The Organic Gardeners Shopping Guide
Save the planet and become your very own organic gardener. It's trendy, and a great talking point when you have friends around. You can discuss your latest crop of compost or the way your earthworms are breeding faster than ever since you purchased the latest super duper jet age compost bin.
If you really want to live a healthier and more natural lifestyle, what better place to start than at home in your own garden. The following products are all both useful and good for the home environment:
Compost is one of the most useful things we can make in the garden. It gets rid of waste which would otherwise be a problem, and it creates a mixture of material which improves soil in both the short and long term. Nearly anything organic can be used to make compost (ie. anything which originally came from a plant or animal). If compost is made properly, the heat generated will kill any weeds, pests or diseases, but don't always count on that happening. It is probably best to keep weeds and badly pest and disease infected material out of the compost. It is also advisable to use only small amounts of animal remain as these are often slow to decompose and may attract annoying pests, such as flies or larger scavenging animals.
Compost can be ready to use within 6 to 8 weeks if the following conditions are right:
- There is plenty of air in the mix (turning it over helps).
- The mix is always moist, never dry and never soggy (about as moist as a hand squeezed sponge is ideal). Good drainage, and occasional watering in hot weather helps.
- There is ample nitrogen in the mix. Too much fibrous or woody type material such as paper, straw or wood shavings will slow the composting process down. If large quantities of such materials are present then you may have to boost the nitrogen level of the compost by adding materials such as animal manures, lawn clippings, green leaves, or a few handfuls of a high nitrogen fertiliser, such as Sulphate of Ammonia.
- The temperature is not too hot or too cool. The right size heap or container in a protected part of the garden (where the weather isn't too hot or cold) is best.
Compost Bins is designed to produce compost in conventional ways in that you add the organic ingredients, turn over the ingredients periodically, and you are provided with a rich compost in a few weeks. Bins come in all shapes and sizes. Dark colours may be better in colder weather as they absorb heat; though in hot weather, too much heat can be a disadvantage.
Compost tumblers work on the basis that the material to be composted is added to a drum which is on a tumbler stand. The material in the drum is turned each day by hand. The advantage of a tumbler is reduced time to produce compost due to improved aeration and better mixing of the composting materials, and no heavy lifting is involved as the compost can be tipped from the tumbler directly into the wheelbarrow for placement in the garden.
Worms are wonderful for the garden. They eat organic material, digest it, then deposit it as worm castings which is a great source of food for plants. The worm tracks (or holes) also help improve the aeration and drainage of the soil. Worms will occur in almost any garden as long as you have plenty of compost or fine mulch for them to feed on, and a soil which is not to acid. Worms disappear from very acid soils.
Some worms are actually more efficient than others though, and that's where worm farms can be of help. You can buy worms from worm farms to both increase the numbers of these precious workers, and also make sure you have the best types of worms for the job.
Mulch is great for a garden. It slows weed growth, keeps plant roots cool in the heat and warm in the cold, holds moisture in the soil, stops the ground getting muddy, helps minimise soil compaction and usually just makes things look neater. Organic mulches will also provide nutrients to the soil as they decompose, and help improve soil structure.
Different mulches have different characteristics, so think about what mulches are best for you, and choose the right one for the job at hand. The price of different mulch materials will vary considerably and is often connected with whether the mulch is a 'waste' product in your area or is being transported from another area.
Mulches derived the timber and forest industry, such as wood chips, pine bark or wood shavings used to be considered as waste products and were often burnt to get rid of them. These are now valuable gardening products:
Pine bark can be obtained in a wide range of particle sizes. Very fine pine bark will gradually decompose, and if composted first it is very useful in potting mixes. Coarser or chunky pine park can take decades to decompose. Any sort of fresh pine bark will contain toxins (ie. chemicals which damage plants). To remove toxins, pine bark should be left to weather for at least 2 to 4 months before using around plants.
These include wood chips which are large splinters or chunks of wood, wood shavings which are fine slivers or flakes of wood, and sawdust which is composed of fine dust like particles. Some woods contain toxins, as with pine bark, and require weathering before use. Wood chips will rarely blow away, but this can be a problem with shavings and sawdust, until they have become thoroughly wet and have settled.
Shavings will gradually decompose, as will sawdust, and in doing so can "rob" the soil of nitrogen, causing nearby plants to turn yellow. It will be necessary to apply additional nitrogen to the soil or the plants maybe starved of nitrogen.
Bagase (Sugar Cane Waste)
Bagase is suitable as a mulch but if allowed to dry out is extremely hard to rewet and will prevent water penetrating into the soil. It is advisable to wear a disposable face mask when spreading bagasse due to the presence of fine particles in the mulch. Mill-mud, another by-product from the sugar industry is available in limited supply. Mill-mud is a good base for improving soil structure and increasing organic content of the soil.
Peat is used in various parts of Australia as a mulch but the extent of use is connected to the cost factor. Imported peat has become very expensive to use as a mulch product. Peat is similar to bagase in that if allowed to dry out it will become difficult to rewet.
River Stones and Pebbles
Long lasting and will not deteriorate, as will the organic mulches. They can provide different textures, colours and shapes to other mulch materials, but being inorganic will not provide the nutritional, or soil improving characteristics of organic mulches. River pebbles and stones are a very good mulch in windy or wet places. They don't blow or wash away. Pebbles do make a place hotter in summer, and if run over with a lawn mower, they can do serious damage to the mower, buildings or even people (by throwing up pebbles).
