Organic gardening is an approach to growing food while ensuring every aspect of the ecosystem benefits.
Its gardening that doesn't use synthetic chemicals with the idea to cultivate an ecosystem that nourishes plants, soil microbes and useful insects rather than just making food.
If you looking to start an organic vegetable garden below is everything there is to know.
The 12 Steps Organic Vegetable Gardening Beginners Guide
- Make a list of the vegetables you enjoy most and think about which are hardest to find or most expensive. Those are the ones you’ll want to grow. Sweet corn, butternut squash, and watermelons are popular choices, but they might take up a lot of space.
- Divide the crops you want to grow into cool-season crops for spring and fall and warm-season crops which do best in the summer. Common cool-season crops include beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, lettuce and other salad greens, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach, and turnips. Popular warm-season crops include beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, peppers, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, and watermelons.
- Further divide the crops you want to grow into crops that can be grown from seed in the garden and those that are usually planted indoors and transplanted into the garden as small plants.
- Using your lists from steps 2 and 3, above, figure out which plants you need to buy as seed and which you will buy as transplants. In late winter, buy the seeds you need. You will buy the transplants when you need them later. If you are a new gardener, it is recommended to buy transplants at a nursery or garden store rather than growing them yourself.
- In April find a spot in your garden that is flat and exposed to 6-8 sun hours a day. Using your farm tool break the soil throughout your garden, if possible, add compost or organic fertilizer and other soil amendments such as woods ash for overly acidic soil. You could talk to a person at your local garden store for suggestions about what to buy for organic vegetable gardening.
- Mark the areas you plan to grow in with sticks and be sure to leave paths in between at least 12 Inches wide. Use your gardening tools to prepare smooth beds where the topmost soil should be very fine with no large lumps.
- Following the directions on the seed packets start planting cool season veggie seeds from early April. Leave space for warm-season crops which you will plant in late May and early June.
- Weed your garden regularly at least once a week. Put down leaves, straw, newspaper or cardboard around your crops to keep weeds from growing and harvest your veggies as they mature.
- When all danger of frost has passed buy transplants of warm-season crops and plant them in the garden as quickly as you can after buying them.
- Continue weeding and harvesting through the summer, watering your garden for one hour or more once a week if it's not raining.
- As cold weather approaches in October, begin replacing warm season crops with cool-season crops as the warm-season crops begin to die.
- Harvest your garden for as long as you can.
The Detailed Organic Vegetable Gardening Guide
Choosing A Site
Most vegetables require full sunlight, commonly defined as at least five or six hours of direct sun during the middle of the day. Excessive shading results in spindly, weak plants that are susceptible to disease and produce little fruit.
If you have no sunny sites a few vegetables will thrive in partial shade, although they often grow quite slowly. These include beets, carrots, kale, lettuce, peas, and spinach.
If possible, the garden should be close to the kitchen, not only for convenience, but because woodchucks, rabbits, and deer are a little less likely to venture close to the house.
When choosing the site always consider the soil, gardening can work well in many types of soil, but common vegetables do best in porous soils.
A deep sandy loam is ideal, as it will provide good aeration and allow root penetration. Soil that is too sandy will not hold water well and will allow the soluble nutrients to be leached.
Soil with too much clay will hold nutrients and water but will offer poor aeration and may become waterlogged at times.
Avoid areas composed of fill dirt which is commonly bottom soil beneath the rich soil and has plenty of stones and debris.
If you create your garden site in an old field or lawn, you are likely to have a few problems during the first season.Nitrogen will be unavailable to the plants while the grass is decomposing because of the rapid growth of bacteria. Only when the bacteria decompose will the nitrogen be released from the bacterial bodies and become available to the vegetable crops.
There is also the weed problem in old lawns, Many of the perennial grasses that you turned under when preparing the garden spot will grow right back. Also, many species of insects that live in the sod, such as grubs and wireworms, may become serious pests of vegetable crops the first year. Ideally, you should prepare your garden site far enough in advance to avoid these problems.
Most important factor when doing organic gardening is your soil. Vegies are heavy feeders and need a lot of nutrients in the soil. The richer your soil the healthier and stronger your crop will get.
Feed the soil to feed the plant is the basic principle of organic farming and gardening. So you will seriously need to develop and maintain soil health and fertility.
