Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida, Gainesville
John T. Woeste, Dean for Extension
HOME VEGETABLE GARDENING
THE ORGANIC WAY
James M. Stephens
Assistant Vegetable Crops Specialist
Successful vegetable gardens are not accid
tal. They are the results of planning, constb
care, and the will to make things grow. Amc
the many things a vegetable garden may of
toward a satisfying experience are fresh air,
ercise, sunshine, knowledge, supplemental incoi
mental therapy, and fresh food, rich in vitam
and minerals, harvested at the best stage of r
Organic gardening differs from "convention
gardening mainly in the areas of fertilization i
pest control. The organic gardener prefers to
natural and organic materials and methc
whereas the conventional gardener will utiliz
combination of all materials and methods she
to be safe, effective, and non-detrimental to h
self or his environment.
The information in this publication should
beneficial to all gardeners regardless of meth
of culture used; however, it is primarily intent
to aid the organic gardener to employ works
methods acceptable to him and compatible m
the philosophy of "organic gardening."
SOME EARLY PLANS
Consider the size of your family and
amount of produce to be canned, frozen, stores
sold, as well as that used fresh. Don't under
mate the work and personal attention involved
A. Choosing a Location-Select a plot of g,
well-drained soil near a water supply. It sh(
be close to the home for convenience, but sh<
not be shaded by tall buildings or trees. Enc
ing the garden spot with a fence is usually pr<
B. The Garden Design-Many gardeners
it helpful to draw out on paper the location of E
row and the crop or succession of crops tc
Vegetables suited to Florida gardens, leach
varieties, seed or plants needed, planting distal
and depths, best time for planting by areas, hardi-
ness, days to harvest and expected yields are
shown in the Planting Guide. See Circular 377.
Since organic fertilizer and soil conditioning
materials are slow working in general, they should
be mixed into the soil at least three weeks ahead
of planting and the soil thoroughly prepared for
the seed or transplants. Clumps of unrotted or-
ganic materials not only interfere with the seed-
ing operation, but may result in nutrient defici-
ency and possible soil-borne disease problems such
as "damping-off" of young seedlings.
A major basis for organic gardening is the
use of abundant quantities of organic material ap-
plied to the soil. Usually, it is in the form of
animal manures, plant manures, cover crops, com-
post, or mixed organic fertilizer.
A. Benefits of Adding Organic Matter
1. Improves tilth, condition, and structure
2. Improves ability of soil to hold water.
3. Improves ability of soil to hold nutri-
4. Improves bufferingg" capacity of soil;
that is, keeps soil from "over-reacting".
5. Supports the soil's micro-biological ac-
tivity (or the life of the soil).
6. Contributes nutrients, both minor and
7. Releases nutrients slowly.
8. Acids arising from the decomposition of
the organic matter help to convert in-
soluble natural additives such as ground
rock into plant-usable forms.
B. What Happens to Organic Fertilizer Ap-
plied to the Soil?
Under suitable conditions, the organic matter
s decomposed by micro-organisms such as fungi,
Igae, bacteria, molds, and earthworms. In the
process, insoluble and unavailable (to plants) nu-
rients, such as nitrogen, are gradually changed
nto simple usable products.
For example, nitrogen is converted from the
nusable organic forms to a usable inorganic form
manure with 2 to 3 pounds of ground rock
phate or raw bone meal.
(Poultry, sheep)-12 pounds per
square feet (about 3 tons per acre) suppleme
with 1 to 2 pounds of ground rock phosphate
raw bone meal.
2. After Planting (As a sidedressing)
(Cow, horse, hog)-Sidedress wit
to 5 pounds per 100 square feet of row.
(Poultry, sheep)-Use up to 3 po
per 100 square feet of row.
B. How to Apply Broadcast
(All types)-Broadcast evenly over
and spade, roto-till or otherwise work into top
Apply three or more weeks before planting.
C. How to Apply as a Sidedressing
(All types)-Scatter a band of ma
down each side of the row. Place each ban
the edge of the root zone and work lightly
the soil surface.
If a mulch is present, rake it back at
edge of the root zone in order to apply the b
of manure, then recover with the mulch.
NOTE: Manure is not always a complete
balanced fertilizer. It is advantageous to br
cast a complete organic fertilizer (such as
trell) or ground rock phosphate and potas
addition to the manures.
Acceptable manure-like organic fertilizer
tificial manure) may be obtained through
process of composting. Simply put, compos
made by alternating layers of organic materi
such as leaves and kitchen table refuse, with
nure, topsoil, lime, organic fertilizer, water, g
air, in such a manner that it decomposes, cc
bines, and yields artificial manure.
