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What kind of doublespeak is that?

Sometimes I feel heartfelt compassion for the very difficult job of Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Many citizens and not just a few commercial entities demand endless access to the resources of the Chesapeake, while the wise conservation and management of these resources are the sole responsibility of DNR.
    The blue crab is one such resource. One of the more desired, the more profitable and most celebrated of the Bay’s treasures, it has also been over the last 20 years or so one of the Bay’s species most often in trouble. I sympathize with the pressures the Department has to constantly endure in attempting to protect the crustacean from over harvest and depredation.
    Then, DNR destroys my empathy with pronouncements that seem to defy credibility, common sense and logic.
    On a recent occasion, officials stated for the record on a local radio program and in a subsequent newspaper article that any form of moratorium would cause the species more harm than good.
    That ranks up there with the Department’s earlier statement “crabbing harvests remain at a safe level for the sixth consecutive year,” while revealing the blue crab population had plunged 70 percent also during that period.
    Is that not doublespeak? DNR’s own safe harvest levels imply proper population protection that has obviously not been happening. In the case of “more harm than good,” how can not killing some 30,000 pounds of crabs hurt the overall population?
    Unlike the successful rockfish moratorium, a crab moratorium wouldn’t work for several reasons, according to DNR: the short life of crabs (three years or so); the diminishing fertility of females over time; and the increased natural mortality of cannabilistic crabs when the population is dense. DNR also cites the economic harm to Maryland’s blue crab industry.
    I can understand the Department’s reluctance. Every cutback affects the livelihoods of not only 4,000-plus watermen but also the bottom line of many restaurants and seafood markets. But don’t try to tell me that continuing to kill off a resource is really helping it.
    I can understand unpredictable natural mortality and how cold-weather kills and how poor recruitment causes unanticipated short-range population swings. But to continue to allow optimistically calculated harvest levels year after year while that population free falls defies common sense.
    The near future looks grim for the blue crab. Local crabbers report very difficult catches, fewer and smaller crabs and a continuing dearth of females, indicating more population trouble for the future. This assessment is not scientific, but it seems to reflect reality better than anything coming out of Annapolis.
    I respectfully request the Department reconsider its basic resource philosophy because whatever we have been doing is not working.
    Insisting on species health and abundance above all seems wiser and more realistic than any maximum-sustainable harvest policy by any name.
    Paying closer attention to the recommendations of scientists from Bay conservation foundations could also be wise, as they are free from most political and commercial manipulations.
    That is if Maryland officials are committed to the conservation of the blue crab and share the belief that a consistently large and healthy population will naturally result in a flourishing commercial fishery, a satisfied recreational sector and a happy consuming public.
    If, on the other hand, our representatives are primarily committed to short-term commercial-industry stability — fulfilling market and political demands — then we’re on the right track.

Escape urban lights to see this sight

     Each August, as the kids head back to school, the galaxy is tilted  in such a way that the Milky Way stretches overhead in full glory. With Monday’s new moon, this may be the best week of summer to gaze on this river of stars. To fully appreciate it you’ll need dark skies away from any urban glow well after sunset. Give your eyes a few minutes to get accustomed to the darkness, tilt your head back and get lost in the glow.
    From Perseus and Cassiopeia in the north-northeast, the Milky Way flows down through Cygnus the swan onto Aquila the eagle. From the eagle’s tail, the glow of stars splits, one section continuing to Sagittarius, the other to Scorpius in the southwest; the dark space in between is called the Great Rift. But this patch of the heavens is not bereft of stars. Our view of them is blocked by masses of interstellar gas and dust. Of course it isn’t just the flowing river of stars that make up the Milky Way but almost every star we see with the unaided eye, including our own sun. All are part of the same spiral galaxy. Our solar system is at the end of one of the spiral’s arms. When we look at the river of stars, we are looking toward the center of the galaxy, through layers of light that combined form the glowing band that we see on a beautiful dark night.
    As evening twilight gives way to darkness, Mars and Saturn appear in the southwest. Mars has been inching toward the ringed planet night by night and will pass below it over the weekend, coming within three degrees. The two planets appear equally bright, but you should have no trouble telling Mars’ reddish hue from Saturn’s golden glow. While you’re comparing colors, look a few degrees to the north of the two planets for the star Zubeneschimali in the constellation Libra. This is the only star with a greenish glow visible to the unaided eye — at least to some. What about you?
    Venus and Jupiter rise in the east-northeast before dawn. Jupiter is first to crest the horizon, but once Venus appears a few minutes later you’ll have no trouble telling the two apart, as the morning star is six times brighter than old Jove. The two planets are joined by the ever-so-thin waning crescent moon early Saturday morning.
    The last of the naked-eye planets returns to view late this week. Look for Mercury Wednesday the 27th immediately in the wake of the setting sun and just a couple degrees from newly emerged waxing crescent moon.

