Blueberry Bush Virginia Berry Farm
Organic Care

Growing your own fruits can be a simple and richly rewarding experience.  Nothing beats the freshness and quality you will get from ripe, nutritious berries.  Many concerns from our food now revolve around chemicals which have been used to grow or fertilize the plants.  It is widely known that these chemicals have harmful side effects and that their presence in our foods has greatly increased chronic, degenerative diseases such as cancer. 

When you have grown produce yourself, you know exactly what's been sprayed on it.  In fact, it's easy to grow fruit plants using organic practices, which benefit our soil and water quality, help maintain beneficial insect populations, and protect our health. 

There is no particular magic to this approach, it is as old as farmers themselves.  The basics of an organic approach to agriculture are described in every book published previous to the 1950's since agricultural chemicals were not in general use previous to this period.  Plants, like people, have certain preferences as to the conditions under which they grow and produce.  They prefer a rich soil which is of suitable pH and other characteristics.  Plants must be selected which are appropriate to the climate in which they are grown but they also benefit greatly if care is taken to create a growing environment.

In our world, where soil is often scattered by construction, this often means digging a hole the size of your plant's root zone as well as discarding this soil (use it some other place on your property to fill a ditch?) and replacing it with rich soil or compost.  In most cases adding sphagnum or other peat mosses will be beneficial since peat increase organic matter and aids greatly in plant growth and nutrition. 

Soil is a combination of organic matter and stone.  When we say a soil is 3% organic matter, for instance, this means that it is 97% stone.  In the Northeast/east coast properties are often largely subsoil with a thin layer of top soil.  This situation is not particularly beneficial to shrubs or trees.  So it is important to select or create a growing site which is suitable to the plant being grown.  Often this mean creating one from an unsuitable site..

After the site is created, by the addition of appropriate growing media, care becomes important.  Normally plants will benefit greatly from several things:  mulch placed 6-8" deep around the plant throughout its root zone, appropriate fertilizer and appropriate watering during dry periods.  It is also important to prune the plant appropriately and also to shelter plants such as figs in Winter. 

Many sorts of materials can be used as mulch, since this material is not actually incorporated into the soil.  It's function is to retain moisture, inhibit weed competition and gradually add to the organic matter of the plants roots zone as it slowly decomposes.

Much attention has been devoted to fertilizers and other purchased additives.  Use of these supposedly pure chemicals is not the solution for an organic grower.  Beneficial products are natural products such as manure, leaves or other organic materials  which have been composted till they are completely decomposed.  These will supply basic nutritional needs of plants as well as aid greatly in providing the proper media in which the plant will grow.  This is a crucial basis to the fertilization of your fruit plants

The most important thing to realize about "fertilizers" is that is must be added at the right time (when the growing season begins) in the right place (under the mulch around the perimeter of the plants' root zone which is known as the drip line on trees since a plant normally has a root zone the size of the plant above ground) and in the right form.)  This subject composes the most controversial elements of the discussion among many organic growers.

For a home grower the problem is relatively simple.   You desire nutritious, healthy food and this is worth the effort to find a source of good compost and to take the time and care to plant these beautiful plants on your property which will feed you for a lifetime.  The time and expense involved is of little importance you, relatively speaking, since the activity is enjoyable and healthy.  

For a commercial farmer the challenge is completely different.  Finding a source of material which is sufficient to fertilize a farm is quite another matter.  For this reason most farmers and many diligent, (organic otherwise) growers use modern fertilizers.  These are time-release products (such as Osmocote) which contain all major and minor plant nutrients in a form which is complimentary to plants and which release over a predictable period of time and at a rate which is governed by wither water, heat or a combination of the two.  . 

There are a number of manures which are useful, of course, the only thing you must be careful of here is that this does not contain much grass and weed seed as in the case of horse manure which will endlessly complicate your weed control problems.  Rabbit, sheep or well composted cow manure will normally be a very good source of nutrients, chicken or turkey manure is the best since it is very high in nitrogen and they are fed no actually grain of any sort to cause problems.

If you look around or ask others you will quickly find barns which need cleaned, leaves to be composted, much goes to waste in our daily lives which is food for your plants.  Grass clippings make excellent mulch and gradually break down, adding valuable organic matter to your site.  They are also rich in nitrogen, the most difficult nutrient to supply to plants.