What is Organic Gardening?
Organic gardening is the practice of not using synthetic pesticides and fertilizer in your garden. Instead, you harness the power of nature to work with you to create healthy, vibrant plants, fruits and vegetables.
Does this mean it’s more difficult and time-consuming? Not at all! In fact, organic gardening is often easier than regular gardening. Why? Instead of spending time mixing synthetic fertilizers, constantly spraying weeds and wondering why your vegetable yields are dropping year by year, you really only have to pay attention to one thing – the soil. Keep your soil healthy and replenished with rich, natural minerals and organic matter, and everything else will grow healthy and strong.
Healthy soil means your plants and lawn will be better able to resist pests and crowd out weeds. After a while, you will begin to find yourself spending less time maintaining your garden, and more time just enjoying it. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll revel and enjoy working on it more!
There is another benefit to going organic – you will begin to learn how your garden actually works. You will want to spend more time outside, and with that you will begin to see more of the wonders of nature in your own backyard. You will learn what butterflies like which flowers. You will begin to understand why some plants thrive so well together. You will know why weeds grow the way they do, and what permanent and natural techniques to use to keep them away. Care for your garden naturally, and your plants, shrubs and vegetables will thrive.
What Does it Mean to be an Organic Gardener?
- An organic gardener uses natural minerals and organic fertilizers to build up the soil. Instead of chemicals, you use natural fertilizers like composted manure (don’t worry, it’s not stinky!), bone meal, fish meal, gypsum, eggshells, and of course, the best of all (and free!), your own composting material.
- Instead of using chemical pesticides and herbicides, organic gardeners use natural and even home-made alternatives. Chemicals are often broad-spectrum, meaning they will kill good and bad insects. As you know more about how your garden works, you will know how to treat specific pests and diseases without harming your plants, butterflies and birds.
- You will be thinking long-term. Instead of dumping flowers into a flower garden every spring, you will be aware of soil conditioning, what plants work best together, and how you will help rejenerate your garden next year. You will be thinking of your garden as a whole, not as individual plants.
- Caring for your lawn is almost free. Conventional lawn care involves expensive chemicals and treatments to make it appear green and healthy, when in fact it is slowly killing it. Organic gardeners will test their soil for the optimal soil acidity to encourage strong lawn growth. In the long run you will be caring for it less. Healthy soil and strong grass means weeds will have a harder time taking root, and brown patches will disappear (because you will know why brown patches exist and how to combat it naturally).
- Weed control without herbicides means knowing how to prevent them from growing in the first place and discouraging their growth. I myself have developed an effective three-pronged approach, which I discuss in my organic gardening ebook.
- Organic gardening is a philosophy, and it is a simple one: you give back to nature what you take from it. What this means is constantly replenishing your soil, and realizing that your garden is part of Mother Nature’s life cycle.
As an organic gardener, you will not only be giving back to the land, you will be creating a safe and healthy place for children, birds, pets and helpful insects like butterflies, bees and dragonflies. There are countless reasons to go organic, from saving the environment to keeping your family chemical-free to harvesting healthy vegetables. Organic is not a new way to garden – it is simply going back to growing food and plants the way nature intended!
Organic Gardening for Beginners
This section gives information on , and provides tips and techniques to establish your own organic garden!
How to Design an Eco-Friendly Garden Like a Pro
Formulating Your Design – As a gardener, it is important to me that I try to be as eco-friendly as possible when I design my garden. I have to take many factors into consideration such as the climate in which I live, the average amount of rainfall in my area, and the natural contour and content of the land I will be gardening.
All of these things will help me determine the steps I need to take to make my garden environmentally friendly but still yield beautiful, lush flowers and shrubs or tasty, healthy vegetables. Some eco-friendly garden designs can be quite involved and a little expensive while others are simple and affordable. The steps you take designing your eco-friendly garden will depend on the level of desire you have to protect the environment as well as your budget.
