Organic Gardening Guide

Organic Gardening Guide

Jun 1st 2023

Organic gardening is one of the best steps you can take to ensure you have a delicious and healthy food supply for you and your family. When growing food at home, you get all of the benefits of moving your body, being outside, connecting with nature and leaving synthetic fertilizers and pesticides behind, where they belong. Here is your beginners guide to organic gardening for fresh produce!

What Is Organic Gardening?

First things first, what is organic gardening and why would you want to do it? Many people who decide to start gardening began their journey by exploring a more natural and less toxic way of living. Organic gardening offers a set of practices that can be followed to successfully grow food without synthetic inputs and harmful chemicals. This way of gardening, especially on smaller scales, attempts to work in tune with nature instead of against it. By using organic practices and cultivating organic foods, you are setting your family and your environment up for a healthier future.

Organic Ground Rules

In order to sell produce under the organic label, the USDA requires a comprehensive list of practices to be followed. Though not required for home growers, they can offer helpful guidelines on the best ways to manage your garden. Requirements include: no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or fungicides, no GMO's (genetically modified organisms), taking care of soil biology, growing diverse crops, using compost and planting pollinator habitat. There is a hefty fee involved in getting certified organic, so some small-scale farmers may still follow these practices without certification, but you'll need to ask to find out.

Getting Your Gardening Space Ready

Before you can jump into the excitement of growing your own fruits and vegetables, it is essential to cultivate a fertile area for them to grow. Using raised beds or no-till methods is optimal to store the most amount of carbon in the soil. Tilling is not recommended because it destroys soil structure and organisms and leads to soil compaction. If you are in a new place or don't know the history of your land, you may choose to get a soil test done to ensure there are no harmful contaminants where you want your food to grow. If you are purchasing new soil or compost for raised beds from a known source, this may be less of an issue.

Once you've decided on raised beds or in-ground planting, be sure you consider the sunlight and microclimates, small areas with differing climate conditions, of your yard. Most annual vegetables do best in areas with full sun and good drainage. Be sure to avoid wet spots where rainwater pools. If you have chosen raised beds, you can either buy them pre-made or build them yourself. Once put together, you can simply place them on the ground wherever you've chosen and fill them with a mixture of soil and compost.

In-ground garden beds will usually require a time of breaking down the existing plant material, like grass, before you are able to plant directly in it. The easiest way is to simply lay a tarp over the area for a season while the grass decomposes. The best way, however, involves placing layers of organic material on top of one another to build healthy soil from the ground up. This usually looks like adding sticks and woody materials at the bottom, followed by materials that decompose more quickly, like manure, grass clippings, straw, and leaves. On the very top, you can add 3-5 inches of high-quality topsoil and compost. This leads to a fertile humus layer where you can directly plant your seeds or sprouts.

Planning Your Garden

This next step is essential for creating a thriving, healthful organic garden. Choosing the plants, you want is one of the most fun and exciting parts of cultivating an enjoyable and abundant garden bed. Keep in mind your growing season and climate before making any purchases. Some plants also tend to grow better near others, so be sure to check out this article on companion planting tips for your garden. Be sure to focus on the fruits and vegetables that you actually enjoy eating; it can be easy to go overboard and have an abundance of fresh vegetables and herbs go to waste because you don't particularly like them.

Once you've decided what to grow, sourcing is the next problem to solve. You have two options when beginning your garden, sprouts, or seeds. High quality seeds offer the most variety because they can be shipped to you from all around the country, whereas sprouts are typically sold in person and can be more expensive. A few select retailers may ship sprouts to you, but their condition upon arrival isn't guaranteed. When looking for your seeds and plants, be sure you check to make sure they are also certified organic or that the farmer that grew them used organic methods. If you are looking to save your own seeds in the future, be sure to look for varieties that are open pollinated, which means they can freely cross breed with their neighbors and produce offspring that are true to type. Hybrid seeds will not breed true to type.

Planting Your Garden

Once you have your seeds or your sprouts, you are ready to get your garden going! Check the planting instructions on your seed packets and sprout tags to ensure you know exactly what each plant needs. Whether you are planning on starting your seeds indoors or directly sowing them in the ground, label the planting area with a small sign to keep them organized. There are many ways to amend your garden soil organically throughout the season. Bone meal, composted manure and worm castings are three popular ones to add bioavailable nutrition to the soil.

Once the seeds have sprouted, or after you have transplanted your sprouts, mulching the open areas of your garden is an excellent way to limit weed growth and protect the soil. When weeds do pop up, be sure to get them early so they don't have time to go to seed. Maintaining a high level of biodiversity in your plants can also help ensure there are predators available for the inevitable garden pests. Planting a pollinator garden and beneficial insect habitat near your vegetable beds can help draw these predators in and give you another beautiful garden bed to admire.