Organic Gardening 101
Go Green in Your Garden
article by P. Allen Smith
I love spending time in the garden, and one thing that makes my time there even more enjoyable is knowing that everything I bring to the dinner table is safe for my friends and family to eat. Organic gardening is a trend that is catching on and for good reason. It’s the practice of recognizing that your garden is part of the natural ecosystem, and working with only natural elements to produce the best foods from it. It focuses on leaving behind all the chemicals that can do harm to the environment and our bodies. Organic horticulture takes a little more work that commercial garden practices, but once you establish your organic garden it’s easy to tend if you just keep a few tenants of organic gardening in mind.
Soil This may be one of the most important elements to organic gardening. You must start with good, nutrient-rich soil to feed your plants thus eliminating the need for commercial fertilizer. To boost the nutrients in your soil, amend it with organic materials such as composted manure or kitchen compost, which you can make using scraps from your refrigerator. Adding these organic materials to your soil will create a solid, healthy base that will allow your plants to absorb what they need to grow all season long.
Fertilizer Composting is a great way to build a foundation of nutrient-rich soil, but sometimes your garden will need a little boost. There are many great organic fertilizers on the market, but you can also use a few items from your own yard for that extra kick. Grass clippings are an excellent organic fertilizer due to their high nitrogen content. Just reserve a bag the next time you mow your yard (be sure the yard isn’t treated with herbicides or other chemicals) and sprinkle an inch or so on top of your garden. This will give your growing plants a boost and help with weed prevention. Other great options include fish emulsion, blood meal, worm castings and composted herbivore manure.
Pest Control Though some insects can be damaging to your crops, others can also be helpful and a major asset for pest control. It’s important first to understand which insects are beneficial to your garden and do your best to encourage their survival amongst your flowers and vegetables. Try as many avenues as you can before resorting to the use of harsh insecticides. Repeated use of these chemicals encourages the development of resistant insects and plants, and they just aren’t good for the environment or our bodies.
There are many ways to encourage natural pest control, like learning which plants repel the unwanted insects and which ones attract the helpful ones. Also some bugs, like ladybugs and parasitic wasps, eat destructive aphids, which is a great thing, so it’s important to refrain from spraying so the good guys can thrive and do their work. Helpful critters like frogs, lizards and snakes also help balance your garden and minimize insect infestations. Barriers and row covers are helpful to keep out unwanted pests.
There are tons of organic pest control options, however, it’s best to get in the mindset that with organic gardening your harvest will not be pristine. Bugs are all part of this amazing ecosystem, and they’ll be part of your garden as well. Just be sure to monitor insect damage and try to keep it under control. If all else fails, there are organic pesticides available to help. And whether you spray or not, always remember to wash your veggies twice before consuming.
Crop Rotation Retain soil nutrients and cut down on disease by moving your crop’s location each season. This practice helps to amend the soil evenly across the entire garden, as different plants affect the soil in different ways. Moving vegetables around the garden each season will retain valuable nutrients in the soil and prevent disease from spreading since organisms that can infect one plant usually have no effect on a different plant.
Water Water conservation is a major element of practicing good organic horticulture. Sprinkler systems can be wasteful as large amounts of water easily evaporate into the air, or are wasted by unmonitored overwatering. Use methods like drip hoses, rain collection barrels and lots of mulch to help your crop retain moisture naturally. Water plants early in the morning to prevent evaporation.
Weeds Harsh weed killers have no place in an organic garden. Utilizing natural tactics like planning your garden so that plants are close together is a good way to cut down on weeds. If plants are close, then their leaves will branch out and block the sun from the ground. But be careful, too close and it will promote disease. Mulch is also another great way to cut back on weeds, and help the ground retain moisture and nutrients. However, if you do see some weeds popping up, it’s best to get down on your hands and knees and pull them up the old fashioned way.
Seeds The ultimate goal of organic gardening is sustainability. Saving seeds is a great way to become self-sustaining and save money at the nursery. When you save seeds from your own crop you know exactly what you are getting. If you find a variety you love, then save the seeds and grow it again next year, and you’ll have no surprises. To keep the purity of your varieties, avoid cross-pollination by keeping different varieties of the same plants far away—especially if you are growing prized heritage varieties.
Organic gardening is a great way to not only ensure that what you are eating is healthy and chemical-free, but it’s also a better practice for the environment. It may take a little more elbow grease to get your organic garden started, but the results will be endlessly satisfying—and Mother Nature will be there to help you along the way if you’ll heed her advice.