How to Establish an Organic Garden – There are several ways in which you can make an garden organic. If you follow these simple steps, you can have an organic garden:
- Soil Conditioner – Many people use synthetic fertilizers to condition the soil of their garden. This can be harmful to the environment. In an organic garden, instead of using a synthetic fertilizer you would use organic matter as a soil conditioner. Organic matter includes things such as decaying plants and animal waste. (Please be aware that some animal waste should not be used in gardening, such as dog feces or cat litter.) Things such as dried leaves, grass clippings, and food scraps are all examples of organic matter.
- Feeding the Soil – It is important in organic gardening to feed the soil because the soil is what feeds the plants. The soil needs to be conducive to plant health. By conditioning the soil with organic matter you will improve the soil’s texture. You will also attract vital soil organisms that will help to create much needed nutrients in the soil.
- Pest Control – Synthetic pesticides are not used in an organic garden, so this means that you will have to be extra vigilant in your pest control. Plants in an organic garden may not look as perfect as those plants in a garden that uses pesticides, but you have to recognize the trade off. By inspecting your plants regularly you can help keep pests off of your plants.
Other Tips of Organic Gardening for Beginners and Ways to Protect the Wildlife in Your Garden
- Teach your kids to respect nature and all forms of garden wildlife
- Use only organic pesticides
- Keep the family pet away from the garden’s wildlife
Organic Vegetable Gardening
There is no better satisfaction than growing and eating your own juicy, healthy food from your organic vegetable garden. Plump red tomatoes, crunchy carrots, fresh potatoes and long cucumbers, all lovingly harvested and arranged on your kitchen table.
Commercial vs. Organic Vegetables
You likely know that garden-fresh vegetables taste better than store-bought, and do you know why? Home-grown veggies taste better simply because they contain more nutrients. The quality of the soil is what makes your food. In order to feed the billions of people on this planet, farmers must resort to tons of chemical fertilizer to keep our food supply going.
Synthetic fertilizer does not add organic matter to the soil (they mainly add nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) nor do they replenish the hundreds of micro nutrients needed for well-rounded, nutrient-rich food. Not enough nutrients in the soil means that crops are more susceptible to disease and insects. Pesticides are essential to keep our commercial food alive, because there is nothing in the soil to help – no beneficial bacteria, fungi or insects to help fight disease and deliver nutrients to the roots.
Thus, the food we eat from the conventional grocery store is laden with pesticides and lacking in a lot of the micro-nutrients we need to stay healthy. This is the trade off for cheap food and industrial farming. “Eat your veggies!” rings hollow if the vegetables we eat do not fulfill our nutritional needs.
If you are just beginning your foray into organic gardening after using synthetics, be aware that, in the beginning, you may not be satisfied with your results. Synthetics are popular simply because they give immediate results. As an organic gardener, you will realize that the natural process takes time – all fertilizers are slow-release, and building up your soil with disease-fighting microbes is a multi-year process.
In the meantime, you will have a more thorough knowledge of how plants grow, more butterflies and birds in your garden, a flourishing army of insects and microbes in the soil that fights pests and plant disease for you, and more savings in your wallet – you will be using free compost from your kitchen scraps and yard clippings rather than repeatedly buying chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
The end result is … yes, healthier, juicier, tastier vegetables!
Creating Your Vegetable Garden the Organic Way
There are as many different ways to plant a garden as their are gardeners, but these basic steps will get you started:
- Plan your vegetable garden – Situate it in an area of good drainage and in a sunny location.
- Check your soil’s pH level – Remember when I mentioned that soil means everything? Your vegetables will be sickly and eventually die if it’s not at the right pH. You want it to be neutral (about 7, the same as water). Contact your country extension office to test your pH, or do it yourself with a kit.
- Prepare your soil – Early in the season, till and aerate your soil and mix in a few inches of compost and other organic matter such as composted manures (for extra nitrogen). You may also consider soil amendments like various meals, greensand and alfalfa pellets that add essential minerals, if your soil is deficient. Remember that organic fertilizer is slow-release – it may take a few weeks to become effective, so build your soil at least three weeks before planting.
