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Published: Tuesday, 3/2/2004

Compost is a key to organic strategy

If Marvin Duren has his way, a growing number of gardeners will use organic weapons to wage war on weeds.

Mr. Duren, owner of a certified organic garden center in Lebanon, Ohio, says less than five percent of gardeners are completely organic. He says he promotes products and methods that are environmentally safe, benefiting all parts of the landscape: turf, annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees.

"I don't need to buy fungicides, pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilizers," says Mr. Duren, who will speak March 18 at the 577 Foundation in Perrysburg. "Homemade compost helps feed the garden better in the long run." Compost is like gourmet food for plants, he says. Some compost includes fish emulsion, sea kelp. and soybean meal, which is very plentiful and a good source of nitrogen.

"Many chemical fertilizers contain ammonia, and ammonia isn't good for earthworms," he says. Because earthworms are good soil aerators and will enrich the soil with their castings, he suggests using compost.

"Don't till, plow, or invert your soil. That pulverizes the structure of the microorganisms," Mr. Duren says. "The key to all gardening is to raise the organic levels within the soil, and compost will do that for you naturally. Learn how to top dress and plant in compost."

He recommends making a raised bed with five to six inches of compost on top of the turf. "If you want to make sure the grass doesn't grow up through it, put a layer of wet newspaper down first, then shovel the compost on top of the newspaper and plant your garden."

For a healthier lawn, Mr. Duren has a simple suggestion: Raise the mower blade. "It might take some getting used to, but raise the blade as high as it will go, and your grass will be healthier," he says. "If you set your mower blade so that you mow at 3 1/2 to 4 inches, grass will become healthier and will choke out the weeds." And don't rake the grass clippings, he says. Instead, leave them on the lawn for the earthworms.

If you feed your lawn, he recommends using organic fertilizer. A top dressing of good compost every five years will also keep a lawn well fed with the nutrients it needs. He recommends using about an inch across the entire lawn. "Work it into the turf with a garden rake or a leaf rake. It will hold more nutrients and water for your turf and keep it greener longer."

Mr. Duren will speak on "Gardening Organically" at 7 p.m. March 18 at the 577 Foundation, 577 East Front St., Perrysburg. The event is sponsored by the 577 Foundation and the Organic Gardening Forum. Admission is $5 per person. Reservations are required, and may be made by calling the 577 Foundation at 419-874-4174.



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