A. How is the Compost Pile Made?
The compost pile is made of convenient si
usually not less than 10 feet square (100 squ
feet) and 3 to 5 feet high. The top should be I
flat or with a slight depression in the center
catch rain or added water. Too much water elir
nates air and slows the decay process.
One way suggested in building the pile
to make a layer of leaves, straw, grass clipping
and other organic materials 1 foot deep, wet dov
and pack. Spread a layer of manure 4 to 6 inch
deep over this layer of wet material. Then spre;
up to 5 pounds of ground rock phosphate or
through the process called nitrification. Th
nitrification is the breakdown of protein (orgal
nitrogen) into ammonia and then nitrate. Sol
of the organic matter becomes part of the s
C. Proper Conditions For Nitrification
First, materials containing nitrogen must
present. There is a great variation in the amou
of nitrogen the different organic materials cc
tain. Then certain soil or compost conditions a
1. Proper soil acidity (pH)-should be abo
7.0; in acid situation below 5.5 it ceases.
2. Proper temperature of soil-above 500
3. Good aeration-(does not occur with we
soggy soil or compost).
4. Adequate lime for use by micro-organisn
and to keep the soil from being acid.
Where animal manures are available to ho
vegetable gardeners, they are probably the b
source of fertilizer and organic matter for 1
Manures vary greatly in their content of fet
lizing nutrients. The composition varies accoi
ing to type, age, and condition of animal; the ki
of feed used; the age and degree of rotting of t
manure; the moisture content of the manure; a
the kind and amount of litter or bedding mix
in the manure.
COMPOSITION-FRESH MANURE WITH NORMAL QUANI
Kind of Manure % Water %N %P
Cow 86 .55 .15
Duck 61 1.10 1.45
Goose 67 1.10 .55
Hen 73 1.10 .90
Hog 87 .55 .30
Horse 80 .65 .25
Sheep 68 1.00 .75
Steer or feed yard 75 .60 .35
Turkey 74 1.30 .70
A. How Much to Apply Broadcast
1. Before Planting
(Cow, horse, hog)-25 pounds per ]
square feet (about 5 tons per acre) of garden s.
For best results, supplement each 25 pounds
quart of raw bone meal per 100 square feet, ar
pound of ground limestone.
Instead of the rock phosphate and b
meal, you could use 5 pounds of a complete
ganic fertilizer such as Fertrell per 100 sqt
feet. Also, a layer of topsoil is sometimes use
Then continue to repeat the process u
the pile has reached 3 to 5 feet high.
Compost will begin to heat after 2 o
days. Keep it moist, but not too wet, and do
disturb for awhile.
After 3 or 4 weeks, fork it over, mixing
parts to obtain uniformity.
Compost for the garden should be re
from 2 months to 1 year, depending on the tim
year, type of materials added, and skill of
composer. When the compost is broken d(
into a homogenous mixture, and no undecompc
leaves or other material may be seen, it is re
B. What Organic Materials Can be Used in
Most anything organic, but most popi
materials are natural materials such as str
leaves, pine straw, grass clippings, shrub c
pings, garbage, fish scraps, water hyacinths,
A list of materials and what each might control
to the compost is given next. In addition, cerl
of the materials listed as organic fertilizers I
example, tobacco stems) could also be added.
COMPOSITION OF VARIOUS MATERIALS THROWN IN1
Compost Material %N %P
Banana Skins (ash) 3.25
Cantaloupe rinds (ash) 9.77
Castor Bean Pomace 5.00 2.00
Cattail Reeds 2.00 .81
Coffee Grounds 2.08 .32
Corncob ash -
Corn Stalks and leaves .30 .13
Crabgrass, green .66 .19
Eggs, rotten 2.25 .40
Feathers 15.30 -
Fish scrap 2.0-7.50 1.5-6.0
Grapefruit skins (ash) 3.58
Oak Leaves .80 .35
Orange culls .20 .13
Pine needles .46 .12
Ragweed .76 .26
Tea grounds 4.15 .62
Wood ashes 1.00 4.0-
C. Use of Compost in the Garden
Since compost is artificial manure, it should
be used much as you would manure.
