If you are like most people you are somewhat concerned about the pesticides and other chemicals that are being put into the food that you eat. More and more people are trying to eat more organic foods for those reasons. Not only does eating organic reduce your risk of being exposed to these chemicals, it also helps protect the environment.
Now you may be worried because you just do not know where to begin. You could hire a professional to install an organic garden for you and maintain it. However, with a small amount of effort on your part you can create an organic garden on your own.
You can start out small with just a single plant or two. If things are not perfect right away, there is no reason to worry. Getting it right may take a bit of time, but after awhile you will be amazed at how easy it is to grow your own organic food.
Organic gardening means that you will not use any type of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. This does not mean that your plants are left to fend for themselves. There are many tools that you can use in order to boost the health of your plants and to keep pests away.
Here are the steps for creating your own organic garden.
1. Prepare The Soil
In order to get the best results from your organic garden you will want to make sure that you properly condition the soil. Make sure that you are providing your plants with plenty of fresh nutrients as this is what they will feed off. Good quality soil will help build strong and productive plants.
Chemical soil treatments will not only seep into your food, but these chemicals can also be harmful to worms, microbes, and the beneficial bacteria found in soil. The best way to gauge your soil quality is to have it tested. There are home testing kits available or you can send a sample of your soil to a local agricultural office.
For a small fee they will provide you with a breakdown of the nutrient and pH levels as well as what you can do to treat the soil. Make sure that you inform the office that you are starting an organic garden. It is typically best to test your soil during the fall so that you can apply organic nutrients to the soil before winter sets in.
Even if you do not test the soil, you will want to make sure that your soil has enough humus. This is organic matter such as compost, grass, and leaf clippings, and manure.
2. Making Good Compost
Every organic garden will benefit from compost. The great thing is that you can easily make your own compost.
To make your own compost you will need to have a space of at least 3 square feet. Your heap can be a pile or contained using a customized bin or pen.
Add alternating levels of carbon layer materials such as garden and leaf trimmings and nitrogen layers such as manure and kitchen scraps. There should be a thin layer of soil in between.
Top off the pile with about 4 to 6 inches of soil. As new layers are added to the pile make sure that you turn it. Water the pile to keep it barely wet. This is to create microbe action. You should have good compost within a couple of months.
Compost piles that are properly maintained should not smell. If your compost pile is starting to stink add in more dry carbon materials such as straw, leaves, or sawdust, and make sure to turn it more often.
If you live in the city you can make a small compost pile in a container under your counter with a worm kit or you can partner with a community garden.
3. Choosing Your Plants
It is a good idea to choose plants that will work well for your micro-conditions. The USDA’s hardiness zones should also be referred to. Choose the plants that will adjust to each spot that you have in mind in terms of moisture, drainage, light, and soil quality.
If you are buying starter plants make sure to choose plants that are raised without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. One good place to find these plants is at your local farmer’s market as you are likely to find many native plants and other varieties that are suited for your particular area. It is a good idea to purchase stocky seedlings that have few or no blooms and roots that are not overcrowded.
4. Plant In Wide Beds
Plants that will be harvested such as cutting flowers or vegetables should be grouped tightly in a bed that you will not walk on. A raised bed will work well for these. Grouping these plants tightly together will reduce weeding and also wastes less water.
In addition, it helps you target nutrients and compost. Having ample space between rows will help promote air circulation. Proper air circulation is important for repelling fungal attacks.
Remember, seedlings will not stay small and you want to prevent overshadowing. Make sure that you thin your crops out based on the nursery suggestions.
5. Proper Watering
When watering your plants you will want to water the roots and not the greenery. Drip and soak systems work well. You can also just carefully water the base of each plant by hand.
It is typically recommended that you provide infrequent, but substantial waterings for plants that are established. This amounts to about an inch of water a week, including rain. Watering once or twice a week will encourage deeper rooting, which promotes plants that are stronger. Collecting rainwater to use on your plants is the best.
No matter where you live, weeds are going to grow in your garden. Pulling weeds by hand is hard work, but it is something that needs to be done. It is best to look at the positives of this job. You will be outside and getting some great exercise during the process.
To reduce the amount of weeds in your garden you can apply mulch around your plants. Organic mulch that rots into the soil is preferable to landscape fabric. Straw is another option, but it will not last long. Wood chips work, but are expensive. Some people simply use lawn clippings, but because grass is high in nitrogen clippings should only be used for plants that need this nutrient such as lettuce or squash.
7. Protect Your Plants Without Pesticides
If your plants are being bothered by pests, there could be some underlying issues. The first thing that you need to do is make sure your plants are getting enough nutrients, moisture, and light. Remember, having a diverse garden will prevent pests. Limiting the amount of a single type of plant offered to the enemies and boosting biodiversity, pests should not be as big of a problem.
It is a good idea to foster natural predators to your garden. Toads, lizards, frogs, bats, and birds. Some insects can be your greatest allies for your garden as well. Lady bugs are especially good to have around. Leave a small amount of water out in order to attract these friendly predators. Growing dill and sweet alyssum or other small blossom plants can help attract predatory insects as well.
It may be a bit surprising, but overall homeowners use more pesticides in their yards and gardens than farmers do per acre according to data from the EPA. It is important to know that there are some organic alternatives that are safer for your food and for the environment. Find out the problems that you are having and then look for organic alternatives.
One organic weapon is bacillus thuringiensis. This is a natural occurring bacteria that will disrupt the digestion of caterpillars as well as other pests that are eating your plants. Horticultural oils, garlic, insecticidal soaps, and hot pepper sprays all work as well.
The best part about organic gardening is harvesting the food that you have labored over. During harvest season you will want to check your garden on a daily basis. If you have herbs you will want to pick them fresh as you use them. If you plan to dry them or freeze them, pick them before they flower as this is when they have the most flavor.
You should gather herbs during the middle of the morning, after the dew of the day has dried. Basil should be harvested in the late afternoon because it will last longer after spending some time in the sunshine. You should not wash herbs before use as this can leach the flavor.
When harvesting your leafy greens make sure that you pick sporadically from the crop. Take a little from each of your plants. If you grow broccoli wait until the central head gets as big as it is going to and then cut it off above the leaf nodes.
Generally speaking you should cut your produce using scissors or a sharp knife instead of ripping it off with your hands as this can cause damage to the plant tissues.
If you find that you have too much produce, you can always freeze most vegetables or store some of it in a root cellar. You can also learn how to can.
Once harvest is over it is time to clean up your garden bed. If there are sick plants make sure that you pull up the entire plant. Make sure that you rake underneath the plants as diseased leaves can create problems for long periods of time. All infected material should be buried or burned.
Expired or otherwise healthy plants can typically be left through the winter. This will provide food for birds and other wildlife and the plant cover can keep your soil from eroding. Annuals should be chopped off and not yanked out so that you leave the soil intact, which prevents weeds from gaining traction.
Organic gardening can be a fun activity with great results. When you start an organic garden you are on your way to helping to feed your family with fruits and vegetables that are free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals.
Getting an organic garden started will take some work on your part. The most important thing to do is to make sure that your soil is ready. If you live in an area with poor soil quality, consider creating raised garden beds to use. These beds can then be filled with high quality organic soil to grow your vegetables in.
You can also purchase grow bags and other types of containers to use to create a small organic garden to begin. These containers are great for people who want to grow their own food, but may not have a lot of room available.