiencies. As a result, they be easy targets for insects and diseases. In contrast. soil that is fertile, well-drained, and teeming with communities of diverse microbes greatly increases the plant’s chance at a healthy. productive life. Also. since many pest and disease organisms spend part or all of their lives belowground, having a diverse community of organisms to keep them in check is important. Healthy soil is an intricate mix of tiny rock particles, organic matter, water. air, microorganisms, and other animals. Living things abound in a bust. organically active soil-plant room aninuk, insects, bacteria, fungi, and other organ-Tlw more organic matter you provide. the livelier the lift forms within your soil are likely to be. And, the livelier the soil life becomes, the more heated the competition becomes between beneficial soil microorganisms and plant pathogens.
All-Important Organic Matter The single most I r II um thing a do to build soil health is to add organic matter. Over time, adding organic matter improves soil structure, which in turn improves the soil’s ability to absorb and release both water and air. Obviously, without water plants cannot thrive, but too much water and too little air can also sabotage plant health. When soil becomes saturated, and water pools around plant roots, the roots may lose their ability to take up nutrients. Tiny root kiln may begin rotting away. followed by entire root branches. As organists.. that cause root rot flourish. the plant may weaken. Aboveground. the plant may he simultaneously attacked by molds and mildews encouraged by damp conditions. In this way, plants can easily die from too much water. There is tremendous variation in how much water plants can use, and here the question of natural resistance comes into play. Plants that are naturally adapted to wet conditions are resistant to many of the pathogens present in chronically wet soil: but plants that grow naturally in dry or very well-drained settings are easy prey to those same pathogens. Local soil conditions have an important bearing on which plants are best for y.our garden. Soil pH affects the availability of certain nutrients to a is close to a neutral pH. Although soil pH is easy to manipulate using organic matter. lll i l weal fertilizers. and MUICIbec it’. Witt to consider the natural pH of your soil when choosing long-lived plants. To help ensure that your soil is healthy and balanced. take the time to learn about its
When it comes to gardening and farming, what does the word organic mean? And what is natural pest control? The answer depends on who you ask. Organic gardening and farming date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s as scientists began studying the life in the soil and some farmers developed a view of the farm as a living system that required recycling of organic wastes. These growers believed that the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides (a relatively new innovation in farming at the time) would be harmful to the environment. Organic gardeners also adopted this viewpoint, and J. I. Rodale launched Organic Farming and Gardening magazine in 1942 to promote the organic method. As interest in and demand for organic food increased in the late 20th century. the U.S. government adopted legislation called the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) to regulate organic farming. As a result, the USDA created the National Organic Program (NOP). which wrote extensive regulations that Include detailed guidelines on which fertilizers and pest and disease control substances are allowed. prohibited. or allowed with restrictions for use by certified organic farmers. A nonprofit organization called the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMR° reviews applications from manufacturers of pest and disease control products to determine whether a product meets NOP standards. If it does. the manufacturer can include the OMRI logo on the product label to indicate that the product is suitable for use in organic production. Certified organic farmers must write a detailed business plan that shows how their farm and growing practices conform to the NOP standards, and their arms must be periodically inspected by representatives of certification agencies. As a home gardener, you don’t have to abide by NOP standards. but you may find them helpful in making choices. The standards will help educate you about some of the complex choices to be made when using commercial pest and disease control products. These are also discussed in Part 4 of this book. At a simpler level, organic gardening is simply a method of gardening that uses our understanding of nature as a guide for growing plants without using synthetic chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Natural pest and disease control, it follows. is a method of managing pest and disease problems without the use of chemical pesticides and with an understanding that pests and disease are part of a living system that has an innate balance.