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Some basics

Make compost

compost is the best organic fertilizer to use in the garden. It is made with kitchen and yard wastes such as grass clippings, shredded leaves, food scraps (except for meat or fat), shredded newspaper, and other organic materials. Put them in a pile and let them rot. Within a year, you'll have crumbly fertilizer sure to grow healthy plants.

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Cover the bare ground between plants with a layer of shredded leaves, grass clippings, pine needles, newspaper, compost, or other organic materials. Mulch prevents weeds from growing, retains soil moisture, and keeps soil warm longer, stretching the growing season.

Rotate crops

By shifting placement of flowers and vegetables each year, pests and disease have less chance to thrive.

Try companion planting

When you plant more than one crop in the same plot -tomatoes, basil, and lettuce, say, wildlife and insects get confused and can't recognize the look and smell of each crop as easily.

Beneficial bugs

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Many organic gardeners strive to attract what they call "beneficial bugs" to their gardens. Often if they can't attract them naturally, they will introduce them.

"Given the chance," writes Rosalind Creasy, "the beneficials will do most of your pest control for you, provided that you don't use pesticides, as they are apt to kill the beneficial insects as well as the pests.

One of the best ways to attract beneficials, she adds, is by interplanting flowers, herbs, and vegetables. And allow some salad plants and herbs to flower.

Ladybugs are the best known beneficials. Others include ground beetles, lacewigs, spiders, syrphus flies, and wasps.

Even a seemingly harmless insecticidal soap will kill off these insects, she adds. If you insist on using an insecticidal soap spray, Creasy recommends store-bought instead of homemade. Commercial brands have been carefully formulated to give the most effective control with the least risk to plants. If you do make your own, she says, use a liquid dishwashing soap, not caustic or dermacidal soaps.

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