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"When we heal the earth, we heal ourselves.”
David Orr

busy pollinating a tomato blossom at giannangelo farms southwest


Sustainable organic gardening starts with a method for building sustainable soil. Sustainable soil is a renewable soil. When you renew your soil with your own compost and plant at least some of your crops with your own organic seed, you will have created a sustainable method for growing your own food.

First, test your soil and then add ammendments to balance the NPH. Add trace elements as needed. 90% of your gardens success is in the health of the soil. When crops are deprived of basic nutrients in an unbalanced soil, they languish. When your soil is balanced and healthy, plants thrive and are resistent to diseases and insect damage. With a balanced garden soil, microbes and beneficial soil organisms will thrive and you can start adding your garden soil as a layer in your compost, sort of like a sourdough "starter". See: how to make compost.

"New research conducted by the US Department of Energy (USDE) provides even more proof that synthetic pesticides and herbicides are completely unnecessary when the right balance of natural microbes are present and flourishing in soil."  Soil microbes are the immune system that protects plants, crops from disease.

When your innculated compost is put back into your garden, you will be innoculating your soil with these microbes which will help to grow strong plants. Healthy plants grow more vigorously, taste better, store longer, and better resist insect attacks, and have greater resistance to cold, heat, drought, and disease.

Chemical fertilizers destroy your soils ability to grow food, kill all the soil microbes, and add unwanted nitrates or salts to the soil. There will be chemical residues to the food you eat. Organic gardening is growing without chemical fertilizers, naturally building the soil to support healthy plant life. Chemical fertilizers and additives will, over time, damage the soil's ability to provide what plants need to resist disease, insect attacks, and stress. Soil depletion of organic nutrients and soil microbes are the main causes of unhealthy plants and plant diseases.

Pesticides + chemical fertilizers = Infertile soil, stressed plants, and insect attacks.
Organic fertilizers + microbial activity = Soil fertility, healthy plants, and resistance to insect attacks.

A healthy, organic garden produces strong plants that are able to withstand adverse conditions. The consistent traits and habits needed to make good soil can also help build fertility in our lives. Success in the garden proves the efficacy of these tools, and as we use them to expand our gardens - the garden of our yard, and the garden of our soul - we expand all the aspects of our lives. Those things we do to create a healthy garden can become the tools needed to explore, change, and enhance our daily lives through:

Assessment - the plan of action
Decision – the choice to act
Implementation – the act itself, the doing


Soil can either be acidic or alkaline, or neutral – the soil’s pH. Soil pH is determined by mineral content in the subsoil. pH is the symbol for the logarithm of the reciprocal of Hydrogen ion concentration in gram atoms per liter. For example, a pH of 5 indicates a concentration of .00001 or 10-5 gram atoms of hydrogen ions in one liter of solution. Acidic soil has a pH range from 1 to 6.5. Alkaline soils have a pH range from 7.5 to 10. Neutral soil has a pH of 7. Lime (Dolomite) or oyster shell lime increase the alkalinity in an acid soil; soil sulfur and gypsum lower the pH in an alkaline soil. For the best results, add these amendments in the spring when soils are warming and microorganisms are active. Most plants grow well in a pH range of 6, but will tolerate a pH between 5.5 – 7.

Cosmos reseeds itself every year at giannangelo farms southwest

HUMUS - organic matter in various stages of decay, such as oak leaf mold, peat moss, and rotted sawdust. Humus increases water-holding capacity, modifies soil structure, stimulates plant growth, permits root penetration, and helps to correct soil imbalances. Some forms of humus are found in compost and animal manures.

NITROGEN - contains proteins and is a food source for compost piles (grass clippings, green vegetable matter), and it stimulates green growth in plants. Sources are blood meal, cottonseed meal, alfalfa meal, fishmeal, and fish emulsion.

PHOSPHORUS - stimulates root growth and promotes fruit and seed maturation. Good sources are soft rock phosphate or bone meal. Deficiencies are indicated by purple leaves, brittle roots, skinny stems and late fruit set and maturity.

POTASSIUM - promotes plant vitality and disease resistance. Sources are Greensand, also known as Glauconite, sulfate of potash, wood ashes, or Sul Po Mag. Deficiencies are indicated by an irregular yellowing of lower leaves, and poor root growth.

