Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.


Shawna Coronado front lawn vegetable garden

Eleven years ago I was a “traditional gardener”, meaning I used the traditionally advertised products on the market that were filled with chemicals to treat my garden. This led to over-fertilizing and using chemical pesticides regularly. Bottom line: I wantonly abandoned the idea of doing healthy things for my garden in favor of what the media told me I should do. At that time I would consider my garden an average garden even with all of my chemical efforts. Then one season a friend of mine suggested I grow in an environmentally healthy fashion and stop listening to the hype. I thoroughly researched the importance of how to go chemical free and gradually converted my entire property over to about 98.9% organic and natural. An amazing and surprising thing happened in response to that changeover – my garden grew more beautiful, astounding, and lush than it had ever been when I used all those chemical solutions.

The secret for using less chemicals and pesticides in your garden is this: good soil grows healthy plant roots. With healthy plant roots you have strong plants that can survive tough conditions. Over the last ten years I have discovered what type of amendments work best in gardens nationwide and in my own garden. I have my favorite list of five all natural products and organic matter that really work well in my front lawn vegetable garden (seen in the photo above) and in gardens all across the country.

5 Amazing Soil Additives

Rotted Manure

Without a doubt, rotted manure is an important organic amendment for your soil because of its nutrient rich content which is the basis for building a strong structure of carbon compounds within the soil. Be sure that the manure is well rotted or it will burn your plants. You can get it in bagged form at your local garden center or find a farmer nearby. Be advised that manure from a farmer sometimes contains grass and weed seed. I add a generous amount of well rotted manure to the garden soil before I plant a garden, then again annually as a top dressing around plants.

Worm castings

Worm castings is worm poop – that’s right – worm poop. Like rotted manure, worm castings create a strong soil structure and add beneficial biology to the root zone of your plants. Worm castings help hold moisture so you water less. Mix ¼ cup of worm castings into the soil planting hole for each plant. I use Organic Mechanics worm castings which are OMRI and Organic certified (below you see a mix of rotted manure and worm castings added to my spring front lawn vegetable garden).

Spring rotted manure application on Shawna Coronado front lawn vegetable garden


Soil Amendment Actino-Iron 2Actino-Iron is an all natural OMRI certified granular soil additive that combines the Actinovate organic fungicide with organic iron and humates. Actino-Iron is a product that is already used in many of the soil mixes you find professionally in the market because it helps control root diseases and keep your plants greener. I have used it for three years in a row and found it works very well to strengthen the root systems of my plants. Last year I had a drought and the plants stayed green and healthier because Actino-Iron builds a relationship between the root zone and soil microbes, strengthening the roots by growing more root hairs. I had a couple tablespoons in the root zone of each plant (see photo below).

Soil amendment Actino-Iron

Pure Elements SoilSuccess

Soil Amendment Pure Elements SoilSuccessPure Elements has several gypsum based products that are great soil amendments for all types of growing such as grass renewal, perennial beds, annual flower gardens, and vegetable gardening. My favorite is Pure Elements SoilSuccess Renew + Transform because it adds humates to the soil and helps reduce tomato bottom end rot. This is a good product to increase soil microbial activity and improve germination, shoot, and root growth in all your garden beds, particularly your vegetable beds. My plants are crazy huge this season and I applied about one pound of SoilSuccess per 100 feet of garden.

Homemade Compost

#1 rule of healthy organic gardening – make your own compost. Below is a photo of my overly stuffed composter doing its happy work in my garden. While there are many ways to make your own compost, the fact that it is absolutely free for you to build makes it one of the best ideas ever. Using grass clippings, kitchen scraps, dry leaves, and all types of natural things from your home like coffee grounds, you can create “black gold” for your garden beds. Compost has amazing nutrients in it which helps your garden soil be the perfect place for microbes to interact with root hairs. In other words, by adding compost, you are building stronger roots. I add compost to the soil in new gardens and also use it as a top dressing to smother weeds around healthy plants.

Shawna Coronado Soil Amendment Compost Bin

According the FTC, you need to know that I received products in this story at no cost in exchange for reviewing them.