- Planting season – Whether from seed or from a garden center, plant your vegetable crop when the danger of frost is past, and when the buds are on the trees. Stagger your plantings – that is, plant the same species at different times, so you’ll have a constantly ripening supply of vegetables, rather than having them ripen all at once. Water deeply, then only every few days. You want the roots to grow strong to seek water sources deeper in the soil. You may wish to invest in a soaker hose to both conserve water and to only wet the soil, not the leaves.
Organic Gardening Guides
How to Organic Garden
- What is Organic Gardening?
- Organic Vegetable Gardening
- Organic Flower Gardening
- Designing Your Garden
- Planting From Seed
- Composting Supplies
- How to Make a Compost Bin
- 7 Methods of Highly Effective Composting
- Other Compost Articles
Organic Fertilizer and Soil
- Organic Fertilizer
- Liquid Organic Fertilizer
- More Isn’t Better: Organic Fertilizer Myths Busted
- How to Sterilize Soil
- Organic Amendments to Add to Your Soil
Pesticides and Weed Control
- Organic Pesticides Guide
- Organic Weed Control with Corn Gluten
- Fighting Pests with Beneficial Insects
- Natural Repellents
- Pre-Treating Your Seeds before Planting
- What is a Seed?
- Slight Detour from Compost: Seed Starting
- Eggshells Seed Starting
Gardening Book Reviews
- Mulch – After the days are warm, begin mulching. Mulch is thick organic matter, such as hay, grass clippings, newsprint and leaves. Apply over the soil and near (but not touching) the stems of your plants. Mulch provides a protective covering for your soil, helping to retain moisture, prevents weed growth (if applied several inches thick), and keeps the soil temperature even.
- Pest control – Yes, insects will wish to dine on your plants. The “eww” part will be using non-chemical methods to get rid of the larger ones – yup, picking them off. The good news is that you have mother nature on your side – every pest insect has a predator. When you spot the problem, find out what pest is causing damage – each problem insect will have solutions. As a quick example, introducing ladybugs (and you can actually!) feed on aphids. In a pesticide-free garden, the beneficial insects will begin to arrive and live in your garden, protecting your plants and feeding on pests. Read the quick tips to learn more about pest control.
- Disease control – Fungi is the #1 cause of plant disease, and it will always pose a problem. The best practice is to minimize what causes fungus growth. Do not overwater (this causes mold growth on the soil and root rot), properly prune your plants, make sure the soil is aerated, encourage proper air circulation around your plants by not planting too close, and cut away and dispose of diseased parts (DO NOT compost them!). Clean your garden tools with bleach after using them, especially after treating diseased plants. Wash your clothing as well. Mold spores easily stick to your clothing, and you can inadvertently transport them around your garden or even your houseplants. Organic fungicides are also available to help combat plant disease.
- Mid-summer fertilizer side dressing – At mid-summer, your first batch of compost should be ready. Apply it between the rows of your crops and carefully mix it into the soil. This acts as a good, gentle boost to reinvigorate your soil after the heavy early growing season.
- Harvest time – You did it! If you staggered your plantings, you will begin to have a constant supply of fresh vegetables. Depending on the vegetable, you will either harvest them when they are young (ie beans) or when they are full and ripe (ie tomatoes). There are a variety of ways to store them. Harvest in the morning, and on cloudy or cooler days. This way, the veggies will have a higher water content.
- After harvest – Once your plants are harvested, immediately uproot them. If they are not diseased, chop or shred them and place in your compost, or bury them. If you have a few weeks before frost, plant a “green manure” cover crop of alfalfa, clover and other legumes. These plants actually draw nitrogen from the air, rather than from the ground, resulting in a net nitrogen increase. Before they seed, plow them over so they decompose in the soil, adding nitrogen.
- Winterizing your vegetable garden – To avoid pest problems next spring, clean your garden of rotten fruit, moldy leaves and weeds with seeds. (Dispose of these, do not add to your compost pile.) Then add a protective layer of mulch (lawn clippings and shredded leaves) that will form some insulation from harsh winters and add more nutrients as they slowly decompose.