Gardening in bales of straw

     As I prepare my fall garden, I’m walking in the footsteps of an Ohio gardener with poor soil who planted in bales of straw rather than install raised beds. He found his solution in a British gardening magazine on growing vegetables. Now I’m trying it, starting with four bales of straw that I placed in full sun along the edge of my vegetable garden.
    To minimize weed problems, use straw rather than hay. Straw is the residue after the grain has been harvested. Select bales tied with plastic string and not sessile. Both sessile and jute string will decompose and the bales of straw will fall apart. Those tied with plastic string will remain whole because plastic does not decompose. Place the bales of straw on either black plastic or non-woven geotextile ground cloth.  
    Before planting, prime each bale to initiate the composting process. Spread two and a half cups of high-nitrogen lawn fertilizer — not mixed with herbicide — over each bale. For organic preparation, spread three pounds of organic fertilizer over each bale. Next wet the bales thoroughly and insert a long-shank thermometer to monitor temperature changes within the bales. The fertilizers will initiate composting in the center of each bale, raising the temperature. Sprinkle the bales with water daily to keep them moist so composting will take place. When temperatures again equal ambient air, the bales are ready to be planted.
    Within five days after I applied the fertilizer on each bale, temperatures within the bales fertilized with Holly Tone Organic reached 120 degrees. The bales treated with 10-6-4 fertilizer increased to only 100 degrees. It took nearly three weeks for these bales of straw to achieve the Holly Tone temperatures.
    By the end of the third week of priming, the bales treated with Holly Tone Organic started producing inky-cap mushrooms; the bales treated with chemical fertilizer followed one week later.
    At the end of the fourth week of priming, temperatures dropped to between 95 degrees and 100 degrees in all of the bales of straw.
    When the internal temperatures are the same as the ambient air, I will plant the bales with broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale and collards. My Ohio model claims to obtain at least two years of growth, sometimes three, from each bale.
    Regardless of the results, I will write about this new method of growing vegetables and share my results and photos. I write now in hopes that you will also try so that we can compare results.
    As my dad always said, “You will never know until you try.”

Outmaneuvering Stem Borers in Zucchini
    Every year, readers complain that stem borers have killed their zucchini plants only after a few weeks of production. I have had the same problem. To enjoy zucchini for most of the summer, I make repeated plantings.
    I’ve tried with no success spreading wood ashes around each hill as recommended by organic gardening magazines. I’ve had moderate success spraying under the foliage with the insecticide Sevin starting as soon as the leaves appeared and repeating weekly.
    This year I sprayed only the stems — not the leaves or petioles — with a jet stream of Sevin, starting under the flower bud farthest away from the roots. I am still harvesting zucchini squash from the original planting with no sign of borer injury. Protecting the stem with Sevin keeps the borer from gaining entry.  
    This year’s succession of plantings resulted in a surplus harvest, which I take to the SCAN food bank at St. James Episcopal Church on Rt. 2.

