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Products boost plant health organically

Floating row cover keeps insects off susceptible crops and provides frost protection.
Floating row cover keeps insects off susceptible crops and provides frost protection.

Last week, I discussed several things gardeners can do to keep their plants healthy and productive. Today, I wanted to share with you the types of products I use to grow vegetables and fruits organically.

My favorite product is floating row cover (pictured above). This is a lightweight, woven fabric that looks like the interfacing used in sewing garments. When placed over plants, it acts as a physical barrier to keep out hungry insects.

Many organic farmers use row covers to reduce insect damage to their crops. The only veggies I grow that are susceptible to insects are cabbage-family crops – spinach, Swiss chard and beets.

Since none of these crops needs to be pollinated, I cover their beds as soon as I sow the seeds and leave them covered the entire season. It works great.

Row covers also provide a few degrees of frost protection. Lightweight row covers protect plants down to about 28 degrees. I often use it to plant some of my warm-season vegetable crops a bit earlier, or I’ll use it the first couple of weeks to help plants get off to a good start. There are heavier weights of row cover – often called “frost blankets” or “garden quilts” – that offer even more protection.

An organic way to deal with the larval stage of bothersome insects like tomato hornworms or cabbage worms is by using Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt for short. This is a strain of bacteria safe for humans but deadly to caterpillars.

Whenever slugs are a problem, I sprinkle a product called diatomaceous earth around their favorite plants. It’s made of crushed, fossilized crustaceans, which cut through the slug’s skin. There are also organic slug baits available.

The next item I use frequently is organic fertilizer. Many years ago, it was tricky to find, but organic fertilizer is now widely available at nurseries and garden centers.

My favorite high-nitrogen fertilizer is fish fertilizer. This comes in liquid form and is diluted with water. I use it to get seedlings off to a good start once they have one or two pairs of true leaves. Fish fertilizer is also great for plants that produce a lot of foliage, such as lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard.

I use bone meal, which is high in phosphorus, for root crops like beets, turnips, carrots, parsnips and onions, and for veggies that will bloom and set fruit. There are many organic fertilizers that are high in phosphorus and/or potassium, which also helps root growth.

There are a few organic products I use for growing tree fruits like apples and cherries:

Different types of indicator traps contain pheromones (mating hormones) that lure codling moths and cherry fruit flies. The traps are lined with a sticky substance. Once these insects start getting caught in the traps, I know it’s time to use organic sprays to protect the fruit.

I spray apple trees with an organic product called kaolin clay. It’s a flourlike powder that you mix with water. I cover our apples with little nylon footies, also known as maggot barriers, to prevent codling moths from laying eggs on the developing fruit. That’s a tedious job, but between the kaolin spray and all of the footies, the majority of our apples are worm-free. For cherries, I now use an organic spray that contains spinosad. There is more information about organic orchard practices on my blog.

Garden centers carry all of the above products.

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via email at Visit her blog at susansinthegarden. and Facebook page at thegarden for more gardening information.


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