Tips for a First Time Organic Gardener

By Caroline Curvan , last updated December 21, 2011

So you want to try organic gardening for the first time? Get ready to experience nature up close and personal. Gardening without petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides takes a bit more attention and care, but the reward is delicious, wholesome vegetables untainted by chemicals. If you’re starting a vegetable garden from scratch, or if you’re trying to switch over to an organic garden, here are some basic guidelines to follow.

Location and Soil

Pick a sunny site that gets at least six hours of sunlight per day. Check that your site has good drainage. Decide what vegetables and fruits you want to grow. Last, and most importantly for organic gardening, get your soil balanced properly. Weak plants tend to succumb more easily to diseases and pests and the key here is preparing your soil. Go to your local nursery and buy a soil test kit. Then, you’ll know exactly what amendments you’ll need to add to bring your soil up to par. Ideal soil is loamy, slightly acidic and contains high amounts of nitrogen and carbon. Once you’ve balanced your soil, help keep it that way by adding compost, grass clippings, chopped leaves or manure in the fall to replenish lost nutrients. Sustainability is the goal. The timing and selection of organic additions to your soil will make all the difference in its long-term health and fertility.

Planting and Fertilizer

When choosing vegetables to grow, keep in mind the art of companion planting and select plants that will complement and benefit each other’s growth. The Iroquois practiced this and passed it on to the Pilgrims by teaching them to grow corn, beans and squash together. The corn provides poles for the beans to climb, the beans fix nitrogen into the soil and the squash provides a living mulch that shadows weeds and keeps moisture in the soil. Smart garden planning creates less work and more success. Once your plants are in, water them regularly at the roots to avoid wetting the leaves, thus minimizing opportunities for bacteria and fungae to flourish. Take the time to mulch carefully to preserve moisture and keep weeds at bay. Good organic mulch options are hay, chopped leaves and wood chips that have been composted.

Pests and Care

But, even the best soil and care won’t prevent the occasional pest from making a meal of your plants. Sharp eyes are your first defense. Visit your garden daily! Look out for signs of insects and chewed leaves. There are organic ways to combat pests and diseases: Pyola and neem oil are insecticide options. Both of these only affect insects that feed directly on plants, so the beneficial insects that feed on the predatory ones aren’t affected. Liquid copper, sulfur and soap sprays are helpful fungicidals. Read, study and experiment to learn more. Take pride in knowing that your sustainable choices won’t pollute ground water or harm delicate ecosystems. By choosing to garden organically you will help make your small corner of the Earth a better place for you and your family!

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