How to stop the Japanese beetles that cause the problem

     If you have brown patches in your lawn, I expect the cause is Japanese beetle grubs eating the roots of the grasses. Japanese beetles are out in full force, feasting on roses, linden trees and other favorite ornamentals, as well as puncturing and eating peaches, raspberries, blackberries and plums. Soon those same beetles will be landing on your lawn and depositing eggs in the earth. When those eggs hatch, hungry young larvae will begin feeding until fall when the soil cools and they burrow deeper in to survive the winter. Next spring those same larvae will crawl up closer to the roots of your lawn and resume feeding until they pupate and emerge as adults. The larvae are light gray with brown heads and curl into the letter C when disturbed.
    The brown patches you are now seeing are from last year’s larvae that survived the winter.
    Back when we lived in College Park, we did not have Japanese beetles. That’s because College Park was ground zero for the research that resulted in the development of the milky spore system of Japanese grub control. The developer was Dr. George Langford, chairman of the Department of Entomology. To test the effectiveness of the system, in the mid-1950s he treated all of the lawns within the city limits. A single treatment was highly effective.
    When Clara and I moved to Deale in 1990, the lawn was full of mole tunnels. Moles love to feast on. Realizing the mole problem was due to a large infestation of Japanese beetle grubs, I treated the entire lawn with milky spore powder the summer of 1991. It took three years before I had 100 percent control. I have never had to repeat the treatment. Japanese beetles are flying around and feasting on our little leaf linden, and they are laying eggs in my lawn, but the milky spore is digesting the larvae as they hatch. The milky spore system of control is self-supporting once it becomes well established. It has now been almost a quarter century since I first used milky spore, and I no longer have moles tunneling nor dead brown spots in my lawn.
    True, there are insecticides you can spread on your lawn that will kill the grub, but these insecticides have to be redone yearly. The use of them on lawns can also contribute to the pollution of the Bay. If you live near the Bay or its tributaries, do not use these insecticides; to be effective, they must be applied over the entire lawn.
    Milky spore is available in two forms, powder or granular. The powdered form is measured using one-quarter teaspoon at three-foot intervals. The granular form is applied using a spreader. One bag of granular milky spore will cover approximately 7,000 square feet. Milky spore must be thoroughly and promptly soaked into the soil soon after being applied. Applying it just before a predicted heavy rain is best unless you have an in-ground sprinkler system that covers the entire lawn.
    Milky spore can be used in the spring, summer or fall, but now is the best time because this is when the Japanese beetles are laying their eggs.
    Milky spore is a good, safe and effective grub control system, but it cannot be used in conjunction with any of the other harsh insecticides recommended for grub control. Having Japanese beetles laying eggs in your lawn every year keeps the milky spore population alive and well.

Live-line a spot

     We started our drift with just a touch of worry. The tide was falling faster and the wind, in the same direction at about 12 knots, was pushing up some uncomfortable waves. Hooking one of our few bait spot just in front of its dorsal fin and dropping it over the side, I was not confident.
    “I’m not sure this is going to work out,” I said to my buddy Moe. “That’s one of the joys of no Plan B,” he answered. “Keeps things simple. If it doesn’t, we go home.”
    By dropping the motor into reverse from time to time, we slowed the drift and kept our baits reasonably close to the boat. Monitoring our fish finder, I called out the occasional marks as they passed under us. We stuck with this routine for an hour with no success.
    “Looks like they stopped eating, ” I said.
    We had gotten two fish in the mid-20s earlier in the day. Then nothing. Until the fish finder screen lit up with a solid mass of hard arches from five feet down all the way to the bottom, some 20 feet below.
    “Get ready,” I warned. “If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen now.”
    At once, something took my bait and moved off.
    “Got a run,” I said.
    “Me too,” Moe replied.
    A few seconds later, I put my reel into gear. When the line came tight, I set the hook. My rod bent over down to the corks, and line peeled out. I heard my friend grunt up in the bow and out of the corner of my eye I saw him struggling with a hard-pulling fish.

Live-Lining: August’s Best Bet
    Right now, live-lining spot is one of the deadliest methods on the Chesapeake to seduce big rockfish onto your hook. The better fish are still mostly holding in small schools in open water cruising for baitfish, making conditions ideal for dropping a live spot down into their midst.
    Getting the bait is the biggest problem. The most desirable Norfolk spot — from three to five inches — are scarce. Perhaps last year’s fingerlings, which would be the proper size right now, were victims of our hard winter. Or perhaps it was just a disastrous spawn in 2013. For whatever reason, right-sized baits have been hard to catch this season.
    Lucky for me, the sports store where I work part-time has a consistent supply, and I have taken full advantage. But this morning when we swung by on the way to Sandy Point at 7am, they were almost all gone. We only managed to score a few.

Don’t Count Your Fish until It’s Boated
    It took five long and intense minutes until I had one big beautiful striper showing on the surface some 10 feet away. I reached for the net. The fish, however, took one last hard run — and the hook pulled. I watched that heavyweight vanish back into the depths.
    Soon Moe’s fish was alongside, and I did get that one in the net. It measured over 34 inches, fat and healthy, the virtual twin of the fish I had just lost. We ran back up current and dropped again over the school, managing a 32-inch prize into the boat. That limited us out for the day, and just in time. We were out of spot.
 

