Tahoe Arts and Mountain Culture
Tahoe Arts and Mountain Culture

The Basics of Organic Gardening in the High Sierra by Eric Larusson of Villager Nursery

Posted on August 22, 2015
Filed Under Lake Tahoe Hot Spots

“To me gardening is leisure, meditation and occasional work.  It is seldom laborious or tedious. I do resent time wasted pulling weeds and I have aggression “issues” over neighbors who propagate dandelions. I desire my garden to be carefree and lush. There are a few easy organic methods that civilized man has used for millennia to achieve the “carefree” aspect of gardening. Soil is “the root of all good”.  Eric Larusson, Villager Nursery

If you do the work at the start by preparing the soil (amending) with rich mature composts and manures, your gardening efforts down the road will be halved. A healthy soil is teeming with life. Beneficial fungi, bacteria, earthworms, bugs and roots all inhabit and contribute to the soil ecology. The more good guys there are in the soil, the less room there is for bad guys (diseases and pests). Healthy soil creates and retains more plant nutrients; it holds much more water and it maintains the air spaces full of oxygen essential for healthy roots.

Not all “composts” are the same. “Mature” compost is digested organic matter that has a high proportion of true humus. Humus is completely mineralized organic matter. Horse manure (well aged and thoroughly composted) is an excellent soil amendment and one of my favorites. Horse Manure is usually free from anyone with horses and it is teeming with beneficial life forms. The one downside of steer manure is that it usually has weed seeds. Bagged steer manure often has high concentrations of salts, antibiotics and assorted chemical salts resulting from the feed lot conditions where most steer manures are collected. Kellogg¹s composts (Gromulch and Amend) are mature and are the one brand of bagged composts we use and recommend. Wood chips or partially composted sawdust has use on the soil but never in it. Mulch in the form of composted woodchips or even old mill-tailings spread 1-3″ deep over the soil around plantings, it provides potential food and protection for the soil life mentioned above.

When the mulch is digested near the surface, with plenty of air, humus will be created which will work into the root zone to feed the plants. As insulation from the elements, coarse, loose mulch is best. Loose mulch will kill most weeds (so don¹t put it on top of your plants) and will prevent new weeds from sprouting up. The simple rule of thumb to use regarding mulch is this: have no bare soil. Mulch is essential to a carefree and any healthy garden. Water half as much, fertilize less and rarely pull weeds; it¹s a pretty simple concept. Bark, wood chippings, pine needles or semi-composted (and dark brown) “Soil Building Compost” in bales all make excellent mulches. Lush is not a word that describes much of our dry, east-side, high desert environment. It is not that difficult to achieve a little lush place within your own garden. Water is one obvious ingredient and most of us do not enjoy a lake or stream in our yards; we have to apply water and it is a limited and precious resource.

Mulch, as mentioned above, retains soil moisture and allows the roots to keep gathering nutrients day and night. When the roots dry-out, there is no growth and visa-versa. Organic fertilizers feed the soil life. They slowly break-down, providing long lasting nutrition and yielding sturdy lush growth. The best organic fertilizers now, along with organic nutrients, contain live beneficial bacteria, fungi and mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizae are fungi that have evolved with most plants. By attaching to the roots of plants, mycorrhizae provide protection against pathogens, deliver difficult to obtain minerals and they dramatically improve plants¹ drought tolerance. The plant gives the fungi a little extra food from its photosynthetic production.

We are pummeled with chemical advertising in every media, day and night from drugs to pesticides and fertilizers and we are told that we are “doing it wrong” if we don¹t do it their way, yet the fact is organic methods are easier, more productive, and much cheaper in the long runŠ not to mention that we won¹t be poisoning our children and pets.

Eric Larusson is an owner of Villager Nursey at 10678 Donner Pass Road in Truckee. To get more information stop by his store, give him at call (530) 587-0771, or visit their website.

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