If you’re home retired or simply bored, why don’t you consider organic gardening as a new hobby? Trust me, you will find it very interesting and rewarding.
I just did!
Organic gardening simply means growing your own foods and vegetables without using man-made chemicals. Such chemicals include synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides which tend to upset the balance of the ecosystem. These chemicals may collect on your food contaminating it. They’re also known to kill off beneficial insects that would normally help your garden grow better.
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Organic gardening has been growing popular in recent years. It actually grew more popular following the Organic Foods Production Act which was established in 1990. At the time, the Department of Agriculture decided to set national standards for any food that can be labeled “organic”. This refers to every food product, whether the food is grown in this country or not.
The federal programs regarding organic gardening and organic foods finally came into effect and ensured that all agricultural products labeled as “organic” originate only from farms or other sources certified and accredited by the USDA.
The economy is now making people look for ways to save money on food bills in addition to trying to live a healthier lifestyle. More and more people are now growing their own foods.
Organic gardening is now trending as a hobby for some, and lifestyle for others. Growing your own foods is one of the easiest ways to live healthily and take care of your body.
According to the National Gardening Association, if you spend about $70 on crops for planting, you should be able to generate vegetables worth about $600 from the crops.
Oh well, that’s a good return of your investment, isn’t it?
Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases a list they refer to as “Dirty Dozen List”. The list contains the top twelve USDA-tested foods with the highest exposure to toxic pesticides. Some of the repeat offenders on their list include:
The question is: are you still buying those from your local store?
Just think of how much pesticide you consume each time you eat fruits and salads that are not organic. Going organic by organic gardening also reduces your risk of food contamination from E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria.
Those three are the most common offenders when it comes to food-borne contamination. You don’t have to worry about them if you grow your own produce at home.
Growing your own vegetables by organic gardening is not only healthier and tastier, but it’s also cost-efficient. You can easily generate one hundred pounds of tomatoes from a hundred square feet in your backyard or twenty pounds of carrots from 24 square feet.
How about that?
A vegetable garden is very easy to start. All you need is a little patience and some smart tactics. You don’t need too much effort to keep it growing strong, either.
Here are some tips and tricks you need to cultivate a vegetable garden of your dreams by organic gardening.
Organic gardening & choosing your location
When considering where to locate your garden in your backyard, you should choose an area that is close to a water source. You will most likely use a garden hose for this purpose.
Choose an area that gets plenty of sunlight. Most vegetables need about six hours of sunlight a day. Some fruiting plants thrive in eight to ten hours of sunlight. These include:
You should plant taller crops like corn, tall tomatoes, or pole beans on the north or west side of your garden. This will ensure that they don’t shade the other plants in your garden. If you have shade in some parts of your garden, you should consider planting “cool” plants in that area. They include:
- Root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, turnips, and beets.
Cool plants prefer a cooler environment and the shade helps them during the hotter seasons of the year. Strong winds are likely to break the tender stems of your crops, so you should locate your garden away from where they can be affected by strong winds. You may need to install a windscreen or plant your garden in a more protected area.
You should avoid locating your garden in areas of high foot traffic. Tender plants can easily be broken or killed by small kids walking through your garden.
Locate your garden in an area that will get enough water without flooding. You want the soil in your garden to be moist but not sodden.
Your garden should be located on the level ground also. This will help with drainage and make your work easier during planting and harvesting.
To make harvesting easier, you may use raised beds. These are bottomless frames that raise the soil above the grade line.
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Organic gardening and testing your soil
To start organic gardening, it is important that you start with healthy soil. Therefore, you should test your soil. You may purchase a soil test kit from your local gardening store or from Amazon for this purpose.
Healthy organic garden beds require some very specific nutrients. These nutrients work together to allow for good quality plant growth and production. A soil test kit allows you to measure the amounts of these nutrients in your soil.
It also measures soil pH values. This test will help you decide what soil amendments might be needed to make your soil healthy for organic gardening.
A good soil test will give you expert recommendations on how to fix whatever may be wrong with your soil. You need to be certain that your soil is healthy before you plant your first crop.
The pH of your soil is important for helping your plants access the nutrients they need in that soil. The pH tells how acidic or alkaline your soil is.
The most important soil component of your soil is the percentage of organic matter in it. If you pay attention to proper organic matter management in your soil, the soil can support a good crop without the need for expensive fixes. Organic matter to apply to your soil include the following:
When your soil is ready for planting, it should be neither sandy nor too compact. When the mix is right, the soil will bind together when it is squeezed and will break back apart if disturbed. It will be able to retain enough water without saturating your plants.