CALCIUM - important for plant cell wall integrity, root development and leaf growth. Low levels show up as deformed new leaves and branches, weak stems and roots. A good source for calcium is gypsum, which can also lower the alkalinity of the soil.

MAGNESIUM - essential for chlorophyll and green leaf development. Pale green leaves with green veins are a sign of deficiency. Adding dolomite lime to raise the pH in an acid soil often corrects this deficiency. In an alkaline soil you can add Magnesium Sulfate.

SOIL SULPHUR - can be used to lower pH in an alkaline soil, and is a stimulant for soil microbial life. Use it sparingly and add it in the fall and let it set over the winter before planting or the new seedlings will encounter the acid which will result in diminished plant growth. The better choice would be calcium sulfate (Gypsum) which not only lowers the pH, but also adds calcium and you can plant right after adding it to your soil.

TRACE MINERALS - found in compost, kelp meal, algae meal, and seaweed meal, and greensand, providing boron, copper, iron, and zinc.

OXYGEN - one of the most important fertility components in the soil - air spaces hold oxygen and stimulate microbial activity allowing free root growth. Humus, peat moss, compost, and aged manure tilled into the soil help to increase the air spaces in the soil enabling plants to utilize the available nutrients. Soil should be loose and never walked on, which only compacts it. Tilling wet soil too early in the season can also destroy soil structure by compacting it, and squeezing out the pockets for air.
Columbine growing in our perennial garden at giannangelo farms southwest

SUSTAINABLE GARDENING - one of the most important things about gardening organically is that the process can become sustainable over time. Sustainable soil building begins after the initial soil testing and the addition of organic fertilizers and conditioners, and continues by organically maintaining and improving the soil over time.

Sustaining the soil means being able to replenish your soil's nutrients with your own organic compost which contains beneficial microbes, enzymes, and earthworms. Ideally, once the garden is established it can be sustained by using garden soil to inoculate your compost, which will in turn feed your soil, creating a cycle of sustainability.

WORMS - Vermicomposting uses earthworms to make compost. Worms can eat their body weight daily in organic matter and convert it into dark, soil enriching castings full of live micro organisms, growth hormones, and nutrients, humic acids which condition the soil, and a neutral pH.

COMPOSTING - Billions of decaying organisms (25,000 bacteria placed end to end equal one inch) feed, grow, reproduce and die, recycling garden waste into an organic fertilizer and soil conditioner. Composting is the ultimate recycling process – improving soil structure, increasing the soil’s ability to hold moisture, providing soil aeration, fertilization, and nitrogen storage. It buffers pH, releases nutrients, and provides food for microbial life.

PLANTING COVER CROPS - this "green manure" is grown for the sole purpose of being tilled into the soil to add organic matter. It will help keep moisture from evaporating, regulate the soil temperature, keeping it cooler in summer and warmer in winter. By providing an insulating blanket, microbes and earthworms will thrive. The more worms in your garden, the more they can break up, fertilize, and aerate the soil.

Beneficial insects are also attracted by cover crops; alfalfa can attract parasitic wasps, lady beetles, damsel bugs, big-eyed bugs and assassin bugs. White clover can attract Tachnid flies, ground beetles and parasitic wasps that prey on aphids, scales, caterpillars and whiteflies. Most grains will attract lady beetles. Clovers and vetches can attract minute pirate bugs. Fava beans and buckwheat can attract predatory and parasitic wasps, syrphid flies and bumblebees.

CROP ROTATION - Crop rotation also helps to prevent soil deficiencies. By using different plants in different beds, you can avoid depletion of nutrients because each plant has different needs. Planting a legume after a heavy feeder such as corn, will replenish the nitrogen in the soil. Rotate your root crops, leafy crops, heavy feeders, and cover crops. if you keep a garden journal, you can keep track of what you planted, and where and when you planted it.