Broadcast it over the entire garden three
weeks or more before planting. Of if you have
only a small quantity of compost, it may be mixed
into the soil along each planting furrow or at each
hill site. In all cases, apply it at the rate of about
25 pounds per 100 square feet, or 1/4 pound per
nutrients found in most organic materials, cert
ones are concentrated into such naturally occ
ring materials as gypsum (calcium and sulfu
marl (calcium), dolomite (calcium and magr
sium), limestone (calcium), basic slag (iron, (
cium, manganese and magnesium), and fin
4. Lime-Reducing the acidity of the i
is the primary purpose for using lime in the g
den. However, liming materials also prov
nutrients for plant use. Calcium and magnesi
AVERAGE PLANT FOOD CONTENT OF NATURAL AND ORGANIC FERTILIZER MATERIALS
(PERCENTAGE ON A DRY-WEIGHT BASIS)
ganic Materials % N % P % K Availability Acidi
sh Scrap 5.0 3.0 0 slowly acid
sh Meal 10.0 4.0 0 slowly acid
lano, Peru 13.0 8.0 2.0 moderately acid
lano, Bat 10.0 4.0 2.0 moderately acid
wage Sludge 2.0-6.0 1.0-2.5 0.0-0.4 slowly acid
ied Blood 12.0 1.5 0.8 mod. slow acid
ybean Meal 7.0 1.2 1.5 slowly v. sl.
Lnkage, Animal 9.0 10.0 15.5 slowly acid
Lnkage, Garbage 2.5 1.5 1.5 very slowly alkal
ibacco Stems 1.5 0.5 5.0 slowly alkal
aweed 1.0 4.0-10.0 slowly
ne Meal, Raw 3.5 22.0 slowly alkal
*ea 45.0 quickly acid
.stor Pomace 6.0 1.2 0.5 slowly acid
ood Ashes 2.0 4.0-10.0 quickly alkal
coa Shell Meal 2.5 1.0 2.5 slowly neutz
tton Seed Meal 6.0 2.5 1.5 slowly acid
ound Rock Phosphate 33.0 very slowly alkal
'een Sand 1.0 6.0 very slowly
isic Slat 8.0 quickly alkal
)rn and Hoof Meal 12.0 2.0 -
lorganite 6.0 2.5 -
at and Muck 1.5-3.0 0.25-0.5 0.5-1.0 very slowly acid
)TE: Urea and calcium cyanamide are organic compounds, but since they are synthetic, it is doubtful that most organic gar
would consider them acceptable.
NATURAL AND ORGANIC FERTILIZERS
Natural and organic materials which yield
plant nutrients upon decomposition are often
available for purchase either separately or in
combination. These materials may be applied to
the garden separately or combined, used in the
compost pile, or mixed with manure.
Many of the more commonly available ma-
terials are listed in the following table along with
the nutrients which they produce. These include
both the organic materials derived from plants
and animals, plus the natural deposits of rocks
A. Natural Deposits (Rocks, Sands, Shells,
Such naturally occurring materials are
are the two elements most commonly provided
Natural deposits of lime which an
ganic gardener might use are limestone, dolomi
shell, and marl. All these forms must be fin,
ground to provide maximum benefit to the soil a
Lime to sweeten the soil should be i
plied only when the needs have been establish
by a reliable soil test. Under most Florida s
conditions, applications of 2 to 3 pounds of fin,
ground dolomitic limestone per 100 square fi
usually will be sufficient except on very acid so:
Apply lime well in advance of the pla:
ing date, preferably 2 to 3 months before the gi
den is planted. Mix well with the soil and k(
moist for best reaction.
usually not easily obtained in today's modern
agriculture; however, where available they repre-
sent sources of mainly potash, phosphorus, and
lime (calcium and magnesium) for organic gar-
1. Phosphorus-Rock phosphates are nat-
ural deposits of phosphate in combination with
calcium. The material as dug from the earth is
very hard and yields its phosphorus very slowly.
When finely ground and with impurities removed,
the powdery material is only slightly soluble in
water, but may be beneficial to plants in subse-
quent seasons following application. The reaction
of phosphate rock with acids from decaying or-
ganic matter in the garden or compost tend to
make the phosphorus available to garden plants.
Apply ground rock phosphate at the
rate of 2-3 pounds per 100 square feet of garden
Or, when applying manure or compost,
mix at the rate of 21/2 pounds phosphate per 25
pounds manure or compost.
Broadcast the material over the soil
surface and work into the topsoil at least three
weeks before planting. Manure or other organic
fertilizer should be added at this time.
Since the materials are so slowly de-
composed, sidedressings are seldom beneficial.
2. Potash-Potassium is widely distrib-
uted in nature, occurring in rocks, soils, tissues
of plants and animals, and water of seas and lakes.
In gardening practice, materials such
as wood ashes, tobacco stems, wool suint, seaweed,
potash salts, greensand, and ground rock potash
are used alone, in combination with other materi-
als yielding other nutrients, mixed with manure,
or in compost piles.
Since the potash bearing materials vary
so much in composition and rate of decomposition,
specific application rates must be determined for
each material and its combinations.
In general, ground rock potash at 5
pounds per 100 square feet may be broadcast over
the soil surface three weeks prior to planting and
3. Micro-nutrients-An advantage for us-
ing organic materials as fertilizers is that they
contain many of the elements also needed by the
plants in addition to N, P, and K (for example,
manganese in manure).
