By Michele E. Buttelman
Is veggie gardening in the Santa Clarita Valley challenging? It can be, but it’s also rewarding. Despite droughts and blazing temperatures successful gardens abound in the SCV.
In the 40 years I lived in the SCV I’ve successfully grown everything from okra to eggplant, as well as artichokes, tomatoes, beets, carrots, onions, lettuce, radishes and more in my Canyon Country garden. The best thing about gardening in Southern California is that you can garden nearly 365 days a year.
The most popular gardening trend currently in the United States is organic gardening.
What is Organic Gardening?
Organic gardening differs from traditional gardening in two important ways: The use of agricultural chemicals and use of artificial or processed fertilizers. Organic gardening rejects the use of all artificial agricultural chemicals, including pesticides used to control insects, diseases and weeds.
Most people start growing their own vegetables to have an alternative to factory farmed food that has been exposed to unknown pesticides and fertilizers. It’s a way to control what chemicals we ingest into our bodies.
Most organic gardeners consider soils to be a living system and reject artificial chemical fertilizers as harmful to the soil and the environment. Organic gardeners emphasize building the soil with organic matter and then rely on natural sources of supplemental nutrients. Many people garden organically because of concern over pesticide residues on food.
Start With the Soil
The quality of the soil is the most important building block to successful organic gardening. The soil in the Santa Clarita Valley is either very sandy or has high amounts of clay. Neither is ideal for successful organic gardening, but both will benefit from large amounts of organic matter tilled into the soil.
Increased soil organic matter improves soil quality and structure, improves water retention and evens out nutrient release.
Compost, compost, compost!
You can increase the amount of organic matter in your soil by adding compost, aged animal manures, pesticide-free grass clippings and mulches. Peat moss is now discouraged because of damage it causes to source peat bogs; rotted sawdust is a great substitute.
Because most soil life and plant roots are located in the top 6 inches of soil, concentrate on this upper layer.
If planting in raised beds or containers there are several companies that make bags of organic container gardening soil you can use to fill the beds.
It’s easier now than ever to plant organic. Certified organic seedlings and a wide variety of vegetable seeds are now available from all the commercial seed companies.
You can also find organic seeds online, everything from heirloom varieties of vegetables to non-GMO seeds are easily purchased online.
Among the top-rated online seed companies per Treehugger.com are:
Uprising Seeds: https://uprisingorganics.com
Territorial Seed Company: https://territorialseed.com
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds: www.rareseeds.com/store/vegetables
Fertilizing the Organic Way
If you regularly add compost to your veggie garden soil, there might be little need to fertilize further. Another great way to fertilize your garden is by using worm castings.
Rotted grass clippings are a great source of nitrogen needed to grow most vegetables.
Examples of naturally occurring organic fertilizers include manure, slurry, earthworm castings, peat, seaweed and guano.
Examples of manufactured organic fertilizers include compost, bloodmeal, bone meal and seaweed extracts.
Earthworm castings are usually sold in bulk at garden supply stores as well as in big box garden centers and on Amazon.
Not all “organic” pesticides are really safe for your garden. Bees are particularly sensitive to nearly all pesticides; even organic pesticides so use any pesticide with caution if bees are active in your garden. Remember you need the bees to help pollinate your veggies.
Diatomaceous Earth is an effective natural pesticide that is a dry powder dusted on plants. Remains active for a long period as long as it is kept dry.
Neem oil is also a popular natural pesticide, however, use with caution as it can harm bees. To protect bees don’t use when plants are flowering.
Tips and Tricks
–Be sure your garden has a healthy number of earthworms, even containers need earthworms.
–Water your organic garden regularly. Fruits and vegetables need an inch of water a week.
–Insects don’t like garlic, onion, chives and chrysanthemums. Grow these plants around your garden to keep bugs away.
–Soak your seeds in warm water the day before you plant.
–Add crushed eggshells to your compost pile or to the bottom of a planting hole for veggies that tend to get calcium deficient, such as tomatoes or peppers.
–Plant heat sensitive plants in the fall. Beets, radishes, lettuce, spinach, kale, carrots, Swiss chard and broccoli. Plants, like radishes, will often “bolt” or “go to seed” without producing harvests if planted in hot weather.
–Warm weather loving crops include beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, zucchini and summer squash, pumpkin and winter squash, sweet potato, tomato and watermelon.
–Take an online course in organic gardening. You Tube is a great resource as well as the organic gardening course offered free online at: https://grow.thriveforgood.org/enrollments.