Organic Gardening Tips, Questions, and Answers

Thanks to the explosion in interest in gardening using organic methods, manufacturers are offering new natural gardening products each year to help gardeners get the maximum yield from their flower and vegetable gardens. However, both novice and experienced organic gardeners dispute some of the same questions as knowledge is circulated between friends and garden forums. These questions and answers provide solutions that gardeners can apply in their organic landscapes today.

Composting Weeds

Is it OK to put weeds in the compost bin?

Gardeners can compost weeds, sometimes. Leafy weeds are as good as any kitchen or garden waste products for providing nitrogen to the compost pile. However, weeds that are flowering or going to seed are risky to put in the compost bin. Yes, the high heat of an active compost bin can kill weed seeds, preventing them from germinating, but many home compost bins don’t produce enough heat for long enough periods to do this. When it’s time to spread the finished compost in the garden, viable weed seeds will have the perfect growing medium in their compost layer.

Organic Soil Improvement

Should I add sand to improve clay soil?

Adding the opposite soil type to clay soil seems like a logical plan, but mixing sand with clay can create a soil texture akin to concrete. Organic gardeners can never go wrong adding compost to improve their soil type, whether the soil is excessively dense due to clay or sandy.

Can I improve my soil’s drainage and structure with a garden tiller?

Tillers and soil cultivators are useful to break up soil clods and incorporate organic matter into vegetable beds, but gardeners can get carried away with these powerful garden tools. Pulverizing the soil into dust can cause problems with soil compaction over time, and over-tilling kills beneficial earthworms. Organic gardeners can practice no-till gardening methods using sheet composting, or the lasagna gardening method.

Raised Garden Beds

Is it safe to use treated lumber or old railroad ties to build raised garden beds?

Gardeners like to save money by using recycled materials, but organic gardeners may wonder about the safety of lumber treated with arsenic or the creosote used in railroad ties. According to the University of Missouri Extension, the arsenic compounds used to make treated lumber prior to 2003 don’t affect soil health or food safety. Newer lumber treatments don’t use arsenic.

Creosote, on the other hand, can kill plants. The effect lessens over time, so if the ties aren’t odoriferous and don’t have any visible black residue, gardeners may assume they are safe to use in raised beds.

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