Will Organic Gardening Work for Our Area?
Many people that have concerns about spraying synthetic pesticides on their vegetable gardens have turned to organic production techniques. Organic production can be quite challenging in the southeast because of a humid climate that encourages disease development. Growing organically can be successful as long as you use management techniques that minimize threats from insects and diseases.
Most organic growers will tell you that growing plants successfully begins with the soil. Make sure the soil pH is in the desired range and improve soil structure by adding compost and/or manures. Organic nutrients, like bone and blood meal, can be used to add nutrients to the soil where they are lacking.
Planting the same vegetable varieties in the same location is strongly discouraged since this leads to a buildup of pests over time. Vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant share many common pests and should be rotated to different parts of the garden each year. If you plant tomatoes in one spot last year, plan to put something different, like cucumbers or beans, in that spot this year.
Although many of the old vegetable varieties had unique flavors, many are susceptible to certain diseases. Vegetable catalogues have a wide assortment of varieties that are resistant to diseases like fusarium wilt or powdery mildew. Picking resistant varieties reduces, but may not eliminate, the need for pesticide sprays.
Crop sanitation also helps reduce the need for further spraying. Fungal diseases spread by spores and can quickly spread to other plants. Crop residue from the previous season should be removed and composted or tilled in to encourage decomposition. Tilling also brings insect pests to the surface, which may be killed by cold weather.
Some people mistakenly think that growing organic means not using pesticides to control pests. Organic insecticides like pyrethrum, neem, and B.t.’s are approved for controlling insect pests, and coppers and sulfur can also be used for disease control in organic production. As with all pesticides, use organic pesticides only as a last resort when all other measures have failed.