If a vow to eschew synthetics in favor of organic or natural methods is at the top of your list, fear not. It may be easier than you think.

For most of the synthetic pesticides or fertilizers on the market, there likely is a natural product or method that will solve the same problem.

In natural gardening, solutions to problems often involve a process that takes place over time rather than a quick fix from a chemical.

But here are some of substitutions that can be made.

Roundup vs. vinegar

Many gardeners who avoid synthetics will occasionally resort to a weed and grass killer product or glyphosate to kill weeds. That's because glyphosate does not harm soil microbes, earthworms or other microorganisms in the soil. It rarely leaches into ground water.

But another solution is a shot of strong vinegar, one that contains 10 percent or more acidic acid instead of the 5 percent common in household vinegar. The stronger vinegar is available at nurseries that specialize in organic products.

Boiling-hot water will often do the trick on weeds that pop up between patio bricks.

A layer of wood bark mulch about 1 to 2 inches thick also helps keep weeds in check.

Miracle-Gro vs. natural foliar feeds

Instead of a synthetic plant food, such as Miracle-Gro, Volgas gives his plants a temporary boost with his own mix of nutritious liquids sprayed on the leaves.

His recipe calls for about two gallons of compost tea blended with one cup each of liquid seaweed, fish emulsion and blackstrap molasses, a substance rich in iron, carbohydrates and potassium. The black strap molasses in this formula is also an effective insecticide.

To make compost tea, he puts several handfuls of compost in old panty hose or a special compost tea bag and lets it steep in tap water for at least 24 hours.

Dry synthetic fertilizer vs. homemade mixes

Volgas also makes his own dry fertilizer by combining two parts worm castings, one part bonemeal, one part rock phosphate, one part greensand and five parts humus (either compost or a product called Hu-More).

He uses a light sprinkling of it as a side-dressing around the base of plants and scratches it into the soil. He also sprinkles alfalfa pellets on the soil when he wants to add nitrogen.

"Because all of these products are non-chemical, the exact percentages are not critical," Volgas said.

In addition to the nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus in synthetics, the natural products in Volgas's mix add calcium and trace minerals to the soil.

"It's like a slow-release fertilizer," Vol

Orthene and other broad-spectrum insecticides kill beneficial insects as well as harmful ones.

Insecticidal soaps break down the cell membranes of pests such as aphids, mealy bugs and mites.

Horticultural oils smother pests such as aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies and scales.

Light oils can be used during the growing season; the heavier types are used when plants are dormant.

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