Compost for organic gardening
Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. It is your best option for enriching your soil with organic matter because it contains decayed microorganisms from plants.
Compost is naturally healthier for your crops. You can make your own compost heap or buy ready-made compost from your local garden store or from Amazon. Make sure though, that what you’re buying is organic compost.
Reduce weed growth in your garden
You should reduce the growth of weed on your soil by spreading a 1-3 inch layer of mulch on top of the soil. It will also keep your plants cool in summer and warm during the winter months.
Make sure you use organic material like cocoa-hulls, weed-free straw, or even newspaper. These will also add beneficial organic matter to your soil as they decompose.
You may or may not need organic fertilizer, depending on how good your original soil is. Again, if you choose to add fertilizer to your soil, it should be organic.
If you feel you need it, look for well-rotted manure from plant-eating animals like horses, rabbits, sheep, or chickens. You may also buy organic fertilizer from your local garden store or from Amazon. You must be cautious though because too much nitrogen will give you lush green plants, but fewer vegetables for you to harvest.
If you don’t have a large yard, you may use planters for your organic gardening project. These planters come in various sizes. You may choose from a large variety of large outdoor planters, or even much smaller ones for your window sill. the choice is yours.
If you really want to take organic gardening seriously, you should consider investing in durable planters. You may even buy self-watering planter boxes.
If you’re using a self-watering planter, don’t forget to also buy a watering system. The watering system is a self-irrigating device that’s easy to install and doesn’t require any batteries or connections. It helps provide constant humidity for your plants.
If you’re using planters, remember to follow the same directions given above, as if you’re planting in a garden.
It’s exciting that you’ll soon be harvesting your very own healthy vegetables in no time.
Vertical garden beds
You may also buy vertical raised garden beds. Going vertical is a great way to container-garden your vegetables.
You can use different tiers for your tomatoes, pole beans, squash, melons, cucumbers, etc. and watch them grow. Vertical garden bed containers take up less space, and they look decorative as well.
Harvest time is easier with a vertical garden because you can easily see each vegetable. Also, plants in a vertical garden tend to pick up fewer diseases and fungal spores because less of the plant is in contact with the soil.
If you’re using planters, make sure the containers get plenty of natural light. If you’re not able to get sufficient natural lighting, you may use a grow bulb. The grow bulb provides the perfect high-quality natural light that will allow your indoor garden to bloom and flourish all year round.
If your planters are outside, consider planting some companions to help them out. Companion plants could be flowers that attract beneficial insects or repel harmful ones.
Grow crops based on your geographical location
What you will plant doesn’t just depend on the space you have, your tastes, available time, and level of expertise. The climate where you live is a huge determining factor in what you’re able to plant.
As a newcomer gardener, you may want to start with some of the easier plants, like carrots, cucumbers, beans, lettuce, and peppers. You won’t need to pamper these plants or have an expert’s knowledge of soil conditions to get a good harvest from them.
Growing conditions and ripening cycles of your plants and vegetables are also going to vary based on the plant, your climate, and the season. You may not be able to start all your plants at the same time because of this.
Check the planting information on seed packets or seedlings of what you want to plant. You may also look up the information online.
Websites such as The Urban Farmer or The Old Farmer’s Almanac are great resources for information on planting guides also known as Planting Calendar. You may use this to create your own personalized calendar or journal to help you stay organized.
By using those resources, you should be able to create a gardening schedule for yourself. This way, you can plant and harvest your crops according to their natural cycle. It takes a little bit of planning, but it’s well worth it in the end when you start harvesting your own organic products.
Organic gardening & cool-season plants
These are vegetables that grow best in the spring and fall when temperatures are mild. Cool-season plants prefer cool weather and tend to thrive in the chill of early spring, late summer, and early fall. They’re mostly the kinds that have edible leaves or roots and include these:
- Brussel sprouts
- Mustard greens
Organic gardening & warm-season vegetables
These are vegetables that grow during the summer months. Warm-season vegetables do best when the weather and soils are warm. They shouldn’t really be planted until the soil warms up.
Warm-season vegetables need eight or more hours of uninterrupted sun to produce a good crop. The soil temperature should be adequately warm for your seeds to germinate and for transplants to grow well.
The garden soil temperatures for warm-season vegetables need to be between 60 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. However, warm-season crops do best if the soil temperatures are above 70 F.
You can buy a soil thermometer at your local nursery or garden center or from Amazon. For accuracy, check the soil temperature early in the morning before the temporary heat of the day has raised it.