Organic matter adds ­hidden benefits to soil

Addition of organic matter does great things for soil. It works as a slow-release fertilizer and source of essential nutrients. It reduces the density of heavy silt and clay loam soils. It improves soil’s nutrient retention and increases water retention. All of these benefits redound to plant growth.

Retention of nutrients
    Adding organic matter to soils increases the retention of nutrients and makes them available to the roots of plants. This process is known as increasing the cation-exchange capacity of soils. You learned in the July 24 column how organic matter releases nutrients slowly through mineralization. In addition to supplying the major elements, compost supplies trace elements such as boron (B), iron (Fe), zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn), sulfur (S) and copper (Cu). These essential trace elements are important to the growth of healthy plants and to the quality of the crops they produce. But they’re not part of commercial fertilizer mixes.
    Increasing the cation exchange is especially important in sandy loams or loamy sands. Nutrients leach through these sandy soils quickly. Because sandy soils are well aerated, they do not retain organic matter. So to maintain productivity on sandy soils requires frequent applications compost or animal manure and the use of cover crops.
    On sandy loams or loamy sands, use no more compost or manure than six cubic yards per 1,000 square feet for the initial application. On silt or clay loam soils, make that four cubic yards as these soils are better able to retain nutrients than sandy loams or loamy sands. Repeated applications should be one-half or one-quarter.
Water-holding Capacity
    The addition of organic matter to sandy soils increases water-holding capacity.
    The addition of organic matter to heavy silt or clay loam soils increases water infiltration, thus increasing their ability to retain water while at the same time allowing excess water to drain.

Soil Density Reduction
    It won’t work to use sand to improve the drainage of heavy silt or clay loam soils. Short of 55 to 60 percent, the addition of sand will only result in making the soil like concrete.
    Adding 10 percent compost will increase both the organic matter concentration and the productivity of heavy silt or clay loam. Pine fines are one of the better organic materials to use to lighten heavy soils. Pine fines are a waste product from the manufacturing of pine bark mulches. Because pine fines contain high levels of lignins — a source of organic matter that resists decomposition — pine fines will persist in the soil for a long time.

Disease Control
    Another hidden benefit of amending soils with compost is its ability to control soil-borne diseases. Quality compost contains three naturally occurring fungicides and numerous beneficial microorganisms known to control common soil-borne diseases as fusarium, pythium and rhizoctinia. To get this bonus, use recently made compost. As the compost ages, these benefits are gradually lost as the biological activity of the compost decreases.

Sweet fish swim in sweetwater

     Rockfish, bluefish, perch, spot and croaker dominate the summertime fishing news when it comes to recreational species in Maryland. But almost half of all the fishing licenses sold by Maryland Department of Natural Resources are purchased by sweet-water anglers.
    We have at least as many largemouth bass anglers as any other group of devotees. They have a considerable number of bass-specific waters to choose from. The lakes, ponds and impoundments harboring bucketmouths in Maryland number over 100. Most host good populations of sizable bass plus their numerous cousins: the bluegill, crappie, perch and pickerel.
    The headwaters of the Chesapeake and up into the Susquehanna River also provide great bass fishing, as do the higher reaches of the notable big tribs such as the Choptank, the Monocacy, the Potomac and the Pocomoke among at least 25 others listed in DNR inventories. All are prime, non-tidal, large-mouth destinations.
    Trout fishers also swell the ranks of freshwater habitués. Their opportunities are considerable as well. The upper Gunpowder is a blue-ribbon tailwater trout stream. The low temperatures from the regulated water flow of the Prettyboy Dam have resulted in a self-sustaining native trout stream that provides excellent fishing.
    Other trout waters, such as the Savage River (excellent), the Youghiogheny River (almost as good) and the well-rated Casselman as well as another 50 recognized trout streams provide considerable stretches of fishable streamside.
    Jabez Branch off Severn Run is the only self-sustaining native brook-trout fishery in the state, though these gorgeous fish are also released in the Gunpowder and Savage.
    Surprisingly, Baltimore’s Patapsco River births two great trout fishing locations, a three-mile stretch below the Daniels Dam and the Avalon area in Elkridge.
    Over 200 publicly accessible sweet-water environs provide excellent habitat for a multitude of species including brown trout, brook trout and rainbows as well as largemouth, smallmouth and rock bass, walleye pike, chain pickerel, muskellunge, northern pike, yellow perch, black crappie, white crappie, warmouth, bluegill and red-ear sunfish plus flathead and channel catfish.
    Now we can add to that considerable list the infamous and storied snakehead. This invasive reputedly has an excellent table quality. It fights, too, taking top-water lures (especially frog imitations fished among the lily pads) with an extreme violence that has to be experienced to be appreciated. The Potomac River offers the best chances of tangling with these guys.
    Another introduced species — long available just about everywhere there is a body of water — is the common carp. A food staple of Asia, this fish has an established fan base including, most recently, fly anglers. Maryland has also recently added the blue catfish to their list of piscatorial interlopers. Both the carp and the blue cat can approach 100 pounds, which translates into some epic battles. Those who know how to prepare them for the table harvest quantities of excellent eating.
    So if saltwater fishing on the Chesapeake is becoming discouraging there are other options. To loosely paraphrase Bill Waterson’s Calvin character in his memorable last installment, “It’s a wonderful sweetwater world out there. Maybe it’s time to go exploring.”

