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Understanding all that lives in a garden:  Berkeley Voice 5/9/1996

  Organic gardening is once again becoming a common practice for many gardeners all over the world. For many centuries the biological approach was the only way to grow.
  Unfortunately  the last 50 years or so our society has become dependent on chemicals to combat pests and artificial  fertilizers to provide plant nutrients, practices which seem to give good temporary results, but very harmful long-term effects. These practices completely disrupt the natural balance of any garden.

  The key to organic gardening is to develop an understanding of all living things within your garden.
Most people associate living things with what they see above the ground: plants, insects, birds, trees, people; but the most important living thing that fuels all the above ground activity is the soil. Soil is very much a living thing.

  John Jeavons, author, researcher, and organic gardener, preaches, “We need to grow soil first, then plants, then people who know how to grow soil.”
That’s right: grow people who know how to grow soil. Each hand full of soil contains billions of living, beneficial  microorganisms. Preserving  these organisms is essential for the life of any garden. Composting is essential to growing soil.


  The key to any successful garden is the structure of the soil. Many plants don’t grow very well in the heavy clay soils in the East Bay, therefore, gardeners can amend the existing soil.
  There are a variety of soil amendments that can be added to your soil. For example, rock powders break up clay and increase mineral content, limes are added to acidic soils to neutralize the pH, compost increases the organic matter in the soil and ads nutrients. 
  Use compost and 100 percent organic fertilizers to feed to soil; let the fertile soil feed the plants. Animal manures are very good sources of organic matter for your soil, though a little bit more difficult to obtain than compost.


  Before anyone decides to put in a new landscape or vegetable garden, they could have a soil test done to determine the makeup of the soil. Most landscapers can perform such a task for a nominal fee.

  Several labs who offer this service are able to recommend needed mineral adjustments. While this is a common practice, it is not absolutely necessary. Composting, however, is.

   Composting increases the life in the soil. All organic gardeners should have at least one compost pile on the property. If you can’t produce enough on-site, you can buy many forms of compost.  Composting materials can be purchased at American Soil Products in Berkeley or Davis Street  Smart 

  Recycling Center in San Leandro. Most city landfills offer good compost materials as well.

One cubic yard of compost covers approximately 100 square feet to a depth of three inches. I recommend working composted materials at least three to six inches depth into new and existing planting beds.

Compost and mulch around all of your plants to retain moisture and suppress weeds.

Always measure your area before purchasing, although you can never really have too much compost.
The key to any garden project is getting to know your soil. Soil testing is a good beginning. Amending and composting your soil is the next step.

 Before you grow anything else, you first have to grow soil, then grow people by teaching them the wonder of organic gardening. That is the Organic Matter to have a good growing season.

In future articles I will address different aspects organic gardening in more detail; until then, happy gardening.


“ How to Grow More Vegetables.” John Jeavon Ecology Action , 5798 Ridewood Road, Willits, CA 95490-9730

Lou Dixon is a Reseach Associate in Entomology, the Center for Biological Control at UC Berkeley. He is also owner, landscape designer and consultant for Bio Friendly Gardens in  Berkeley.