Good to know tips…
Be careful how many of each type of plant you buy. Zucchini and tomatoes are prolific producers and you may be overwhelmed if you plant too many of them.
One of the basic problems you may have as a beginner gardener is overestimating how many plants you need. Start small and only grow what you know you’ll be able to consume.
How much should you plant?
For a family of four, the following tips will give you a garden with enough crops to consume with a little leftover for canning, freezing, or trading. Consider planting just enough for you and your family, unless you’re planning to give away or to sell any excess unwanted products.
- Make your garden ten feet long with eleven rows in it. Determine the direction of your north and south. Your garden rows should run from north to south in order to take advantage of the sunlight. If the ten feet garden is too large, you should reduce it by half, or plant in fewer rows.
- Be sure to leave a pathway in between the rows so you can weed and harvest without brushing up against the plants and breaking off leaves and stems.
- Remember to take into account the amount of space that each plant needs to thrive. You may plant nine bush beans into a ten square-foot garden bed, because they need about four inches between plants. Or you may choose to plant sixteen onions since they can be planted only three inches apart. You see what I mean?
Plant arrangement does matter
Pay attention to how you arrange your plants so that you can maximize your crop yield. If you’re working with limited space, instead of planting your vegetables in rows or squares, you should try growing them in a triangle. Tip – you can fit 10-14% more plants in a triangle than in a square. That’s good to know!
Be careful not to space the plants too closely. By simply increasing the space between your romaine lettuce plants from 8 inches to 10 inches, you can get double the harvest weight of each plant.
If you’re planting seeds, you should follow directions on the packaging concerning how to space them out. Good airflow between your plants helps prevent many types of fungal diseases. You should also know how often to water your plants, and how much water each plant needs.
It’s good to remember also that the weight of your crop harvest per square foot is a more valuable indicator than the number of plants you planted per square foot. And of course, the quality of your plant yield is always of better value to you than the quantity of the plants you harvest.
Another little tip is to consider going vertical for a vining plant instead of using up valuable garden space.
It helps to create a trellis, cage, or simple net support for your tomatoes, pole beans, squash, melons, cucumbers, etc. This makes it easier to see the fruits on your vertical plants, so that harvest time will be easier.
When you do this, the improved air circulation among the leaves will also help repel fungal diseases. You shouldn’t worry about securing heavy fruits like squash and melons because they usually develop thicker stems for support.
Other personal benefits of gardening
Organic gardening like regular gardening is healthy in more ways than one. Generally, gardening gets you out in the fresh air and sunshine. You need the Vitamin D from the sun, right?
Well, being out in the sun doing your gardening will give you just that!
The digging, planting, and weeding are also good low-impact forms of repetitive exercise that are good for you. This form of regular physical activity not only helps you feel better, but it may also help relieve your stress, boost your energy, and relieve tension.
By the way, did you know that 45 minutes of gardening can help you burn the same amount of calories as you would running 1.5 miles in 15 minutes?
Picking crops for organic gardening
You can get organic seeds and seedlings to plant from your local feed and seed store. Alternatively, a simple internet search will put you in touch with companies that sell them.
Remember to look for the USDA organic logo. For organic gardening, the organic transplants that are sold in your local gardening store should have tags or labels showing that they’ve been grown under organic conditions. Look out for that.
Consider contacting a local Cooperative Extension agent for tips on which plants grow best in your particular area. These agents work with advisory groups to develop educational programs to meet the local needs of people in areas of agriculture and natural resources.
The top ten veggies you should consider planting as a beginner are:
- Zucchini squash
- Bush beans
What do you want to plant – roots, bulbs, or fruits?
You’ll get edible plant roots from plants such as:
Stem veggies you may consider include those of asparagus and rhubarb. For veggie leaves, you should consider planting:
For organic seed foods, you should plant green beans and peas. Onions and garlic are the bulb foods, while tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants, and pumpkins are fruits because they contain seeds.
It is especially important in organic gardening to consider planting herbs as well. Home-grown herbs are by far more superior than what you’ll find in your supermarket or farm market.
One additional tip is for you to plant a few marigolds with your vegetables. The marigolds act as insect repellents. That’s good to know!
Are you going away on summer vacation?
If you’ll be away for the summer, you should remember to get someone to take care of your garden. They may need to harvest your tomatoes and zucchini for you while you’re away.
Annuals and perennials
Annual vegetables are those veggies that you have to sow and grow from seed each year. They make up the bulk of the vegetables in the modern diet. Most vegetables that we buy in the supermarket are annuals. As a beginner, you may start with the following annuals:
Perennial vegetables, on the other hand, are those that can potentially provide you with years of harvesting, rather than starting from scratch every year. You should give them their own space in your garden. Perennial veggies include asparagus, rhubarb, certain herbs, and some varieties of broccoli and spinach.