Besides the general amounts of micro-
In irrigating the garden, it is advisable
thoroughly wet the soil once a week unless suffi
ent rain falls. Thus, the soil will be moister
throughout the root zone. Light sprinklings eve
day merely tend to wet the surface and encoura
shallow root growth.
Use of organic materials as soil condition(
and fertilizers tends to improve the ability of
soil to retain moisture. Also, a good gar
mulch will conserve soil moisture.
A mulch is any material, usually orgal
which is placed on the soil surface around
plants. Organic materials most commonly u;
for mulching are leaves, grass clippings, p
straw, sawdust, and wood shavings. Synthe
materials, mostly plastic sheeting, have been u
quite often in recent years.
Among the benefits of a mulch are
conserves soil moisture, (b) conserves nutrier
(c) reduces soil erosion, (d) reduces crop loss C
to nematodes, (e) reduces weed growth, (f) p
vides barrier between fruit and soil, thus red
ing soil rot on fruit, and (g) moderates the
Apply mulch before or after seeding or tra
planting. Roll back the mulch with a rake
order to wet the soil beneath when irrigating,
At the end of the garden season, the mu
may be removed and composted, or cut into
garden soil. Most mulch is woody and sho
have manure or other rich organic fertilizer
plied with it when cutting into the soil.
The primary purpose of cultivation is to
trol weeds. Weeds are easy to control when t
are small. Shallow cultivation and hoeing are
vised in order to reduce damage to the root
tem. A garden mulch, such as pine straw, lea
or other material, will help to keep weeds fr
INSECT AND DISEASE CONTROL
During periods when infestations of varic
garden pests are high, control by natural mei
becomes very difficult. However, the follow
practices will help to reduce losses.
1. Plant resistant varieties (see plant
6 (continued on other si
2. Plant seed from disease-free plants.
3. Select pest-free transplants.
4. For cutworms, place a cardboard collar
around plant stems at ground level.
5. Spade garden early so vegetation has time
to rot before planting.
6. Use a mulch; vegetables touching the soil
7. Clean up crop refuse early.
8. Plant as early in the spring as practical.
9. Keep out weeds which harbor insects and
0. Summer fallowing (clean cultivation)
helps to control nematodes.
1. Summer flooding, where soil type permits,
helps to control nematodes.
2. Hand-pick insects.
3. Water in morning so plants are not wet at
4. Dispose of severely diseased plants before
they contaminate others.
5. Some insects, like cabbage worms, may be
killed by spraying with natural prepara-
tions such as Bacillus thuringiensis.
6. Rotate garden areas.
7. Bake transplanting soil in over at 1600 F.
for 1 hour.
8. Crotolaria spectabalis and marigolds,
when planted as cover crops, tend to re-
duce some kinds of nematodes. The use of
marigolds to repel nematodes from inter-
planted vegetables is not effective control.
9. A good garden mulch tends to reduce dam-
age caused by nematodes.
0. Many organic gardeners approve of and
use sprays and other preparations contain-
ing naturally occurring materials. Pyre-
thrin, rotenone, and ryania are examples
of natural poisons from plant parts. These
give some control to some insects under
!1. Natural predators should be encouraged
wherever possible; however, predators
raised in captivity, then released into the
garden area are usually ineffective.
Organic Gardening Supplies
Suitable materials for growing vegetables the
,anic Way are not always easy to locate. The
nventional" garden supply centers carry many
products, especially seeds and equipment, which
may be used by the organic enthusiast. However,
for the difficult-to-find items, the gardener may
have to order from specialty businesses dealing
in organic gardening supplies.
Are "Organic" Vegetables More Nutritious?
Contrary to popular belief, research has not
shown a nutritional advantage of organically fer-
tilized vegetables over those grown with chemical
fertilizers. The same plant nutrients which are
supplied by chemical fertilizers are derived from
organic fertilizer, and these nutrients must be in
an ionic form before they can be absorbed by the
roots. With an equal amount furnished the plant
from either type of fertilizer, the nutritional com-
position of the produce will be the same.
This public document was promulgated at an
annual cost of $656.00, or 3.3 cents per copy to
present information on organic gardening.
Single copies are free to residents of Florida and may be obtain
from the County Extension Office. Bulk rates are available upo
request. Please submit details of the request to C.M. Hinton, Publ
cation Distribution Center, IFAS Building 664, University
Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611.
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION WORK IN AGRICULTURE AND HOME ECONOMICS
(Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914)
Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS, University of Florida
and United States Department of Agriculture, Cooperating
K. R. Tefertiller, Director