Organic gardening, or gardening without the use of synthetic herbicides and pesticides, can produce food that has more nutrients, taste, and antioxidant activity. It should be no surprise then that people are increasingly switching over from growing their gardens with man-made chemicals to doing it organically. But how exactly did this interest in organic gardening begin?
First of all, you should know that what we call organic gardening has been the main method of growing anything for millennia. It still is the most prevalent way of growing crops in poorer developing countries. What we now call “conventional” gardening came about in the 1940s when the scientific method started being applied to farming. Out of this so-called green revolution we have gotten increased crop yields per acre, fast acting fertilizers, and chemicals that effectively kill pests and give us perfect, unblemished fruit. But these chemicals have also given us higher rates of cancer and caused problems which sometimes leads to extinction in certain wildlife populations. It is because of these problems that people are now reconsidering whether conventional gardening was ever worth it.
If you’ve decided to get started with organic gardening, congratulations. You’ve made the choice for a healthier you and a healthier planet. Best of all, organic gardening isn’t too hard. It’s not too easy either, and will come with many hours of backbreaking work, but in the end, when you bite into that first luscious tomato that you pulled off the vine just seconds ago, you’ll know that growing your own organic food is definitely worth the work. There are some ways that you can make the workload a little easier on yourself. Let’s take a look at some tips:
1. Start Composting. Now.
The sooner you start composting, the better your organic garden is going to turn out. Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium are the three main nutrients (called macronutrients) that plants need. Conventional farmers add these macronutrients to the soil by spreading man-made chemicals over the ground. Organic farmers do this by spreading compost over the soil. Compost has the added benefit by containing cultures of beneficial soil microorganisms that eventually will make your plants more disease and pest resistant than they would have been if you’d grown them with synthetic fertilizers.
So how exactly do you start composting? Composting is really easy, though it is a little more complex than just tossing all your food scraps into a pile. When composting you strive to achieve a certain Carbon to Nitrogen ration in your compost pile. Carbon essentially comes from brown woody material like sawdust or newspaper, while nitrogen comes from things like food scraps or lawn clippings. You will want to keep your C:N ration at about 30:1. This ratio keeps the organisms that power the composting cycle alive, keeps down smell, and the heat that the bacteria make from breaking down the waste also helps keep things like E. coli from growing inside your compost heap. If you want more information, there are several sites that give a far more detailed explanation on how you compost and what processes are actually going on inside compost.
2. Plan Your Garden
In any serious endeavor, you want to start out with some sort of plan. Organic gardening is no different. This will take a little bit of research on your part. People at your local farmer’s market are great resources. There are also organic gardening forums online where you can ask for advice, and many things you can find with a simple search on your favorite search engine. You will want to do some research to see what grows well and what doesn’t in your area. This doesn’t mean you have to grow these particular crops, it just means that you should definitely consider the effects your climate will have on whatever you choose to grow. Once you decide what crops you want to grow, you will want to decide on the cultivar. A cultivar is a variety of a fruit or vegetable that is known for certain traits like color or sweetness. Beefsteak and Cherokee Purple are two cultivars of tomatoes for example.
After you decide on this and order your seeds, you should figure out where you are physically going to plant your seeds. If you have plenty of land to choose from, pick a place that has characteristics that fits the plants that you want to grow. For most plants this is lots of sunlight and well draining soil. You will also want to decide how much to grow. Remember that every extra square foot is more work for you, but even if you can’t eat all food you can grow, you can always give it to your neighbors or to a food bank. Being able to bring other people the gift of beautiful organic fruits and vegetables is definitely worth the bit of extra elbow grease you’ll have to put into your garden.
3. Raised Bed Gardening
Gardening in a raised bed is perfect for a beginning gardener. They’re generally a bit smaller than the traditional in-ground garden, which means if you’re busy with a career or family and don’t have a lot of time to devote to gardening, you’ll still be able to get results. They’re also more efficient in that because of the way space is distributed, you’ll end up using less water and spending less time weeding. Raised beds are great for herbs like rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme, and lemon verbena. If you position one close to your kitchen, you’ll have fresh herbs for whatever you’re cooking a short walk away.
If you choose to go with this method of gardening, try this out: During fall or winter, decide what size raised bed you need and build it by screwing together 2×4’s or 2×6’s with 2-3″ wood screws. Lay newspaper directly over the grass in overlapping layers that are about 5-6 sheets thick. Wet this down and then cover with leaves. In the spring check and see if the grass underneath the newspaper has turned into compost. If it has, you just created a great growing medium for your seeds. If not, fill the raised bed with any compost you have (if you don’t have any, see if there are any local farmers that produce and sell compost). The newspaper will act as a barrier to weeds that are present in the soil beneath your raised bed and the compost if made correctly will have few or no viable seeds in it due to the high temperatures created in the decomposition stage.
4. Don’t Do it Alone
Whenever anyone starts a new hobby or activity such as running or working out, it’s often easy to get discouraged within the first few weeks. Gardening can be like this too. It can be a lot of work that will pile up if you don’t take care of it just about every day. If you’ve never grown a garden before, consider getting a friend to help you tackle it. In many cities, there are community garden plots that you and a friend can rent. The benefits of this are that you don’t have to do everything all by yourself, and if your friend already has a bit of a green thumb, they can show you the ropes and help you develop your own green thumb. Even better, gardening with a friend turns work into a social activity, one that humans have enjoyed for thousands of years before you.
5. Start Early
I’m not referring to what time of day you need to start working, though in the summer months it is definitely a good idea to try to escape the sun. I’m referring to seed starting. Most vegetables can be directly sown into the soil in the spring after the first frost but many of them will do much better and produce much more fruit during your growing season if you start them indoors some time before your actual growing season starts. Space can of course be a limiting factor for many people, but if you’ve got a window that faces south (south facing windows get the most sunlight) that has some room for plants, you should definitely do this. Transplanting medium sized plants gives you a head start on the growing season, and makes sure that you start out with healthy strong plants (seeds can be unpredictable).
With the knowledge contained in this article, you will be able to make your organic garden grow and run a lot smoother. If you want to learn more about gardening, as I said earlier, the internet and people are a great resource. If you know people around you who know how to garden, get them to show you some basics like how to use a hoe or a rotary tiller. The internet is a great resource as well. If you run into problems (like weird spots on your tomatoes) give these folks a shout, and they’ll be able to help you out.