Also, consider some crops like radishes and bush beans which mature quicker and have a short harvest season. Others like tomatoes have a longer period of time.
When buying seeds or seedlings, check the packaging and planting directions for any specifics for what you’re buying. This will allow you to replant once the growing season is over.
Some veggies may produce more than one crop in a season. These include beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuces, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, and turnips.
It may also help if you stagger your planting. For instance, you may consider not planting all your lettuce at once, and plant them a few at a time. By doing this, you’ll be guaranteed a longer harvest period.
Word of caution, though…
Root veggies like carrots don’t transplant well. Therefore, it’s best to plant them as seeds. If you choose to plant the seedlings, you should pick plants with healthy color and no yellowing leaves.
Always stay away from wilted plants and droopy leaves. Check the roots of seedlings by gently tapping the plant out of the pot. Look at the roots, and they should be white and well-developed.
Avoid plants that have already budded or are already flowering. You should buy new plants that will take some time to develop a solid root system first in your healthy soil.
If you must pick a flowering seedling, you should first pinch off the buds and flowers before planting. This will force the plant to “refocus” on its roots. You certainly need strong, well-nurtured roots for a healthy harvest.
Keeping your garden clean & pest-free
You should plan on weeding your garden almost every day. Pulling the weeds will be much easier after a rain or after you’ve watered your garden. If you notice that the soil is muddy, you should wait until it dries up a little bit before working on the weeds.
To remove the weeds, pinch the weed stem, and gently pull the weed out by its roots. You may also use a trowel to pry the weed roots out of the soil.
If you’re careful enough to not damage your vegetables, you may use a hoe. You should try to remove the roots of the weeds as well, not just the tops. If you don’t remove the roots, the weeds will grow right back.
Removing shed foliage
You should walk through your garden at least once a week to pick up any shed foliage from your plants. Many diseases can be spread from dead leaves and stems. Therefore, you should snip off any dead leaves or flowers on or around your plants.
Throw these shed foliage or dead leaves and flowers into your garbage. Do not use them as a compost heap. If you do and they happen to be infected, they may infect your other plants as well.
Protection from pests, birds & animals
Garden pests can still pose a problem in organic gardening. If you come across insect pests, the best way to get rid of them is to simply pick them off the plants. Remember to always wear your gardening gloves when working in your garden.
Pests like aphids can be easily picked or washed off. These pests usually attack plants that are under stress, especially the stress caused by a lack of water. Chemical-free barriers work well also. A copper barrier tape helps to repel slugs and snails, and fabric-like row covers help protect your plants from birds overhead.
A cardboard collar will help protect your seedlings from cutworms. These worms are notorious for nipping the stem of seedlings off at the soil line. If you live in an area where larger predators such as deer or rabbits are likely to prey on your crops, you should consider investing in a 6-8 foot fence. A wire mesh near the ground of the fence will provide added protection. This should keep the large predators at bay.
When you’re organic gardening, you must not spray pesticides containing chemicals on your veggies. It is generally more harmful than helpful to do so.
Not only do the chemicals get into your produce, but they’re likely to kill off the beneficial insects you need to help your garden grow better.
There are natural pesticides that are safe that you can use for organic gardening. These are made from all-natural, inexpensive organic materials.
If you absolutely have to spray your garden plants, you should do so in the evening when beneficial insects aren’t out as much. You should also spray only the area needed.
Helpful insects in organic gardening
As in regular gardening, bees help pollinate your plants and make them generate more harvest for you.
Ladybugs are also known as lady beetles or ladybird beetles, and they’re also highly beneficial insects in gardening. They will eat mites, aphids, and other soft-bodied insects and keep them away from your garden.
The praying mantis is another interesting and beneficial insect to have around in your garden. They will eat larger insects, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and other harmful pest insects.
Other helpful hints
Watering – For most vegetables, one inch of water per week is enough for your garden to thrive. This includes any rain you may have gotten. If the leaves of your plants are wet, especially in the afternoon or evening time, they may help spread the growth of molds and mildews such as downy or powdery mildew.
Instead of spraying your plants and getting them soaking wet, you may invest in a good water-saving soaker hose or drip line that will deliver water directly to the roots of your veggies without splashing the leaves. You may get a good soaker hose from Amazon here.
You should know the water needs of each plant in your garden, and keep the soil moist throughout the growing season. An automatic timer is a valuable investment for your garden.