Part 2: How to supply nutrients organically

     In organic gardening, all nutrients are supplied through the process of mineralization. As organic matter is decomposed by the microorganisms that digest the cellulose and hemi-cellulose, minerals contained within the cells of the animal or plant tissues are released into the soil. After the microorganisms have digested all digestible cells, they die. Since their bodies consist mostly of proteins, the proteins are broken down by enzymes, releasing more nutrients, mostly nitrogen (N), into the soil. 
    The rate of mineralization is dependent on temperatures in the soil.
    Under laboratory conditions, mineralization rates are measured at room temperature, 72 degrees. Moist soil samples are held in temperature-controlled containers for several days, then the amount of available nitrogen in the soil is measured. This process is repeated until the figures are stable. Mineralization rates are faster at temperatures above room temperature and significantly slower at temperatures below room temperature. At 72 degrees, the mineralization of compost is between eight and 10 percent. Mineralization of organic matter stops when soil temperatures approach the freezing point.
    The rate of mineralization has a major effect on plant growth.
    Because soils are cooler in the early spring, the rate of growth is often reduced for early spring crops such as peas, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and spinach. Cooler soils mean fewer nutrients becoming available. This problem can be minimized by selecting south-facing slopes for early spring and late fall crops. Planting the crops on ridges is another method of encouraging early warming of soils. A soil raised above a natural grade warms faster than a soil that is level on grade. Covering the area to be planted with a sheet of clear polyethylene several weeks before planting, followed by ridging and covering the ridges with black plastic mulch, is labor intensive but will stimulate early mineralization. Soils warm very rapidly under clear plastic due to the greenhouse effect. However, anticipate early growth of spring weeds, requiring light cultivation or spraying with horticultural vinegar. Ridging and mulching with black plastic will also provide weed control.
    Apply no more than four cubic yards of compost or animal manure per 1,000 square feet in any one year. Five percent is one year’s limit for organic matter added to the soil. Excessive applications of either can stimulate excessive vegetative growth and weak spindly plants. With the mineralization rate eight to 10 percent, 90 to 92 percent of the minerals remain in the soil’s organic matter. So repeated applications of compost and organic matter should be based on soil test results.
    If existing soils contain less than three percent organic matter, an initial application of four cubic yards of compost or animal manure the first year followed by repeated applications at two cubic yards in successive years (or on alternate years for sandy soils) can be adequate. In silt or clay loam soils, these levels may be excessive, requiring greater dependency on soil test results.
    Initially, compost or animal manure should be incorporated to a depth of six to eight inches, deeper if possible. Because organic matter reduces the bulk density of soils, deep incorporation promotes deep rooting, making crops more tolerant to drought. As deep incorporation of organic matter promotes deep rooting, the roots that penetrate this region will continue to maintain the organic matter concentration in that region.
    Repeated applications of compost or animal manure should be incorporated only in the upper three inches of soil. This results in concentrating the nutrients in the region where seed germination occurs and where roots of new transplants initiate growth. Leaching will move nutrients deeper into the soil as the growing season progresses.

