In the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden, we employ organic gardening techniques in the management of our site and we share our organic gardening practices with the participants in all of our programs, promoting these practices to tens of thousands of impressionable green thumbs each year.
All garden waste is incorporated into our composting station immediately adjacent to the Family Garden’s main entrance, emphasizing just how important this practice is to the health of our garden. Visitors are invited to help to maintain our four-bin system and learn about composting best practices. Mature and screened compost is applied as a top dressing in our planting beds.
In order to avoid the use of herbicides, we apply mulch. Layers of hay and wood chips are top-dressed into the garden beds to suppress weeds that grow in between our crops. This technique additionally helps to maintain consistent soil temperatures and prevents water loss, decreasing our demand for irrigation.
We rotate crops to minimize disease and balance nutrient consumption. This technique allows us to avoid the need for fungicides. As an example, we follow heavy nitrogen feeding plants, like those in the mustard family (broccoli, kale, kohlrabi), with plants that add nitrogen to the soil, like those in the legume family (beans, peas, clover).
We scout and observe our crops for pests and, when possible, remove pests by hand. We also groom crops, removing decayed leaves and stems to discourage disease advancement and to improve ventilation. This helps to prevent fungal diseases and thus avoid fungicides. We also plant trap crops to distract pests from our intended crops.
We plant cover crops to add organic matter to our soil and to replenish nutrient levels, minimizing our need for soil amendments. The buckwheat planted this spring additionally provided a source for nectar and pollen to our honeybees.
In addition to adding compost, we apply various organic granular and water-soluble fertilizers, including soybean meal, fish emulsion, bone meal, and seaweed, using products recognized by OMRI and NOP as organic.
We include plants that attract beneficial insects in our meadow garden. Beneficial insects include pollinators as well as insects that feed on pests. Wasps, lacewings, and ladybugs attracted to various plants help to control assorted pest populations, helping us to eliminate the need for insecticides.