What follows is a summary of the distinct properties that contribute to soil quality and the ways a grower can enhance soil quality in an organic garden.
Physical properties of soil are divided into texture and structure.
Soil texture is a physical measurement of the percentage of sand, silt, and clay particles in a soil.
Sandy soils being the largest and clay the smallest.
Sandy soils usually feature low nutrient and water holding capacity and an associated lower organic matter content.
On the plus side, sandy soils drain well, warm quickly, and allow early cultivation and planting in spring.
Clay soils are the opposite they carry high levels of nutrients and water, but are often difficult to work.
Loamy soil balances clay, sand, and organic matter.
You can determine soil texture by a simple field “feel” test called ribboning, or have it tested in a lab soil test.
Soil structure refers to the arrangement of individual soil particles (sand, silt, clay) into aggregates, ideally, it takes the form of a granular or crumb structure.
Some major contributors to stable aggregates and good soil structure are adding organic matter and timely cultivation techniques.
This covers some of the basic chemistry of soils and practical implications of soil fertility and nutrient management.
A soil test provides information about the soil’s chemical properties including the levels of the various nutrient elements in a sample as well as soil pH, buffer pH and base saturation.
The nutrient element details include the thirteen minerals important to plant growth including nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and sulfur (S).
Another important aspect of chemical properties and nutrient management is the proper soil pH.
Soil pH is a measure of soil acidity where pH of 7.0 is neutral below this indicates acidic soil and a pH greater than 7.0 indicates alkaline soil.
Most of our soils are naturally acidic and need to be limed periodically to keep the pH within the range 6.0 to 7.0
Biological properties of the soil refer to the community of creatures that live in and form the soil, principally bacteria, fungi, and microorganisms that are especially effective in breaking down the hard soil.
How to Tell if Your Soil is Healthy
- Your soil should provide adequate levels of macro- and micronutrients to plants and soil microbes. This is reflected by the soil mineral nutrients and a moderate pH (6.0–7.0) that allows the nutrients to be both held in the soil and availed to plants.
- The soil must have good tilth which includes good structure that resists degradation (e.g., erosion and compaction), provides adequate aeration and reasonable water infiltration.
- Soil that promotes good root growth and maintains good biotic habitat that sustains high and diverse populations of beneficial organisms and low populations of pests and pathogens.
- Your soil should have low salinity and low levels of potentially toxic elements (e.g., boron, manganese, and aluminum).
- The soil should have high resilience and is able to withstand harmful events, such as drought and flooding.
Make Your Soil Healthy
Plants need a number of different nutrients.Organic soil amendments increase these beneficial soil organisms, organic matter, and improve moisture retention.
The soil amendments are ideally applied fall or spring before planting the garden.
Many organic gardeners believe that amendments from off-farm sources should be minimized. This is often difficult for gardeners in non-farm communities. Consequently, the following description of soil amendments includes purchased as well as home-produced products.
There are three categories of organic soil amendments.
Animal Based Amendments
Animal-derived soil amendments increase beneficial soil organisms in addition to improving soil structure. Safely apply untreated animal products nine months before harvest, or at a minimum of two weeks before planting.
Manure from cows or horses is often used when processed into compost.
The general rate of application for cattle, hog or horse manure is 300 to 500 pounds per 1,000 square feet of garden. A simple way to estimate this is to apply a layer 2 to 4 inches thick on top of the soil and work it into a 6-inch depth.
When using cattle, hog or horse manure, work in rock phosphate as well at a rate of 4 to 5 pounds per 100 square feet (if your soil test indicates a need for phosphorus).
Poultry, sheep, goat and rabbit manures should be applied at half this rate because of their higher nutrient content.
If organic matter increases extensively, avoid adding manure for a year or two.
Unless manure is well rotted, it should be applied before plowing, tilling or spading and then be turned under.The concentrated manure should not be piled around a plant as it may burn the plant.
Plant Based Amendments
Plant-based soil amendments improve soil structure, source herbicide-free plant-based amendments in order to avoid contaminating the soil. Herbicide contamination will result in low germination rate and yellowing leaves, besides not having a place in organic gardens.
Plant based manure include crop grown with the intent of turning it under while it is still green.