When fishing is good it is very good; When it is bad, it’s still pretty good

     I’ve suddenly run into a problem I haven’t had in quite some time. I’m having the devil’s own time catching good rockfish. During the long lulls between bites, an explanation has emerged for my difficulties and disappointments.
    I blame it all on last season. Last season was phenomenal. Big fish in quantities rarely seen around the mid-Bay remained all the way through the year. I could rise at 9am, get on the water by 10am and most always have my limit of 10-pounders by noon.
    Last year, the chum bite was astoundingly effective until late June, when live-lining took over and was even better. This year is developing much differently. The schools of big fish that settled all around the mid-Bay are gone.
    Chumming is already dropping off. Live-lining has not developed, what with the dearth of small spot and rockfish being both scarcer and more finicky.
    My attempts to find them where I did last season have wasted a lot of fishing time. Likewise, my insistence on behaving as if they would eventually show up has led more poor performances than I would like to admit.
    Sticking to my schedule of rising late and still expecting to find good fish is proving to be another major error. The summertime heat is apparently shutting down the bite after 10am. My unreasonable expectations (again, based on last season) are causing me unnecessary emotional trauma.
    A smaller quantity of rockfish and the many anglers searching for them means that to be successful one must achieve ideal conditions, fishing better times of day and night plus making it a priority to find where the fish are located. Wait for them to come to you, and they most likely won’t.
    The few rockfish frequenting last year’s traditional locations do not remain long once discovered. Avoid areas of high fishing pressure to get fish in the box.
    In other areas that have proven productive in the past, stripers gather during the dark, quiet hours to feed but flee as soon as the sun rises or boats arrive. Being the first to fish any particular structure or holding area counts.
    To catch fish consistently this year, you’ll want to start very early or very late. I’m talking about being on the water nearer 5am or starting at sundown and fishing into the night. You will encounter more fish at these times, and when you do find them they are much more likely to take your bait or lure.
    If you’re fishing structure by casting or drifting baits, sound discipline is critical, especially in shallow water. Consider electric power or turning off your engine while working an area. Another good tactic is to sit quietly and do nothing for a good five minutes after arriving at the location you intend to fish. You’ll be surprised at the results.
    Fewer fish are in residence this year. The stripers that are here are under heavy pressure, spooked and uncooperative. Anglers will have to be at the top of their game and using every trick in their arsenal when pursuing them.
    On the Chesapeake, when fishing is good it is very, very good, and when it is bad, it’s still pretty good.

Lesson 1: From the ground up

     Organic gardening is a science based on being able to supply nutrient needs and ideal growing conditions that will produce healthy plants that can resist diseases and pests. Fruit and vegetables free of pesticides are considered healthier because they are untouched by man-made chemicals with the potential to cause health problems.
    Success in growing plants organically begins with selecting land that can generate ideal growing conditions. Site and soil are of utmost importance. Establishing an organic garden on a slight slope facing south gives you soil that warms more rapidly in the spring and stays warmer in the fall than soil on a northern slope. A warmer soil will release nutrients from organic soil matter faster. Sandy soil will warm faster than silt or clay soil because there is less water present and the soil is denser. However, during drought, sandy soils will need supplemental irrigation and/or mulch to satisfy the water needs of the plants.
    Full sun also helps warm the soil, enabling the release of nutrients from organic matter and maximizing ­photosynthesis.
    Well-drained soils are essential to promote deep rooting of plants and early warming of soils. Avoid poorly drained soils. Good air drainage is essential for the rapid drying of foliage to minimize disease problems.
    Since the organic content of the soil is the primary source of nutrients for plants, the pH measurement of soil acidity should be monitored by regular soil testing at three-to-five-year intervals. Soil testing is also a guide to maintaining optimum levels of nutrients such as calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) and to prevent phosphorus (P) and manganese (Mn) from accumulating in excessive amounts.
    The organic garden thrives on organic matter. To be successful, you need to increase the organic matter of the soil to five percent and above. For every percent of organic matter present in soils, 10 pounds of nitrogen (N) is generated per acre per year through a biological process known as mineralization. To obtain optimum yield, you must maintain the organic matter content of the soil at between five and 10 percent. Maintaining levels of organic matter concentration above five percent requires yearly applications of organic matter. Good sources include compost, animal manure and organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion, cotton seed meal, bone meal and compost tea.
    In choosing seeds, the organic gardener seeks varieties with vigorous growth characteristics and disease resistance. In planting, avoid over-crowding, which increases competition among plants for sunlight and moisture. Crowded plants are more susceptible to diseases because they tend to be weak and their foliage is likely to remain wet for prolonged periods of time.
    Healthy plants are more resistant to diseases than weak plants. However, healthy plants are equally susceptible to insect damage, though they are better able to tolerate limited plant damage before significantly reducing yields.