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Q: I live in an apartment and would like to try and grow some plants on my balcony this summer. I know it is possible to grow flowers, but can I also grow vegetables?
A: Yes! It is easy to grow both flowers and vegetables in containers on a sunny porch. There a few things that you will need to look for when planning what you will be able to grow in your container garden. The first is location. If you are lucky enough to have a sunny location-south, east or west, without a large overhanging porch roof, this will be an ideal place to grow many vegetables! Tomatoes, peas, lettuce, carrots, radishes, and peppers will all grow excellently in containers. To find our more about container gardening you can visit our tutorials section (hyperlink).
Q: What exactly is organic gardening and what are the benefits?
A: Organic Gardening is gardening without the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. This is the general definition, but gardening organically, or gardening with the environment in mind encompasses many different. For example, understanding different methods of composting, reusing and recycling, water conservation, etc.
Q: Why should I garden organically?
A: Gardening organically can reduce your impact on the environment. Discontinuing the use of many chemical pesticides and herbicides will also help to provide a habitat for many beneficial organisms. The basic methods of organic gardening, which include discontinuing the use of chemical and synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, can be implemented easily in your home garden. The range of implementation can be as simple as moving from a chemical fertilizer to using home made compost, or purchasing organic heirloom seeds for the garden.
Q: Is it more difficult to garden organically?
A: Certain aspects of gardening are made more difficult when using organic methods. For example, weeding becomes more labor intensive without the use of herbicides. However, many methods have been developed, or reinvented to control these issues. Many gardening techniques can be implemented to help control weed problems. For example, mowing to prevent weed reseeding, flame weeding, and using cover crops are some organic methods that are used today.
Q: Can you tell me more about using natural methods of weed prevention?
A: There are many steps that can be taken in organic weed prevention. For example, it is important to identify weed types, and how they are linked to soil quality and location. Learning about the type of problem you are facing will help invaluably. For example, bindweed is a highly invasive weed that is often associated with dense soil types. Some remedies for this problem include planting squash, and working to dig out its root system, which can grow to many feet long! Understanding the problem and specifically addressing the types of weeds make it much easier to combat the problem. It might take a little more time in the beginning to eradicate weeds, but the end result will be a better understanding of the soil type that you have and how best it can be improved.
ORGANIC LAWN CARE
Q: What is organic lawn care? What's involved?
A: Organic lawn care is all about growing more with less. More grass with less water and less time. The most common yard grass is Kentucky Blue Grass. It requires lots of water, and grows very fast in the summer months, requiring constant mowing. While it makes a nice display, there are many other types of grass that will also look great. While being more specific to your site by identifying your soil type, location, and sun availability, you can find a grass that will best suit your lawn's needs.
Q: What type of grass is best for my lawn?
A: There are many breeds of grass that can be grown in different areas across the country. The key here is picking a grass type that suits your location. When choosing grass type it is important to look at several factors. These include soil type, amount of sunlight, slope, and your growing zone. Once these have been identified, you can go to our chart on grass types to pick one that is recommended for your area.
Q: I am interested in taking care of my lawn organically, but whenever I stop using herbicides, the weeds come back. Are there any methods of reducing weeds organically without having to manually dig them up?
A: There are natural plant based sprays that will help with weed control. One method of weed control is called pre-emergent weed control. Pre-emergent weed control works by eliminating the weeds before they have a chance to grow and create seeds. These herbicides are effective only when they are applied before the plants have a chance to grow.
When weeds have become established in the lawn, there are other methods of removal available. Weed control at this stage is more difficult, and more time will be spent eliminating weeds. They can be dug out by hand, or sprayed with organic weed killers. When there are only a few weeds it is often most efficient to pull them by hand. It is important to do so before the plants reach maturity and have the chance to create and spread seeds.
Another method of weed control is mowing. Consistent mowing at the proper height can prevent weeds from producing a seed and this will result in fewer seeds spreading throughout the area. Mowing also helps lawns to build a better root system. With a healthier lawn, weeds will have less of a chance to establish and grow.
Q: What do I need to know to in order to fertilize my lawn organically?
A: One of the great things about organic lawn care is that there are many amendments available to contribute to a healthy lawn. It is important to test the quality of the soil before adding fertilizers. This can be done with a simple soil test purchasable at your local garden center, or click here for more information. Another indicator of what is needed in your garden can be found by looking at the weeds growing in the lawn. When you see a lot of clover or other legumes, this often indicates a nitrogen poor soil, and you might need to add a nitrogen rich fertilizer to the soil. When mowing, if you are careful about the height of the grass, the grass trimmings can be left on the lawn as mulch. (Take care not to let the grass grow too long, as then the clippings will need to be removed.)
Q: A friend was mentioning to me that adding earthworms to my lawn would help improve its soil structure. Is there any truth in this and if so, how will earthworms help my lawn?
A: Earthworms do help to create a healthy lawn. They improve the structure of the soil, and thus provide a better basis for healthy roots and plants. As the earthworms burrow into the soil, eating many microorganisms and small particles of organic material, they aerate the soil, and help to cycle and break down organic material such as leaves and dead grasses, and nutrients. One problem that can occur is if the earthworm population builds up in the soil, the result could be large piles of castings on the lawn and garden. If this happens, the piles can be raked up and used to compost around plants and in the garden. Worm castings are nutrient rich and are can be used as compost for nutrient poor soils.