Organic gardening involves more than trading chemical inputs for organic inputs. Organic is a different way of thinking about your garden. Here are some starter tips.
Perhaps you’ve been contemplating a start down the organic garden path, but this thought keeps getting in the way: “I’ve always used chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and I’m afraid that my plants won’t grow without them.”
Wherever you are right now, before humans arrived, plants most likely grew on that very spot without the benefit of lab-produced chemicals. Chemical fertilizers were conceptualized and developed in the 19th century, but only put into wide use in the mid-twentieth century, which leaves… about a billion years that plants – every plant – grew without them. Big Agriculture has done such an excellent job of marketing their products that they’ve brainwashed consumers into believing that plants will downright choke to death without chemicals. I promise that won’t happen if you follow a few simple guidelines.
1. Toss the garden chemicals
In your first season of organic gardening, you may experience some pest problems. This is because you’ve been dousing your garden with pesticides, killing the target insects as well as the beneficial insects, which has altered the “food web” of your garden: the “good” bugs, birds, and other creatures that used to eat those bad bugs have moved out to find food elsewhere. But don’t worry, they’ll eventually return and your garden will fall back into balance, making chemicals unnecessary.
2. Get your hands on lots of compost
Compost is a staple in organic gardening. Whether you make it yourself from kitchen scraps, have a local horse stable deliver manure, or buy bags of compost at the nursery center, your health, your plants’ health, and your soil’s health will benefit. Compost feeds your plants (and the soil) the way nature intended them to be fed, and also supplies everything (and more) that chemical (synthetic) fertilizers supply. The difference is that bottled chemicals are water soluble and are quickly taken up by plants, while compost supplies nutrients to plants via organic decay (slowly, but surely). If your plants need a boost, add fish emulsion, liquid seaweed, or compost tea to their regimen. These are all high in the nutrients that chemical fertilizers impart, but they also have the extra power of bacteria, fungi and micronutrients.
3. Use mulches
Organic mulches, to be specific. That means the kind made from tree bark, wood, or shrub and tree wastes (what you’ll typically find at your local municipal compost pile). Mulches help your soil retain moisture and add to the biological activity and decay that feeds your plants. They also regulate soil temperature to protect your plants’ roots from heatwaves and frost.
4. Raised Garden Beds
Row planting is so…twentieth century. The most efficient way to plant your organic garden is with raised beds. That doesn’t mean you have to build an elaborate contraption like a giant planter. Just design a bed 3 feet across by however many feet long and layer top soil and compost until you get it at least 8 inches high. Raising your beds this way helps with water drainage, warms the soil a bit earlier and yields more intensive crops in less space. Read my earlier post on how to build a raised garden bed.
5. Read all you can about organic gardening
Don’t believe the chemical hype – organic gardening is at least as productive as using synthetic chemicals, but is safer, cleaner, and environmentally friendly.