Organic Gardening – What it is & How To Get Started

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What is Organic Gardening?

Some first time urban gardeners might wonder why they should bother with organic gardening.  They wonder if it even makes any difference in the long run.  Before that question can be answered a person must first understand what organic gardening really is.

Organic gardening is gardening without using any chemically created fertilizers, weed killers, or pesticides.

For many using store bought fertilizers, weed killers, and pesticides seems like the best choice.  Some may think it easier to run to the store, purchase a bottle of “weed killer” and spray your garden whenever you see weeds.  The process is later repeated when any pests appear or the vegetables do not seem to be growing well.  The problem with using these chemical products, is that you rarely know exactly what you are exposing your vegetables and yourself to.

Why Should I Go Organic?

These chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides have been linked to:

  • Breast cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Leukemia
  • Birth defects
  • Parkinson’s
  • Brain disorders
  • And the list goes on….

Advantages of Organic Gardening

One of the biggest advantages of organic gardening is: you are placing yourself in complete control of what is going into the food that you are eating. Thus, avoiding any chance of being poisoned by these unknown chemicals.  When vegetables are grown organically you do not have to wonder. Buying the same veggies at the grocery store is a gamble.

Most people feel that using the store bought chemicals is their only option.  Using chemicals to feed your plants and kill your bugs is not the only way.  There are natural ways to create organic gardening fertilizer.  These include compost, sugars, rocks and minerals. Organic gardening bug control is achieved by introducing natural predators like ladybugs and nematodes.

Along with shunning the use of pesticides, organic vegetable gardening is also a great way to save money and valuable resources.  Surprisingly, many gardeners do not realize that starting an organic garden is also a money saving move.  It is easy to forget that if you are not paying for all the chemicals that are recommended by the big garden centers, you are really saving money.  Don’t believe that organic gardening will save you money?   Check out the price the garden centers want for their chemical products.  Imagine the money you will you will save by not using these expensive products all together.

How do you think these mega-billion-dollar chemical companies got to be that big?  Companies like Monsanto make these chemical products and spend millions and millions on advertising.  They want you to get hooked.  It is a never ending cycle.  They want you to use chemical fertilizers to make your garden grow.  Because then have to use their chemical weed killers to kill the weeds that the fertilizer is causing to grow.  Then you see a pest causing damage to the plants you spent all that money on.  What do you do?  Spend more money and spray them with chemicals.

Organic Gardening Benefits

Organic Gardening BenefitsIf saving money isn’t a major concern for you or your family think about the health benefits that come from gardening organically.  Organic vegetables are usually recommended with many diets.  Especially diets that encourage detoxification and the cleansing of ones system.  Having a fresh supply of organic vegetables on hand at all times will help you and your family lead a healthier lifestyle.  That also makes any organic vegetable detox diet easier to maintain.

Organic vegetables and a detox regiment can do wonders for your health and the health of your family.  Eating meals that are made up of at least 60% organic vegetables may cause one to have more energy and feel better.  This is a result of receiving more vitamins and minerals from a natural source.  Lowering of blood pressure and cholesterol has been known to happen to those who have a diet consisting primarily of organic fruits and vegetables.

Last, but never least, organic vegetables taste much better than those that have been heavily treated with chemicals.  Good, organic, vegetables that have never been sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals will usually have a more pronounced flavor and better taste than their non-organic counterpart.  People who eat organic vegetables taste the vegetable not the chemicals.  Many people who grow organic vegetables do so for the great taste more than anything else.

Better tasting vegetable will cause people to eat more of them.  Weight loss may be achieved as a result.  Vegetable are much less calorie dense than meats.  This means fewer calories ingested with the veggies.  There is also the benefit of exercise in the organic vegetable garden.  That also helps with weight loss.  Organic gardening is a win-win all around.

How to Grow Organic Food

Organic gardening is done without the chemical products.  It is recreating nature.  In nature plants grow from nutrients in the soil and CO2 from the air.  When the plant dies, it falls back to the soil.  The organisms in the soil cause the plant to decompose and add its nutrients back to the soil.  Now a new plant can grow using the same nutrients.  Using chemical pesticide, herbicide and fertilizers kill the organisms in the soil.  This prevents the natural breakdown of organic matter and therefor fewer nutrients for the plant.  Fewer nutrients means you have to apply more fertilizers.  It’s a vicious cycle, and one the chemical and lawn-care companies love.

Adding organic matter to the growing area is the alternative.  Putting on a layer of newspaper, compost or leaves gives your garden a boost of organic material.  In turn, the soil borne organisms flourish, giving your plant added nutrients.  Not only on the garden, but on the lawn too.  Using an organic approach on the lawn is a way to have a yard that looks great and is less expensive to keep. You won’t have to be constantly spreading fertilizer or paying some service to do it.   Dirt that has organic material in it retains moisture longer so less watering too.

