Have you been trying to eat more organic foods to decrease the number of harmful pesticides you and your family eat?
Buying organic gets expensive very fast. One trip to the organic section of your grocery store will tell you that the cost of organic produce is high and still rising. That's where organic gardening comes in. Organic gardening might sound a little intimidating, so we put together this guide. Here are 9 easy steps for starting an organic garden.
Start Off on the Right Foot
You'll want to start by getting yourself the equipment you need. A good pair of clippers, a trowel, soil testing kids, a compost bin, gloves, and a watering can are a good place to start.
Next, you need to know your growing season. This can be a confusing part of the process, but it's also very important in knowing what you can plant and when.
Track your sunshine, too. If you have an established garden be or you are creating the beds yourself, it's important to know how the sun hits your plants through the day. The amount of direct sunlight your growing space gets will determine what you can grow.
Prepare Your Soil
If you want the best results with your organic garden, you'll want the soil to be properly conditioned. Plants have to eat just like we do, so make sure you pack the soil with lots of fresh nutrients.
Healthy soil helps plants to grow up to be strong and productive.
The best way to get an idea of whats in your soil is to get it tested. You can get a home testing kit or send a sample to your local agricultural extension office. Sending in a sample to your local agricultural extension office is the best choice.
For a small fee, you'll find out the pH and nutrient levels for your soil and recommended treatments. But make sure they know you're going organic.
Test your soil in the fall and add organic nutrients before winter makes the ground too hard.
If you don't have time for testing, you'll need to make sure your soul has enough organic matter. Mix in compost, leaf and grass clippings, and manure.
Manure should be composted unless you aren't planting anything for 2 months after application. Try to get it local and organic, if you can!
Make Good Compost
All gardens benefit from compost and there's no reason why you shouldn't give it a try yourself. You can make your own and, the best part, it's free!
Compost can help to feed plants, conserve water, cut down on weeds, and keep food and yard waste out of landfills.
Spread compost around plants or mix it with potting soil and never worry about using too much. The chemistry of compost sounds a little complicated when you break it down, but don't worry. Even the most basically tended compost pile can give you decent results.
Measure out a space that is at least three square feet. It can be a simple pile or contained within a bin that can rotate to improve results.
Add alternating layers of brown material like leaves and garden trimming and layers of green material like kitchen scraps and manure. Put a thin layer of soil in between.
Put four to six inches of soil on top of that. Turn the pile as new layers are added and water just a tiny bit to keep it moist. Keeping it wet allows microbes to multiply.
In about 2 months, you should get usable compost!
As a side note, if your compost pile smells, add more dry carbon material (that's the brown material we mentioned earlier, like leaves, straw, or sawdust) and give it a turn more often.
Choose Your Plants
Chose plants that will adjust well to your spot. This is where knowing your growing seasons will come in handy.
If you choose to go with seedlings rather than seeds, make sure they've been raised without chemicals and pesticides. A local farmers' market is a good place to check.
An added benefit of a farmers market is that they will likely have native plants that are able to grow better in your area.
If you want high return produce but don't have a ton of space or time, here are some good options for you:
- Indeterminate tomatoes
- Non-hybrid pole beans
- Swiss chard
- Tall snow peas and sugar snaps
Some plants do better when you buy them as seeds, like dill, sweet peas, squash, and cucumbers.
You should plant the things you'd like to harvest tightly together in beds that you don't walk on. Raised beds are great for this.
If you want to reduce weeding and water waste and target compost and nutrients, consider grouping your plants together.
Always allow ample space between rows to stop fungal attacks in their tracks.
There is specific information on the back of your seed packs as to what seeds need how much sunlight.
Plants are best watered in the sunlight with room temperature or air temperature water. Rainwater is best. Mornings tend to be cool and less windy, so there's less water to be evaporated.
If you water at night, plants tend to stay damp. This makes them prone to fungus and bad bacteria.
For the most part, you'll want to water the roots. The greenery is easily damaged.
More sophisticated gardens have a drip or soak system, but there's nothing wrong with carefully hand watering.
If your plants are established, infrequent but substantial waters should do the trick. One inch of water per week is ideal.
This can encourage your plants to root deeper to seek out water, and that creates stronger plants.
Weeds are everywhere. There's no doubt that getting out there and weeding your plants by hand is hard work.
It's also rewarding, fulfilling work. It's good exercise and gets you out in the fresh air.
You can also limit the number of weeds and protect the soil in your garden by putting mulch down. Straw and woodchips are good options, but straw won't last and woodchips are pricy.
If you notice pests in your garden, it's almost always a sign of something else.
The first thing you should do is check on your plants. Are they getting enough light, nutrients, and moisture?
A good way to stop pests is to foster natural predators like frogs, toads, lizards, birds, ad bats. Ladybugs can also help.
Nets and row covers can also work to keep the pests at bay.
There are organic bacteria you can use as well. Bacillus thuringiensis is a bacteria that occurs naturally. It disrupts the digestion of caterpillars and other bugs that eat your leaves.
Other options include horticultural oils, insecticidal soaps, garlic, or hot pepper sprays.
All of your hard work is about to pay off!
The more you harvest, the better your plants will produce.
During harvest season, check your garden every day. If you use fresh herbs, pick them right before you need them. But if you dry them out, wait until just before they flower. That gives them the most flavor.
Gather your herbs mid-morning after the dew has dried. Basil is better harvested in the afternoon, giving it some time to dry in the sun.
Pick leafy greens sporadically, a little from each plant. Wait until broccoli's center head is as large as it will get before letting the buds flower.
Cut produce with a sharp knife or scissors. Ripping can damage the plant tissue.
Organic Gardening, Organic Benefits
There is so much good that can come out of an organic gardening. It's a great way to spend some extra time with family, try new foods, and feel good about what you're putting in your body.
If you're in the market for plants, or just looking for a few extra tips to make your garden grow, come visit us at Decker's Nursery today!