Bountiful vegetable gardens are an act of love and care, and keeping them healthy and well-tended for years to come mainly depends on organic practices such as developing healthy soil rich with nutrients and beneficial microbes, various natural protein meals and, of course, compost.
Quick Tips for Successful Organic Veggies
- To save space, plant crops that mature at different times. For instance, radish seeds will germinate before carrots and beets, and will be ready to harvest and eat when the other vegetables begin to sprout
- Plant lettuce between other, taller plants, as they will benefit from the shade during the hot summer days
- Try staggered planting to provide a steady bounty of vegetables in the late summer and through the fall. For instance, plant tomatoes every two weeks or so. That way, they will all ripen at different times, so when you’re finished eating the first planting, the second will be ready for you to harvest.
- Learn about companion planting – many vegetables thrive better, protect each other and even taste better when grown together.
- Control pests by learning some simple organic practices – companion planting to fool pests (they mainly find a food source by scent and color, so mixing in other plants may confuse them), cleaning your garden to prevent a safe haven for pests, adding nectar-producing plants to encourage benefical insect populations (your army against the bad insects), and using only local methods for specific pest problems – this is so you do not accidentally kill beneficial insects in your yard.
Great Books on Organic Vegetable Gardening
I found these books to be a wealth of information on growing your own vegetables:
Organic Flower Gardening
Creating a beautiful flower garden using only organic methods not only benefits you and your family’s health, it brings nature back into your garden. Organic flower gardening means using no synthetic herbicides and pesticides, as well as adding no chemical fertilizer in your flower beds.
Landscaped paths and patios can also increase the aesthetic appeal of your garden, there are plenty of places online to find natural stones to create nice garden walkways.
Going chemical-free may be a tall order for many gardeners, who feel they risk the chance of ruining their gardening season with insect infestations, disease and smaller blooms. And yet, your organic gardening neighbor next door achieves beautiful, disease-free flowers year after year. What’s the secret? Long, aggravating hours in the garden? Nope. You only have to know one thing:
Organic gardeners pay attention to the soil
That’s the big secret. Everybody knows that if you only eat junk food, your health will decline. It is the same with your flowers. Chemical fertilizers are the junk food. Your plants will appear to be healthy, because these fertilizers bring fast, efficient results – that’s why they are so popular.
However, they do not add organic material to the soil, and in the long run, your garden will look become more depleted of essential nutrients. So you have to apply more fertilizer. And more. It is a vicious cycle, and disease and pests constantly attack your plants, which requires more pesticides. Not to mention that you are constantly spending money on all these products.
There must be a better way. Thankfully, there is.
So what do I mean by building up the soil? As an organic gardener, this is what you will be mainly adding:
- Compost – Compost is basic dirt, but full of rich, fluffy matter. Make or buy a compost bin right away. Add kitchen scraps, lawn clippings, dryer lint, coffee grinds, shredded leaves and weeds with no seeds to your bin. Anything will decompose, but there are a few techniques to dramatically speed up the process. Not only will you now have a free source of new soil, you will contribute less garbage to the landfill.
- Composted manures – Manures are rich in nitrogen, and as they are composted, they will look and smell like regular soil (so no “ick” factor!) Mix with your compost for extra nutrients and nitrogen in the spring. As the years go by, you can add less and less.
- Soil Amendments (Maybe) – If your soil is exhausted from years of conventional fertilizer applications, you may need to add some micro-nutrients that chemicals do not offer. Various meals, alfalfa pellets, greensand and other amendments add the other nutrients beyond the three numbers on your fertilizer bag (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.) It is highly recommended you test your soil by contacting your local agricultural extension office or do it yourself with a kit.
Be aware that healthy soil will not happen right away. It may even take a few seasons. Building up the soil takes time, and you have to learn how to plant your flowers in such a way to discourage pests and encourage good insects to thrive in your garden.
Caring For Your Flower Garden the Organic Way
Bountiful flower gardens are an act of love and care, and healthy organic soil is the key to success. Rich soil is full of beneficial microbes that help strengthen your plant, fight disease, and even combat and eat the pests that attack your plants. Healthy plants mean stronger blooms and better disease-resistance. The lack of pesticides will mean that beneficial insects will return to your garden, and will actually help clear away the pests (by feeding on them, yum yum!) Yes, you will have your own, home-grown army to fight pest insects for you!