The timer is programmable, so once you set up the timing, you’re good to go. The timer turns your soaker hose on and off at the set times.
Another helpful hint is to invite beneficial insects like bees for pollination and ladybugs or praying mantis to kill off harmful pests. You may achieve this by planting the following flowers around your garden space to attract the helpful bugs:
- Bachelor’s button
- Black-eyed Susans
- Purple coneflower
- Yarrows and
Of course, you should choose the flowers that grow easily in your climate and growing region. Your garden will not only be more fruitful, but you will also appreciate the colorful display of the flowers.
Organic gardening & companion planting
Before you start organic gardening, it’s important for you to know that there are some crops that are compatible with each other. Interplanting these plants saves space and results in better harvest yields.
The crops of corn, squash, and beans are known as the Native American Three Sisters. For a long time, these three crops have been at the center of Native American agricultural traditions. The three crops will complement each other and thrive very well in your garden.
How do they complement each other? The thick corn stalks provide tall stalks for the beans to climb, while the large leaves of the squash shade the ground and help to prevent weeds and to retain the moisture in your soil.
Other crops that are compatible and do well together include the combo of:
- Tomato, basil, and onions.
Onions may also be grown together with:
Cucumber thrives well when grown in combination with:
Organic gardening & succession planting
This is also known as successive planting. It is a way of increasing your crop availability during a growing season by making efficient use of space and timing. In this valuable technique, after you harvest one crop, you immediately plant another crop in the same place.
Succession planting also involves the practice of growing together two or more non-competing crops that have different maturity dates. You can grow more than one crop in the same space over a given period of time. Many gardeners get three or even four crops from one area. For example, you may start with early-growing lettuce, then try fast-maturing corn and more greens or overwintered garlic. This will give you three crops over a single growing season.
To get the most from this sort of technique, you should use transplants instead of seeds. Buy transplants that are already about a month or so old when you plant them, so they mature more quickly.
Also, choose fast-maturing varieties of your plants. Whenever you replant, replenish your soil with a ¼ to ½ inch of compost, working it into the top two inches of soil.
Extending your growing season
Unless you live in a location where it never freezes, your growing season has a beginning and an ending every year. A growing season usually extends from spring through fall.
However, you can start gardening earlier and keep going later. By adding a few weeks to each end of your growing season, you can buy enough time to grow yet another succession crops (like leaf lettuce, kale, or turnips) or to harvest more end-of-the-season tomatoes.
To get these extra weeks, you need to keep the air around your plants warm even if the weather is cool. This requires mulches, row covers, cold frames, or cloches. A cloche is a bell-shaped glass cover that acts as a mini-greenhouse in your garden. You can give heat-loving plants like melons, peppers, and eggplants an early start by warming the air and the soil in your garden.
With just a little investment, some patience, and a bit of work, you can start organic gardening and harvest your own organic vegetables using your yard or containers.
With your garden-to-table organic vegetables, you can enjoy healthy meals. Your harvest will not only taste many times better than what you buy in the grocery store, but they’re much healthier as well.
You will get higher levels of Vitamin C, antioxidants, iron, and other nutrients from organic veggies. They also have no potentially harmful chemical residues.
Vegetables from your organic gardening doesn’t sit on a store shelf for weeks at a time, losing valuable nutrients.
Gardening gives you direct access to fresh food. If you learn how to can, or otherwise preserve your crop, you will fill your pantry and feed your family from your harvest when the growing season is over.
Gardening will make you feel good and have a high sense of achievement in yourself. There’s nothing more satisfying than planting seeds or seedlings, caring for them, and watching them grow and produce food for you and your family.
Caring for your garden will give you the opportunity to get plenty of fresh air and exercise, making you feel better. Imagine the sense of pride you’ll have to prepare a meal from the produce you grew yourself.
You will not only benefit from the harvest of organic gardening, but your grocery bill will go way down as well. Remember that!
If you so desire, you may even set up a trading system with friends and other organic gardening gardeners in your neighborhood. Each of you may agree to grow different plants according to your expertise and space, and trade veggies with each other later as you harvest them.
Trading your extra produce will give you varieties to consume and save you money. You may even join a community garden for organic gardening, instead of growing veggies on your own land. You should be able to find a good local garden through the American Community Gardening Association.
If you’re looking for a great way to increase your food supply, lower your grocery bills, increase your exercise, and just feel better overall, you can’t go wrong with organic gardening for your very own healthy organic veggies.
I hope this article helps motivate you to consider organic gardening today.