Legumes make particularly good green manure because they have deep roots that draw up minerals from the subsoil. Also, they live symbiotically with bacteria that can incorporate atmospheric nitrogen that will be released into the soil when the plant is turned under.
Some common green manures are oats (planted in early fall for a winter cover or grown in the summer) and buckwheat or red clover (grown in summer).
Mineral Based Amendments
Mineral based amendments are used to correct mineral deficiencies.
Mineral-based amendments do not break down easily so they can be over-applied accidentally and so it is essential to get a soil test beforehand so you don’t over-apply them.
Lime is commonly used to adjust the pH of the soil but should only be used on a garden when a soil test shows it is necessary.
Soil test recommendations for liming are based not only on the pH but also on the quantity of organic matter and clay. If no instructions are available, you can follow these rough guidelines: If the pH is 5.5 to 6.0, use 3 pounds of ground limestone for every 100 square feet of the garden on sandy soils and 5 pounds on heavy clay soils.
Wood ashes have two-thirds the effect on soil acidity as does lime and should not be applied in large quantities unless the soil is known to be acidic.
Store the ashes in a covered container through the winter to keep them dry, because the potassium in them is very soluble.
Mineral amendments are rated according to how much they contain the three critical plant nutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).
Most of this amendments have labels that give you concentrations of N, P, and K as three numbers, like 4-6-4.
However the use of mineral fertilizer in organic gardening is not clearcut and you should more research in your area.
Application of Soil Ammendments
Unlike fertilizers, which can be overapplied, there is no upper limit to how much soil amendment you can safely put in the soil, the amount you put in depends on how much time, money, and energy you want to spend buying, making, and applying the manure.
Add at least a small amount of soil amendment to part of your garden every year, and to the whole garden if you can. Gardeners who make their own compost can add as much as 2Inches (5cm) of compost across the whole gardens each year.
How to Apply Soil Ammendments
Soil amendments can be spread on a garden at any time of year, though it can make the most sense to apply when preparing the garden for planting or after harvest while preparing your garden for winter.
Dump your soil amendment on the ground in a pile, and use a spade, spading fork, or garden rake to spread it around to the desired thickness. Then, use a spade or spading fork to work it into the ground.
It doesn’t have to go into deep a depth 8Inches (20cm) or less is enough.Get it off the surface otherwise, it will break down faster and be less useful on the surface.
Seed Preparation and Planting
Best Seeding Practises
- Soil must be tilled to ensure fine seedbeds, which is critical for germination, particularly with small-seeded crops.
- The soil should have good water-holding capacity to allow for uniform germination and continued vegetative growth.
- Its standard practice to make raised vegetable beds in areas receiving plenty of rain which ensures good drainage, besides providing a bit of extra space for growing vegetables.
- Uniformity of seedbeds is especially important because the seeds are often precision planted, and uniform emergence and seedling growth is required for best management.
- Proper irrigation is necessary to ensure growth during droughts. Drip irrigation is an effective way to deliver water to the crop without wetting vegetative plant parts, thereby reducing potential disease problems.
- It is important that the fertility of the soil is improved when producing organically since chemical fertilizers cannot be used. To ensure good soil fertility and fewer soil diseases, crop rotation, use of a cover crop, green manure crops, mulch, animal compost, and plant material compost can all be used.
Seeds are generally planted directly by drilling in the field or transplanting from a greenhouse-grown seedling.
All seeds and transplants should be organically produced and planted in such a way that proper vegetative development will occur and will support fruit and seed development with proper spacing and depth in the bed.
Vegetable seeds are greatly influenced by the temperature at planting; pea, lettuce, radish, beets, onion, and spinach grow best at cool temperatures for optimum emergence. Other crops including squash, melon, tomato, pepper, and eggplant grow well warmer soil temperatures. In general, the best germination temperature for all these crops is around 70°F.
Row spacing and plant densities must allow for maximum development of the flower and unrestricted access to inflorescences for pollinators to ensure proper fruit and seed set.
Proper spacing will also allow for improved air movement, reducing pathogens and providing space for harvest operations at the end of the season.
Pollination of crops for seed will be affected by row spacing and plant densities; using larger spacing allows for better wind movement and more room for insect pollinators.
Crops that are wind pollinated include sweet corn and spinach and those that are insect pollinated include carrot, onion, and broccoli.