Disease, such as mold and fungus, is always a major problem with flowers. Here are a couple practices to minimize disease in your garden:
- Healthy soil – No need to repeat what I said, but just remember, plants are able to better resist disease when they are healthy – just like any animal and human. Another point to mention is that if you use compost, you have little danger of over-fertilizing your plants, which can burn the roots.
- Cleanliness – If one of your plants has a fungus or rust problem, clean it up! No disease, no problem. Yes, it’s as simple as that. Before reaching for expensive fungicides, pick off the affected leaves and dispose of all diseased plants and materials in the garbage (not the compost.) Clean your tools with bleach and water to kill any spores, and wash your gardening gloves and clothes. Spores can easily be carried on your clothing – you certainly do not want to be the reason why fungus has spread to other areas of your yard!
- Intercropping – Many diseases rely on one type of plant, so planting different species together will block disease from spreading to other plants.
- Companion Planting – Similar to intercropping, many plants thrive better when certain other plants are nearby. For instance, onions (or garlic, chives and shallots) guard roses from black spot and aphids. Be aware that the opposite is true – some plants repel each other.
- Proper Watering – Too much water encourages mold growth, too little cripples the disease-fighting capabilities of plants. For best results, water in the morning, water the soil if possible, and make sure the ground is moist but not too wet.
Tips For Beautiful Flower Gardens
- Stagger your plantings by season:
- Spring – The first plants to show in the spring are spring bulbs and Forget-me-nots, followed by
Wallflowers. Pansies can withstand some late frosts. Peonies and iris are perennials that will appear early.
- Summer – Base your summer border on strong, upright, spiky shapes of traditional favorites such as lupins, delphiniums,
as well as Campanula, Astilbe and Achillea.
- Thru the fall – Add some Daylilies and Hollyhocks, Monarda, Sweet William and Gaillardia and you will have a succession of plants that will take you through the fall.
- If you have a herbaceous border you will want to plant the tallest plants at the back, with the medium ones in front and the short ones as edging. If you have an island bed, then you should plant the taller plants in the middle. This type of bed is easier to maintain as you can get at it from all sides.
- Annuals should be added to your flower beds as they will keep your garden in color all summer long. Popular suggestions include Petunias, Geraniums, Poppies, Marigolds and Salvia.
- Try vines as great border plants! You can use Sweet Peas or Clematis to run along the ground and wind it’s way through the border.
- To keep your borders or beds in good shape, dead-head plants where the flowers have faded (pinch them off with your fingertips for soft plants like annuals, use pruning sheers for woodier plants.) This makes way for new blooms.
- If you have hanging baskets, you can water them by placing ice cubes on the tops of the baskets. This allows the baskets to get watered slowly, which is better than blasting the plants with the hose.
- Keep track of the sun and see where it hits your garden throughout the day. Plant accordingly. For instance, Impatiens and Hosta grow best in the shade, but will grow in sun if well watered. Foxgloves do best in the shade, and Petunias thrive in full sun.
- The products of your garden can be used as funeral flowers and could become a good source of income, so make sure to take extra care of them and follow the tips above.
- Be aware that healthy soil will not happen right away. It may even take a few seasons. Building up the soil takes time, and you have to learn how to plant your flowers in such a way to discourage pests and encourage good insects to thrive in your garden.
Online Garden Stores selling garden supplies and organic fertilizers for vegetables:
Park Seed offers a huge variety of high-quality vegetable seeds, unusual varieties,…purple cauliflower anyone?) and gardening supplies. Browse through their online catalogue or find plants based on your zone, and have them delivered straight to your door.
Garden’s Alive! specializes in environmentally friendly garden products that work, such as organic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
Gardener’s Supply is an employee-owned store promoting everything from seed kits to compost supplies to garden furniture. Their gardening certified staff are passionate about time-tested, environmentally-friendly products, and have millions of satisfied customers.
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