Spring is in full force now and the U.S. Compost Council (USCC) just launched their Million Tomatoes Compost Campaign, a tomato growing campaign using donated compost. So go ahead: Start your own vegetable garden with a special spot for some tomatoes. With the help of Nathan Lyon, celebrity chef and campaign spokesperson, you’ll have a thriving garden in no time.

Lyon is well known for his delectable cuisine and his PBS show “Growing a Greener World”, but this spring Lyon is taking time between cooking and filming for a great cause: the Million Tomatoes Compost Campaign, which focuses on spreading the word about the importance of compost for a healthy garden. Compost has been donated by several USCC STA certified compost producers to participating community gardens that will grow tomatoes, either for their own use or for donation to local food banks. The campaign hopes to exceed one million tomatoes by the end of harvest in August.

When Lyon was first approached about the campaign, he was instantly hooked. The project fit perfectly with his interests and what he had been working with on his show. His passion for gardening was cultivated long ago as he used to spend his after-school time with his grandparents in their Virginia garden. Ever since he has been expanding on his skills as a gardener and sharing them with those around him.

“That’s what’s so great about this campaign: You are empowering people by showing them how easy it is to grow your own food and get involved with the community,” says Lyon.

Lyon—as well as a number of other chefs—will be working with the community gardens, schools, and other organization to educate people on using locally grown food. Recently, he created several kid-friendly tomato recipes for the campaign so kids can also get involved, too. Lyon urges others to pay attention to their kids wants. A lot will be excited to get in the garden and grow their own food if you give them the chance.

“Have them grow their own produce and they will be really excited to taste it because they are now stewards,” Lyon explains.

Getting kids involved starts with you. So why not take the time to start your own tomato garden this year? You can easily get involved in the campaign by starting your own tomato garden at home or in a community lot. Go to www.buy-compost.com to see how you can contribute to the campaign.

—Kelsey Schirm, BHG Guest Blogger


Today my fellow BHG garden editors and I had a special guest: The folks from Sustane popped down (from my home state of Minnesota) to talk about their line of natural, organic fertilizers. Sustane has been around for a while, but mainly in the professional arena: Golf courses, commercial agriculture, etc.

For spring of 2013, the company is releasing a couple of mixes designed specifically for home gardeners like you and me. The product is made from turkey litter, the company representatives told us, and fully composted at about 150 degrees for about half a year. That makes the nutrients available almost right away when you go to use it.

They talked a lot about organic fertilizers, of course, and their benefits: They help build the soil profile, they’re much less likely to run off into our water supply, and it’s tough to burn your plants by using too much. Organic matter, especially compost like this, also encourages beneficial microorganisms in the soil — and they can help your plants resist disease better.

I like that the company is using a waste product — turkey litter and droppings — and turning it into something useful. And I like the idea of using a natural product that’s not overly produced.

Happily, they provided samples so this spring I’ll get to try it out!

What do you think? Do you fertilize your garden? If so, does organic or synthetic matter to you? Comment below !

IMGP1651aThis is the time of year when curbsides are “decorated” with brown paper bags filled with fallen leaves. They’re awaiting pick-up by the city, which will compost the lot and sell the rich, crumbly results a year or two from now.

That’s all fine and well, but anyone who does their own composting would be advised to hold a few of those bags in reserve. Dead leaves are the perfect complement to salad greens and other kitchen scraps when you’re making your own compost. So if you hold a few of those bags in reserve now, you’ll be able to “cut” the green material (high in nitrogen) with brown material (high in carbon) throughout the winter, spring, and summer, when dead leaves are less abundant. The balance between nitrogen- and carbon-rich materials speeds up decomposition.

Eric mentions the ease of mowing over your leaves because it puts the kibitz on raking. I do this myself, but I often bag the remains so I can topdress my garden beds. The shredded leaves are a GREAT winter mulch, protecting plants from frost-heaving. Come spring, you simply scratch the mulch aside, do your planting, and brush the mulch back in place. Voila! A soil-strengthening, weed-dampening, moisture-holding wonder mulch that costs you (drum roll, please) ZILCH!

Happy mulching!

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