More experienced organic gardeners than I often observe that pests aren’t really a regular problem to be dealt with. When they do rear their ugly heads, the wise gardener recognizes that the pest is showing where a weakness lies–a sick or unhealthy plant, some depleted soil, etc.
Organic gardeners are also very clear that all successful gardening starts with the soil. Soil is alive, soil is food and home to plants, and without healthy, microbe and critter-filled soil, plants won’t flourish. In conventional gardening and agriculture, the soil is highly depleted of both nutrients and life, and can only be cultivated with chemical life-support.
This has all become abundantly proven in the Backyard Feast garden over the last couple of months, as the weather warms and plants start to flourish….or not.
Last fall and winter, I sheet mulched a variety of the raised beds that we inherited with the house. I layered cardboard and/or newspaper, chicken and/or horse manure, straw, compost, etc over the beds we weren’t going to use until spring, leaving them to be broken down into soil by the worms and other critters. There were two beds I wanted to plant right away, so those I weeded, lightly tilled in composted chicken manure, and planted. In the spring, they were top dressed with homemade compost.
A couple of other beds never got mulched, and in the early spring, we brought in some topsoil. It was from a good supplier, and was rated as “garden soil”, with compost and manure mixed in. This topped up the few remaining beds. By May, all of the beds had something planted and growing in them.
The results? Here’s a sample of the beds I planted last fall:
Happy veggies! (I’m 5’7″, the beans must be at least 4′ tall…also pictured, brussel sprouts in flower, spinach, assorted weeds)
In the bed with the imported topsoil, the peas have done pretty well, as has the arugula, but the spinach and lettuce, despite the addition of some organic fertilizer when I planted them, have been stunted, not germinated at all, and not tasted particularly juicy or flavorful, despite careful watering. In addition, they’ve attracted some friends:
This is one of the biggest slugs we’ve seen yet!!! The lettuce is 3-4 inches in diameter, for scale :).
Meanwhile, in one of the sheet-mulched and manured beds, a lettuce thrives, untouched by slugs or other pests, in a bed full of green and red swiss chard, and some “bordeaux” red beets (being grown mostly for the tasty greens). This lettuce is much bigger than the one pictured above–6-8″ diameter?
The other plants are volunteering california poppies and sunflowers, which I’m leaving for now, thinking they will offer good bugs and a little shade for the greens when (and IF!) it ever warms up.
So that’s enough proof for me. The beds with lots of organic matter suit the heavy feeding plants very well, hold moisture much better, and are not being touched by the pests. The poor soil bed needs some help! Once the peas are finished, I’ll be using them for green manure (ie cutting them down and leaving them to decompose with all their nutrients into the soil) and adding some compost, then replanting. Can’t wait! Does this make slugs my new indicator species? 🙂