Other Mulch Materials
Compost, leaf litter, rice hulls, straw, hay and paper can all be readily used as mulches. These are all waste products from another industry or from garden and household wastes. What originally was a waste product is now being fully utilized and providing a benefit to the gardener. Sand can also be used as a mulch as long as the garden bed is not exposed to strong winds or heavy down pours of rain. Larger grained sands are less likely to be dislodged.
What about a combination of mulches?
Various mulches can be combined in a garden bed. If there is a section, which in wet weather has a lot of water running through it, then a heavy mulch can be used that will not be washed away, e.g. river pebbles. If the water flow is very heavy it may be worthwhile creating an artificial dry creek bed using river stone concreted in place combined with lose river stones. Adjoining this leaf litter can be used. This is ideal for natural looking bush gardens.
Combinations of mulches can also be useful when foot access may be required through the mulched area. Durable, dry materials such as pinebark or wood chips can be used to mark out or delineate a pathway through a garden bed that is mulched with other materials that may perhaps be a little slippery, or damp, or likely to be disturbed easily by foot traffic.
In selecting which mulch to use consider the following:
- The weight of the mulch:- will it blow away in the wind, be washed away in light rain or be dislodged watering, will it slip if the garden bank or bed has a steep slope, is it easy to spread?
- How long before it has to be replaced or topped up?
- Is the mulch readily available?
- How much does it cost?
- Does it require some sort of edging to prevent it being dislodged?
The depth of the mulch is important if the mulch is to be used to suppress weeds. If the mulch is laid too thinly weeds will still germinate.
Old newspapers can be utilised in the garden to provide a base for your mulch. The newspaper is laid thickly under the mulch to reduce weed germination, to reduce water loss and retain heat in the soil. This way the waste newspaper is used. It is not recommended that you lay plastic under mulch as it prevents water penetrating and the flow of air in the soil which may cause problems for your plants.
Weed mat is a different product to black plastic, as weed mat allows water penetration and the flow of air around the plant roots, while greatly reducing the amount of weed growth.
Mulch mats are ideal to use around specimen trees in the garden where you do not want to create a garden and do not want lawn to grow. Mulch mats come in varying diameters.
Mulch mats allow water penetration to the plant roots.
We all love animals, but for the gardener they can also be a real problem. Birds are great to look at, but they can scratch in the mulch or dig up a new seed bed. Dogs are terrific companions, but they sometimes dig up plants, or leave unappreciated messy messages lying about the garden. Such animal pests can be very frustrating to keen gardeners. The temptation is always there to completely eradicate pests, but there are ways to control animal pests.
Inexpensive plastic bird netting materials can be draped over individual plants.
Permanent or temporary cages may be built over individual plants or groups of plants.
Permanent larger structures are sometimes built over entire garden areas to keep out pests such as rabbits, kangaroos or possums, where those pests are in very large numbers.
Scarecrows and Other Scare Things
Scarecrows work on the principle that if you put something in the shape of a person in an area, which wasn't there before, birds will be wary of the change and tend to keep away. As the birds get used to the scarecrow though, they may return.
Kites and mobiles (can be hung from trees, etc.) shaped like predatory birds are sometimes used to scare away birds from orchards, market gardens or home gardens.
There have over the years been many different products available which repel birds, dogs, cats, possums or other animal pests. You should realize that none of these are ever 100% effective, but most do reduce the damage you would have had without the repellent.
Fencing and Tree guards
A temporary fence around a new lawn, or guard around a new plant might be all that is needed to stop pests for long enough until the lawn, or plants establish themselves.
Permanent structures or guards can also be established where pests are a long term problem, for example, permanent fencing around your vegetable patch and fruit trees, or perhaps metal sheets used as sheathing around a tree to prevent possums climbing it.
For larger properties, particularly in rural areas, temporary electric fences can be quickly erected to exclude domestic and grazing animals. Electric fencing kits are are readily available from rural suppliers and some hardware stores.
If wild animals such as possums become a pest, you may consider trapping them. Some councils and wildlife parks will lend out traps, and most pest control operators will hire them. If you do catch a possum, it can be removed to a more appropriate area, far enough away that it won't return. If this type of problem occurs frequently, consider buying your own traps, or alternatively animal your garden areas or house to prevent them entering, and perhaps providing a nest box somewhere in the garden so that they will not bother trying to get into your house.
Traps for mice and rats are readily available in a variety of shapes, types and sizes. These are a viable option to using baits, and should be seriously considered if you are hesitant about using poison baits.
SOLAR POWERED LIGHTING
If you do not have a need for elaborate fixed lighting in your garden to illuminate outdoor living areas or driveways and paths, you could consider solar powered garden lamps which are safe, wireless and easily installed.
Rain water tanks are ideal for those homeowners who want to take advantage of natural rainfall, perhaps as a supplement to mains water, or to provide untreated drinking water (ie: no flouride or chlorine). Tanks have been designed to fit under eaves so as not to take up a lot of room in the yard or to look unsightly.
Approximately 25% of household water is used in the laundry. A water diversion valve has been designed so that the laundry water can now be diverted to the garden.
Many modern plant varieties are hybrids and don't grow readily from seeds which they produce, or their offspring will vary considerably from the parent plant. If you want to collect and grow your own seed, you generally need older, non hybrid varieties.
Saving your own seeds costs you nothing but a little of your own time. You not only save money but are help to preserve older varieties. These seeds you save are not chemically treated with fungicides to increase their storage life, and that reduces the amount of chemicals we are exposed to.
The Australian Correspondence School conducts a wide range of home study courses for people inclined towards organic or natural gardening. These range from short 100 hour courses such as Organic Gardening, Permaculture Systems, Self Sufficiency and Herbs.
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