Environmentally sound gardening doesn't have to be difficult

April 20, 1991

Whether you are a container gardener or work a two-acre plot, there are a number of ways to practice environmentally sound gardening. Here are a few suggestions:

* Winter cover crops, such as rye, barley and wheat, prevent erosion and add organic matter to the soil when they are turned under in spring.

* Leaving a mulch on a garden over the winter also prevents topsoil erosion caused by rainfall (although some gardeners DTC argue that a winter mulch invites pests). Growers often leave harvest residue, such as corn stubble, as an erosion deterrent.

* Pay attention to where you grow your garden. Avoid planting on a steep hill to cut down on erosion and run-off, or plant across the slope so that each row can catch rainfall. Plant in strips separated by grass to further avoid run-off and erosion.

Be aware of where your garden is relative to streams or well heads, so run-off does not escape into the water supply or storm water.

* Add "homemade" organic matter to your garden: composted vegetable scraps, grass cuttings, leaves, manure and fish guts enrich the garden with nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium as well as numerous micro-nutrients. They also improve the soil's physical properties by increasing biological activity, water retention and air circulation.

* When shopping for commercial fertilizers, consider organic fertilizers, as opposed to synthetic inorganic fertilizers, which act quickly but do not improve the long-term quality of the soil. Organic fertilizers nourish the soil more slowly and do not kill microbes as synthetic fertilizers can.

* Use any fertilizer judiciously. Understand soil requirements before application. An excess of fertilizer can damage roots and run-off can cause water pollution. Avoid application on windy days or before especially heavy rains, which could wash fertilizer off.

* Practice integrated pest management (IPM), an overall system for pest control that utilizes a variety of tactics including introduction of natural predators to a garden, buying resistant plants, companion planting and using synthetic pesticides only as needed.

For a brochure on IPM, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to IPM, Maryland Cooperative Extension Service, 17 S. Gay St., Baltimore, Md. 21202. Fact sheets on insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils are also available from the same address.

* Bear in mind that some botanical and biological pesticides, while organic, are considered poisonous and should be used with caution. Rotenone, for example, is toxic to fish and should not be used around waterways. Pyrethrum, ryania and sabadilla are examples of other toxic organic compounds.

To contact the Maryland Organic Food and Farming Association, write to: MOFFA, 6201 Harley Road, Middletown, Md. 21769. Or call (301) 371-4814.

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