Q&A

DEAR NEW FARM:

Thank you very much for your website! We have learned so much from it. We are members of the Mystic Community Garden in the Mystic Housing Development in Somerville, Massachusetts. Our community garden is currently being rebuilt. As we “begin again,” we are trying to keep the new community garden completely free of dangerous pesticides and fertilizers.

We have been utilizing the information on your website so that our gardeners can be educated on the adverse health effects of chemicals they have used in our community garden in the past. Our request is this: Could you please help us find websites that list organic fertilizers? One of the big issues we are dealing with as we educate each other in our garden is the use of fertilizers. We need to completely “switch over” to safe products and safe methods. One website that we found with a particularly useful list was called www.beyondpesticides.org. Do you know of others? The Welcome Project is a community organization that helps people feel welcome when they move here and become part of the community. We offer many services, one of which is the community garden.

Thank you very much for all of your help,
Roberta Hayes and Armina Nguyen
Massachusetts

 

DEAR ROBERTA AND ARMINA:

Organic gardening, like organic farming, is not about input substitution—simply trading packaged chemical inputs for packaged "natural" ones—but about creating a diverse and resilient system above and below the ground—from insects and plants to soil micro-organisms—where "good" bugs and "bad" bugs keep each other in balance and diseases have a hard time gaining a foothold. Plants grown in healthy soil fortified with compost and other incorporated plant materials are more resistent to pests and diseases. Products—soap sprays, fertilizers and what have you—should always be used as a last resort. Instead utilize cover crops, nitrogen-fixing food crops such as peas, composted kitchen scraps or municipal compost and plant residues to feed your crops.

We say: "Feed the soil and let the soil feed the plant." Concentrated and packaged fertilizers—organic or otherwise—tend to be a quick, expensive fix and subject to runoff that pollutes our waterways.

If you want to know what products are allowable under the national Organic Rule, you can consult OMRI (the Organic Materials Review Institute): www.omri.org. Another helpful site for organic production is ATTRA, particularly its area for horticultural crops: www.attra.org/horticultural.html. Organic Gardening magazine is also a big supporter of community gardens and offers a wonderful web resource at www.organicgardening.com.

Good luck,
NF

 

 

Contact us with comments, suggestions and questions.