More Gardening Tips from Fern Marshall Bradley

May 7, 2009

Yesterday’s entry was an interview with organic gardener Fern Marshall Bradley in which she shared her background in organic gardening, a few of her favorite edibles, and offered tips for improving soils and starting a new garden.

Today’s post is the continuation of Fern’s interview and provides more gardening information and recommendations for the home gardener.

Kenny Point: I noticed that your revised book, The Illustrated Guide to Gardening is now “All Organic!” What went into the decision to shift the focus to growing organically, and how difficult was it to incorporate these techniques into the book?

guide-to-gardeningFern Marshall Bradley: Making the change to all-organic was a reflection of the Reader’s Digest Company’s commitment to promoting healthy living. More and more evidence shows that use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in home landscapes is contributing to serious environmental problems such as groundwater contamination, and these issues relate back to human health.

Since I’ve always been an organic gardener, I applauded RD’s decision to make the book “all-organic.” It was not difficult at all to incorporate organic methods into the book. Basic organic gardening techniques, such as composting and encouraging diversity, have always been part of good gardening practice. And nowadays, most garden centers stock a full range of organic fertilizers and organically acceptable pest control products.

Kenny Point: What are some of your favorite organic solutions to problems around the garden and how do they compare with the typical non-organic approaches in terms of effort, cost, and effectiveness?

Fern Marshall Bradley: I’m very impressed with the quality of leafy greens and cabbage-family crops when I take the simple step of draping lightweight row cover over the plants right at planting time and leaving it in place. The cover keeps out pests such as flea beetles and cabbage worms that can ruin foliage. Purchasing the covers may be more expensive to start than buying a pesticide, but they’re reusable for a few seasons if you take good care of them, and they’re easier to use and more effective than sprays.

I’ve also found that watering my plants with compost tea, or spraying it on the foliage of young plants, promotes healthy, vigorous growth. I just don’t have many pest problems in my garden, and I think that compost tea is one of the main reasons I don’t.

I also visit my garden frequently, and I’m not squeamish at all about handpicking and squishing pest insects. If you don’t like the idea of squashing insects, simply carry along a small bucket of soapy water and a pair of tweezers or chopsticks. Use the tweezers to pick the pests off the plants, and dump them in the soapy water to drown.

Kenny Point: Is it realistically possible to raise high quality tree fruits such as apples, pears, plums, and peaches in the home landscape using organic methods and without complicated spray schedules?

Fern Marshall Bradley: It is realistically possible, but it takes a lot of commitment to first building high-quality organic soil, to choosing disease-resistant varieties (rather than the old favorites), to keeping plants properly pruned and trained, to using as many preventive techniques as possible (such as putting small individual bags around developing apples to prevent pests from laying eggs on them), and to accepting the fact that your fruits probably will end up with a few minor holes and blemishes.

Kenny Point: Do you place much emphasis on adding an ornamental quality to your vegetable gardens, and if so how do you pull off creating an edible garden that is also attractive?

Fern Marshall Bradley: In my eyes, vegetable crops are just as beautiful as flowering perennials and annuals, so I have to admit that I don’t put much emphasis on trying to add ornamental quality to my vegetable garden. However, if I were so inclined, I’d have no trouble creating a veggie garden that’s as attractive as an ornamental garden.

First, I’d interplant lots of annual flowers among my vegetables, especially ground-hugging sweet alyssum, which attracts lots of beneficial insects. And I’d interplant nasturtium vines among my squash, and set aside a bed for perennial herbs like sage, oregano, and lavender, which have beautiful foliage as well as wonderful scent. Then rather than the ad hoc plant supports I tend to use, I’d choose bamboo poles for making trellises, and I’d also craft plant supports out of flexible saplings and grape vines.

Kenny Point: Thanks Fern for setting aside time from your busy schedule to stop by and share your expertise with everyone here at the Veggie Gardening Tips website!

Fern Marshall Bradley, co-editor with Trevor Cole of The All-New Illustrated Guide to Gardening: Now All Organic!, is a writer and editor whose favorite topics are gardening and sustainable living.

A co-author of Reader’s Digest’s Vegetable Gardening, she also conceived and edited The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control, and The Experts Book of Garden Hints, among others. Bradley is a former gardening books editor for Rodale.

Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts:

  • Barbee

    Fantastic book! Thanks, Kenny for turning me on to this gem. It is now my new gardening ‘bible’. And it’s HUGE! I will be sure to recommend it to all my friends but there is NO WAY I’m going to loan it-I’ll never get it back! LOL

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