PROVIDING GOOD DRAINAGE - Good drainage is essential to soil health. Too little drainage makes a soggy soil, which prevents root growth, nutrient absorption, and compacts the soil. A perk test is an easy way to determine water drainage through your soil. Dig a hole six inches across by one foot deep. Fill with water and let drain. As soon as the water has drained, fill it again. Time how long it takes for the water to drain. If it takes more than 8 hours, you have a drainage problem.

Add sand, gypsum, chopped straw, or perlite to increase the drainage. Too much drainage can be determined by a water test. This will tell you if you soil drains too quickly, leaching nutrients and causing plants to be watered more frequently. Water well a small portion of your garden. Two days later, dig a hole 6 inches deep. If the soil is dry to the bottom of the hole, your soil drains too quickly to promote good plant growth. Add peat moss, vermiculite, perlite, composted manure and mulch well to prevent evaporation.

a head of endive ready to pick for the Ramah farmers market at giannangelo farms southwest


Members of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Alliance (OSGATA) have signed onto a code of ethics and are engaged in preserving the integrity of seed above and beyond profit-market interest. OSGATA develops, protects and promotes the organic seed trade and its growers, and assures that the organic community has access to certified organic seed, free of contaminants and GMO'S.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are the result of laboratory processes which artificially insert foreign genes into the DNA of food crops or animals. Those genes may come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans. GMOs are not safe, but have been in the food supply since 1996. Most Americans say they would not eat GMOs if labeled, but the U.S. does not require labeling.
Read about why you should avoid Genetically modified food.
SHOPPING GUIDE: How to avoid buying foods made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

Not only is it important to grow in organic soil, but also to plant organic seed. Certified organic growers are not allowed to have GMO’s in their seeds.
Read about why you should only buy organic seeds for your garden

A plant is considered to be an heirloom (not a hybrid nor modified with GMO's) if it is an open-pollinated (able to reproduce true to variety under natural conditions) plant that with its original genetic material and unique reproductive and immune information intact. A hybridized plant is the result of a cross between 2 varieties of a plant, and when seeds are taken from a cross-pollinated plant, these seeds can not reproduce the parent plant and will revert back to one of the parents genetics.

If we keep using commercial genetically modified hybridized seeds and lose the geneitcs of the originals, one day we may be faced with seeds that will not be able to reproduce a healthy plant. This is happening now with GMO seeds. We are losing our heritage seeds and they are becoming extinct. We are seeing a worldwide disappearance of traditional plant varieties. If we cannot plant a seed and a healthy plant, we will not survive. Common food plants available today represent only 3% of those that were available in 1900. 75% of native crop varieties in the Western Hemisphere have disappeared because modern agribusiness hybridizes seed for commercial advantage without consideration of the value of heritage seed. Organic heritage seed is the only seed that will promote a sustainable food chain.

Organic Seeds
Learn how healthy soil functions and what it requires
Green Harvest (Australia) information, reference guide, organic pest control
Save water when gardening using aflow meter
Planet Natural
Soil Analysis
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
Fertile Garden
Harmony Farm Supply

"When the planes still swoop down and aerial spray a field in order to kill a predator insect with pesticides, we are in the Dark Ages of commerce. Maybe one thousandth of this aerial insecticide actually prevents the infestation. The balance goes to the leaves, into the soil, into the water, into all forms of wildlife, into our selves. What is good for the balance sheet is wasteful of resources and harmful to life.”

Paul Hawkin from The Ecology of Commerce

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Watch How to Create Good Growing Soil

Watch Common Mistakes When Gardening

Watch How to Collect a Soil Sample for Analysis

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Home Page    About Us    Mossy Knoll Garden/San Juan Island    Botany Basics    "You Can Grow!" Workshops    Composting    Soil Building
Hardiness Zone Map   WebRings    "You Can Grow" CD's   "Tid-Bytes" Insights   Garden Pests & Organic Controls
Biodiversity and Genetic Engineering    New Mexico    Companion & Intensive Planting     Permaculture    Labyrinths
Seed Starting Guide    Creative Garden Design    The Greenzbox    Culinary Herb Gardens    Xeriscape
"Growing with the Seasons"    Photo Tour I    Photo Tour II    Photo Tour III    Photo Tour IV    Photo Tour V
Organic Products    Gardening Books   Gardening Supplies     Recommend This Site    Resources

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