This post is a collection of tips and ideas for organic gardeners. Organic gardening is gardening that avoids, or greatly limits, the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, genetically modified organisms, or any other modern technology that drastically changes the nature in which plants grow, and may have negative side effects. Its goal is to create healthier food and a healthier environment.
Organic gardening focuses on creating a healthy soil and encouraging biodiversity. A healthy soil means healthy plants, which will be more resistant to pests and disease. Biodiversity means there is more likely to be balance among microorganisms, so pest issues are less likely to get out of hand. Organic gardening may use methods such as crop rotation, compost, biological pest control or any other permaculture method.
The agricultural revolution truly did revolutionize the way we grow food. Before it, all farming and gardening was organic. The introduction of new growing methods and technologies allowed us to produce exponentially more food than we could before, and this brought us the great prosperity we have today. But with it came a dark side.
WHY GO ORGANIC?
The use of synthetic chemicals in the food growing process has led to some serious problems. The use of fertilizers and pesticides has led to a toxic build up in the soil and water and is causing health issues in children and adults.
Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are effective, but mess with the ecosystem in which your crops grow. This leads to a dependence on them, where you need to keep using them or be in a worse position than when you started.
The use of these chemicals has allowed for the creation of monocropping, where one crop is grown on the same piece of land, year in and year out. This destroys the balance of the soil and strips it of nutrients.
Fruits and vegetables grown with synthetic pesticides tend to have less nutritional value than those grown organically.
Organic gardening is a more natural way to grow food, and will leave you will healthier plants, a healthier soil, and a healthier you.
SOME GENERAL ORGANIC GARDENING TIPS
Focus first on plants that are adapted to your climate and type of soil. They will naturally thrive in their environment, making them stronger and easier to maintain. As you gain experience, you can start experimenting with more exotic plants.
Encourage diversity in your garden. This will naturally create a balance of nutrients, and make pest problems less likely.
Encourage earthworms in your garden- they naturally distribute nutrients through the soil, create better water and air flow, and they produce a great fertilizer.
Early in the morning or late in the evening are the best times to water your plants, to minimize evaporation and save water.
Plant new plants during the evening or on a cloudy day. They will have a much better of surviving than if planted on a dry, sunny day.
COMPOST AND MULCH
Composting is the act of mixing rich organic material into the soil. It improves the soil quality by adding nutrients, increasing water retention, helping with air flow, and increasing the presence of helpful organisms. To learn more about it read The Benefits of Composting and Composting 101.
Mulching is the act of adding a layer of mostly organic matter- sometimes not fully decomposed, sometimes containing things like small pebbles- on top of the soil. This serves the purposes of creating a protective layer for your soil, preventing evaporation of water, erosion of the soil, and sun damage. It will also smother weeds, and adding some nutrients to your soil in the same way compost does. To learn more, check out how to lay a mulch for your garden.
Incorporating both of these effectively is the best thing you can do to improve the quality of your soil, and subsequently the health and strength of your plants. Here are some tips in this area:
Add 1-3 inches of mulch to plant beds each year in the fall to help maintain them.
Some plants have residue harmful to others, and their material shouldn’t be included in mulch. Some of these include oak, pine, pittosporum, red cedar, acacia, camphor, cypress, eucalyptus, madrone, and walnut.
Add a thick layer of pine needles in the fall over the beds of plants that like acidic soil. This will help shift your soil to a more helpful pH balance.
85% of plant roots are found in the first 6” of soil, so no need to go too deep with your compost material.
PESTS AND WEEDS, AND HOW TO MANAGE THEM
When dealing with pests and weeds organically, try first to physically remove them, then try physical barriers or traps, and lastly biological controls or natural pesticides. You will be able to solve most problems this way and not need to rely on synthetic chemicals.
Remember that the best way to control pests and disease is with a healthy soil, which will lead to healthier plants.
Some herbal pest repellant methods use garlic and hot pepper sprays. Put in a blender with water, strain any pulp, and dilute the solution with water. Spray on effected areas.
For aphid infestations, spray with a diluted solution of soapy water. Then spray again with clean water. This will clear up some of even the worst aphid infestations.
For weeds, spray with full strength, store bough vinegar on a sunny day. It will effectively kill many weeds, with no toxic side effects.
If deer grazing is a problem for you, try placing bar soap with a strong scent, or human hair, around your plants. This will deter them.
ENGAGING THE FIVE SENSES: HOW TO MAKE YOUR GARDEN BEAUTIFUL
A good garden engages all five senses. Have a space for a vegetable garden, to grow food with. Have some scented flowers, to create a nice aroma. Add a bird bath and feeder, for the sounds and sights that come with birds visiting your garden.
To make a garden appear larger, have bright, warm colors (reds, oranges, and yellows) up front, cooler colors (greens, blues and purples) in back.
Cooler colors will have maximum effect in shaded areas, as sunlight will tend to wash them out.
Annual flowers look great, but require a big time and money investment- they last one season, and then need to be replanted. Use sparingly if efficiency is your goal.
Most organic herbs make great looking plants, require little maintenance, and can later be used for cooking.
Think of trees as the walls and roofs of your garden area. They will give you shade in the summer and protect from the wind in the winter, making them an energy saver if they surround your home. They also serve as great cover crops for other plants (learn more about this concept in our permaculture article).
Large green lawns will highlight your house; trees and flowers tend to highlight your garden and obscure your house.
Things like waterfalls, ponds, birdfeeders (which attract birds) and wind chimes will reduce noise pollution.
Along with a birdfeeder, the sound of running water will attract birds, which are looking to drink and bathe.
Keep your bird feeders 8-10 feet away from shrubs and fences, to avoid cat attacks.
Dill weed, fennel and Queen Anne’s Lace are plants that butterflies lay their eggs on. Planting them will bring butterflies to your garden.
Good luck and stay prepared!