Start Your Organic Garden This Spring
Organic gardening avoids the use of chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. The organic gardener focuses on creating a sustainable growing environment in which plants and natural fertilizers return nutrients to the soil. Organic vegetables and fruit are untouched by man-made chemicals, are safer to eat since you don’t have to worry about any potential chemical residuals left on the produce, and you can enjoy the “fruits of your labor” since you grew it yourself!
Don’t be put off by the restrictions of organic gardening; growing an organic garden isn’t much different from “normal” gardening. With a little planning you too can create a healthy, sustainable garden.
Tools of the Trade
When possible, an organic gardener prefers hand-held tools to gas or electric-powered tools. Your organic garden tool shed only needs to contain the basics. You’ll need a shovel, trowel and fork for digging, a garden rake to smooth out beds, a hoe for cultivation, and a trowel for weeding. Depending on the size of your garden you may need a wheelbarrow, but that’s about it.
In place of synthetic fertilizers, the organic gardener uses compost, waste plant material and animal manure. There are also organic fertilizers available that contain beneficial microbes to promote healthier soil. Synthetic pesticides are replaced with natural pest prevention and, when needed, organic pesticides.
Where Does Your Garden Grow?
The exact location of your garden depends on the size and shape of your yard. Orient the garden so the beds face south with taller crops planted along the northern border. Choose a location where the plants receive about six hours of sunlight a day.
Ideally, you want your garden close to your water source, tools and the back door. While these considerations make harvesting and maintenance easier, they take a back seat to the more important elements of sunlight and southern exposure.
How big of a garden do you need? Too small and your harvest won’t last long. Too large and you’re stuck trying to offload excess produce on friends, families and neighbors. No one wants to be known as Zucchini Guy.
For a family of four, two 3 x 8-foot beds should provide a decent sized harvest. Every family’s different though — vegetarians may want a larger plot.
Preparing Your Soil
Without chemical fertilizers, you need to spend extra time caring for your soil. Digging animal manure and waste plant material into the earth maintains soil structure and returns nutrients to the soil. A layer of mulch or plant material helps maintain a constant soil temperature and moisture levels.
Different plants take and deliver different nutrients to the soil. By moving crops to different locations each year, the organic farmer prevents soil imbalances. For instance, a location where heavy-feeding plants such as tomatoes grew one year would benefit from nitrogen-yielding peas and beans the next.
Plant hardy crops for your first year as an organic gardener. Herbs such as mint and basil grow well, as do onions and garlic. Carrots, radishes and lettuce are hardy and yield produce throughout the growing season.
Sweet potatoes do well in unfertilized soil and help break up hard earth. Pumpkins grow quickly in a mix of soil and compost, require only infrequent watering, and provide water-conserving ground cover for taller plants.
Go organic. Your garden, your health and your taste buds will all reap the benefits.