If you find yourself searching through grocery store aisles for organic food, or if you buy organic products from farmers’ markets, why not take it a step further and grow your own organic garden? This spring, learn about gardening, get outside and grow your own fresh, delicious produce.
If you are not convinced that you have a green thumb, don’t worry. This won’t hurt a bit. Just roll up your sleeves and dig in! When you have an organic garden, no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are used. But that doesn’t mean leaving your plants to fend for themselves. Instead, use a variety of tools that not only promote plant health, but also work to keep away intrusive pests. After learning a few tricks, you might just realize that gardening is simple and not as daunting as you originally thought.
Here are some tips for your organic garden:
Soil. For the best results, you need to condition the soil you use to ensure that your plants receive fresh nutrients. Gauge the quality of your soil by testing it with either a home testing kit or by sending a sample to your local agricultural extension office. This step will provide you with a breakdown of pH and nutrient levels in your soil, and offer treatment recommendations. Also, make sure your soil has plenty of humus (no, not the spread!), which is a mixture of compost, grass and leaf clippings that works to help organisms in the soil reproduce.
Compost. The best compost is the compost you can make on your own. The benefits of using compost are that it cuts down on weeds, conditions the soil, conserves water and keeps food and yard waste out of landfills. Commonly referred to as “black gold,” compost is spread around plants or mixed with potting soil. Composting is fun and easy and a simple Internet search will yield many composting “how-to” websites. (Hint: when making compost, avoid using manure from meat-eating animals.)
Plants. It’s all about selecting plants that will grow in the space you have available. Find out your USDA’s Hardiness Zone, then choose plants that will thrive in your specific conditions or that will adjust to a variety of different spots in terms of moisture, light, soil quality and drainage. Once you decide which plants will grow best in your landscape, buy seedlings that were raised without chemical pesticides and/or fertilizers. Hit up local farmers’ markets for native plants that are ideal for your unique area. Local gardening clubs often hold “plant exchanges,” and are great resources for plants and gardening know-how.
Wide Beds. Vegetables and cutting flowers should be planted (or grouped) in beds in a locale where you won’t walk on them. Grouping reduces water waste and the growth of weeds while helping you target your compost usage. Plus, lots of space between rows helps increase air circulation and thus repel fungal attacks.
Watering. The best time to water plants is in the morning because the climate is usually cooler and without strong winds. During this time, less water is lost to evaporation. Watering your plants in the evening keeps them damp overnight, making them more apt to be damaged by bacterial and fungal disease. Be sure to water deeply and make sure the water is either at or near air temperature.
Weeding. Pulling weeds isn’t the most fun part of gardening, but it’s an activity that needs to be done. Help reduce the number of weeds in your garden by applying organic mulch. Sheets of newspaper, large pieces of cardboard, burlap, straw, pine needles, shredded leaves and lawn clippings are all excellent choices for mulch.
Protect Plants. If your plants develop pest problems, make sure they receive plenty of nutrients, light and moisture. Protect your plant and crops from natural predators such as frogs, birds, bats and even ladybugs with nets and row covers. Organic pesticides such as insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils, garlic and hot pepper sprays can help stop leaf-eaters, too.
Cleanup. When you have to remove sick plants from your garden, make sure you pull up the entire plant including its roots. Also, rake up around the plant because diseased leaves can create long-term problems. Put the infected plants deep in the woods (at least one foot deep into the ground) or burn in a bonfire. Use plant covers over the winter months to protect delicate perennials and roses from harsh weather, and plant a cover crop, or cover your garden’s soil with shredded leaves, grass clippings (only if chemical free) or other organic material, to minimize erosion and provide nutrients for next year’s garden.
These steps will ensure a successful organic garden!