Practical Organic Gardening Explained, Plus How to Solve Garden Challenges Naturally with Mark Highland


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Mark Highland (SG 565), The Organic Mechanic, is back on the show today and we’re talking about Practical Organic Gardening. Mark is the owner and operator of The Organic Mechanic Soil Company. When it comes to building healthy soil, Mark is a master. He has taught classes at Longwood Gardens, The Tyler Arboretum, Mt. Cuba Center, Callaway Gardens and The Scott Arboretum - just to name a few. He has served as a consultant for the EPA and Institute for Local Self-Reliance and he recently received the Young Professional Award from the PPA - the Perennial Plant Association. As Mark often points out, there are a lot of benefits to organic gardening - and it’s not just about the quality of the food. Certainly, organic gardeners have a strong connection to their garden and their property, but they also care deeply about the natural world. There’s an oft used idiom to describe starting with the basics, foundation, or fundamentals and it’s “from the ground up”. From the ground up implies thoroughness, completeness, and strength. When it comes to organic gardening, the starting point is literally from the ground up and the focus begins with the soil. By building healthy soil that is loaded with organic matter, nutrients and microbial activity, you can stop using the synthetic fertilizers and pesticides used in conventional gardening. If you are new to gardening or if you’ve been a conventional gardener all your life - using sprays and pesticides - rest assured you can be an organic gardener, too. That transition doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Just take baby steps. When it comes to gardening, everyone is learning. No one knows it all. When it comes to making a change, just remember that organic gardening is a paradigm and it takes a while to shift a paradigm. - - - - - I said at the top of the show, There’s that old saying used to describe starting with the basics or fundamentals -“from the ground up” - and when it comes to organic gardening, you literally start with the ground or the soil. Why is that? My kids would say, “Duh, to grow healthy plants”. True, we want happy, healthy plants. But the real focus when it comes to building healthy soil is creating a paradise for the superstars of gardening - the hardest working, most vitally important aspect of soil life: microbes. All the minerals and nutrients we obsess about - nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus - calcium, iron, magnesium - matter less than microbes because microbial activity is vital to fertility. And the number one thing we can do to create a microbial paradise in our gardens is to stop using the synthetic fertilizers and pesticides used in conventional gardening and begin adding organic matter to the soil with compost, cover crops, legumes, etc. Here are just a few of the benefits that the USDA attributes to Organic Growing:
  • Increased soil fertility
  • Decreased fertilizer and herbicide use
  • Decreased energy use
  • Lock in great amounts of carbon in the soil
  • Increased profitability for growers
Here are a few important points to keep in mind for today’s episode: 1. Chemical fertilizers quickly push lush, soft growth full of salts - something that deer browsers, insects and pests are drawn to. 2. Organic gardens cultivate a greater understanding of your garden. When challenges arise, connect with other organic gardeners to fully understand the problem and the range of solutions available. 3. Ornamental plants do not need a ton of fertilizer. 4. Salt-based chemical fertilizers negatively impact sensitive microbes. 5. The wonderful thing about soil is that it can be healed. Organic matter feeds soil microbes. 6. Think of plants as mulch. When you have a dense enough planting - you don’t even need mulch - the plants act as mulch. 7. Fertile soil has dark color, loose structure and an earthy smell. We’re talking about gardening naturally today - how to ditch the chemicals and pesticides with the Organic Mechanic - Here’s Practical Organic Gardening explained, PLUS how to solve garden challenges naturally with Mark Highland.

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Link to this week's quotables

Helpful Timestamps

The Garden News Roundup

Timestamp 21:10


Timestamp: 40:25

Why should we consider organic gardening?

Timestamp 50:05

What kinds of problems can you solve, organically?

Timestamp 54:50

How can people best transition from non-organic to organic?

Timestamp 1:00:00

What can people do if they’ve already put down pesticides or other products on their soil/garden?

Timestamp 1:05:45

What do people need to be doing in regards to their soil?

Timestamp 1:12:35

Should you throw out all the soil kept in a container or should you keep some of it?

Timestamp 1:17:40

What’s the difference between potting soil and garden soil?

Timestamp 1:25:20

What is Biochar?

Timestamp 1:33:20

How could an organic gardener plant their seeds indoors?

Timestamp 1:38:50

How useful are worm castings for your garden?

Timestamp 1:43:00

Is it possible to have a good-looking organic lawn?

Timestamp 1:47:35

Can you please read the page on 234 about being a more conscious consumer?

Timestamp 1:59:25

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