Organic Gardening Tips for Beginners

Organic Gardening is easy to start.  You could start by organic container gardening.  Organic raised bed gardening is an option.  You just need a little space and the desire and a willingness to get your hands dirty.  Many people have been using the chemical approach for years and have consequently, killed their soil.  If you are just starting out you probably won’t have that problem.  Even if you do, going organic is still the best answer.  It may take a while, but the soil will recover.

1 Pick a Spot

You don’t have to have acres to do this.  Even if you only have a small yard or no yard at all it is possible.  Borrow some space if you have to.  Just be sure that the spot you choose is going to get plenty of light.  You will also need to have a water supply handy.  Here are some choices you have (you don’t have to pick just one):

Plant in the ground – This is probably the most used for a garden area.  You should have loose well drained soil.  You don’t want to put your garden in a spot that will get flooded every time it rains though.  Your soil should be a mix of sand, silt, rock, clay and of course, organic material.  It will take a little work to get going but it is worth it.  To prepare your area you will have to remove any grass, weeds and big rocks.  If that sounds like too much work, do what I do.  Use a lawnmower or string trimmer and cut the grass and weeds as low as possible.  Cover the area with a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard.  Then cover that with 2 to 6 inches of organic material.  I use grass clippings, leaves and compost.  You can start planting after a few weeks, but ideally you would want to mix the organic matter into the top 8 to 12 inches of soil.  This can be done with a rotary tiller, a shovel or I use a potato fork.

raised bed gardenRaised beds – These are great if you have poor soil or even a paved area.  They can go just about anywhere.  It can be constructed in any shape you want and as big or small as you want.  Just don’t make it too wide because you will need to be able to reach across it.  Just about anything can be used to make a raised bed.  Boards, bricks, stones or even straw bales.  You will want it at least 12 to 16 inches high to keep grass and weeds from growing up through.  Place your border and fill with soil and compost.

Where I live there is really poor soil, so I had a truck load of good dirt brought in just for this.  I would make a raised bed with straw bales, fill with dirt, and plant.  The unique thing about this is you can also plant in the straw bales after a couple month.  That is where I plant my herbs, in the straw.  That way I can transfer some of them to pots and move inside for the winter.  These only last a season or maybe two, but then I just mix everything together and I have a spot with really good soil.

Containers – Container gardening is great if you live in an apartment or just don’t have any yard.  You can use almost any container you would like.  I suggest using the largest containers you can.  Small containers don’t hold a lot of moisture and need watering often.  The smaller the container the larger the fluctuation in temperature your roots will have causing stress to your plants.  Larger containers like whiskey barrels, allow you to plant more than one type plant at a time.  Just think of them as smaller raised beds.  Get your container and fill with soil.

2 Organic Plants

organic plantsPlant what you like but keep in mind the season and your climate.  Plant what will grow in your area.  If you are not sure, check with your local agricultural extension office or ask at your local garden center.  You can either plant seeds or get seedling plants.  Seedling are planted directly in the garden.  Seeds can be planted either directly in the garden or in seed starting pots depending upon the plant.  Some plants require you to start indoors and get established before putting outdoors. Others require you to plant directly in the soil and will not transplant well.  Most seed packets will come with planting instructions and tell you when to plant, how deep to plant and plant spacing(although I don’t always go by them).  If you want to be completely organic you will have to get organic seeds or seedlings.

3 Organic Mulch

Mulch is the most important step in an organic gardening program.  Mulch is anything that is applied to the surface of the garden to cut down on weeding and watering and to help keep the temperature stable.  This could be plastic, rocks, marbles or even broke beer bottles.  In an organic program only organic material is used so it can be worked into the soil.  This organic material could be compost, hay, leaves, grass clippings or wood chips.  You want a couple of inches at least.  Just keep it away from the plant bases so as not to cause rot.  Make sure you have weeded the area before applying.

4 Keep Watered

Seeds will need to be kept moist until they have sprouted and become established seedlings.  Seedlings should be watered deeply about once or twice a week, just don’t let them dry out.  Plants usually require about an inch of water a week, depending on climate.  If you plant in containers, they may need more.  The water can be from either a hose or rainfall.  I collect rainwater to use in my garden.

5 Organic Maintenance 

Now all you have to do is keep the weeds out, check for pests and harvest.  Organic weed control is usually done by pulling or using a hoe.  I use the hoe that looks like a stirrup and works by separating the weed from its roots.  It works either forward or reverse.

If you really need a herbicide, 10% vinegar works well.  Put about a tablespoon of non-antibacterial dish washing detergent in a gallon of 10% vinegar and pour into a spray bottle.   Just spray the plant leaves, stems and trunk and wait a few days.  Some people like to add 1 cup of salt to the mix but I don’t want to be adding salt to the soil.  Others say adding up to a cup of lemon juice to the mix makes it more effective. Be careful though, vinegar is a disinfectant and will sterilize the soil if sprayed on it.  I also does not discriminate between weeds and vegetables.  It kills them all.

All that is left to do is harvest.