Avoid planting crops that are susceptible to the same insects or diseases.
You can plant in rows in a flat garden or prepare raised beds. Beds are either free-standing mounds of soil, 6 - 12 inches above ground level and 3 - 5 feet wide; or they are supported on the sides by wood, stone, concrete blocks or other materials.
Beds offer excellent drainage and aeration, quick warming in the spring, and long-lasting soil structure because the soil is never trampled.
Gardens can be planted over a period of three to four months. Some crops go in early because they tolerate cool, early spring weather or they need cool weather, or they need long daylengths or a long growing season
Some long-season crops cannot tolerate frosts and need to be started indoors or purchased as seedlings and transplanted to the garden. Frost-sensitive plants should not be put out unprotected before the frost-free date.
Irrigating and Watering your Veggies
There are two indicators to look out for to know when to water your vegetables. First feel the soil with your hand, if the soil sticks and you can form a ball by rolling in your hand the soil is moist enough.
If it barely holds together in the palm of your hand, or if the surface looks hard, baked, or cracked, it is probably dry and it’s time to water.
Second, you can inspect the health of your plant, If the leaves and stalks wilt and look droopy especially in times of little sun, it probably time to do some irrigation.
While most vegetables require adequate moisture from the time they are seeded or transplanted into the garden, there are critical times when they definitely require more water. This varies depending on the plant but mostly it's during pollination, pod development, head development, root enlargement, flowering and bulbing.
Garden watering requirements depend on the type of soil you have and the kind of plants you are growing. A clay-like soil will hold more water than a sandy one and will not need water as often.
Vegetables and flowers growing in containers may need to be watered every day since the pots dry out fast.
A general rule of thumb is to water one inch per week when it hasn’t rained. This one inch of water, which amounts to about 65 gallons of water per 100 square feet, soaks down to eight inches.
Measuring the amount of water applied can be a concern for new gardeners. To measure overhead sprinkling, place 4 or 5 small containers (straight-sided) around the garden while the water is being applied. When 1 inch collects in the containers, that indicates that 1 inch of water was applied to the garden.
Watering with a sprinkling can or hose is generally not recommended; this usually results in shallow watering and poor plant growth due to shallow rooting.
Another disadvantage of using a sprinkler is that foliage wets by water dispersed via the overhead application. This could lead to foliar diseases if foliage remains wet for extended periods of time.
If you are sprinkling the garden, it is best to water early in the day so the foliage dries off by evening. When the plants are watered at night, the foliage stays wet for a long period of time and disease problems build up.
An alternative is to lay the hoses directly on the ground near the plant so the water goes where it is needed. A board or rock placed under the water flow will prevent the water from eroding the soil. To direct the water to the plants dig a little trench around the plants and allow water to flow into it.
Drip or trickle irrigation is perfect for home garden mainly via hoses or plastic tubes with small holes in them that deliver a relatively small amount of water directly to the root.
The hoses or tubes are placed down the rows and water slowly trickles out.
Keep Plants Moist Longer
There are summers when the rainfall is short and the heat abundant, making it difficult to have a successful garden. Here are some tips to help with that situation.
- Use mulches to help the ground hold water better. A mulch is anything that covers the ground around the plants. Besides helping to save moisture, mulches also prevent weeds from growing. Organic mulches such as grass clippings, straw, compost, and partially decayed leaves break down over time and improve the soil. You can also use several layers of newspaper sheets or dark colored plastic. Be sure to weigh them down with soil or boulders to prevent them from blowing away.
- Grow more cool-weather crops when moisture is more as the autumn rains begin. Cooler temperatures also cut down on the amount of drying by the sun.
- Harvest young vegetables which don’t use up as much water in the long run, they usually taste better too. Some crops, such as leaf lettuce, even produce more if you harvest them often.
- Regulary pull out weed gently to stop them from competing for water with your vegetables.
Weeds are a gardener’s worst enemy. They compete for moisture and nutrients, offer a home for insects, harbor diseases and block the vegetables from direct sunlight.
Weeds can be controlled by hand weeding, cultivation, and mulches but it's better to use a combination of the three.
Shallow cultivate you garden about half to one inch deep which is effective weeding without harming the crop.
When mulching you can either use organic or plastic mulch. Organic mulches are best applied when the soil is warm or shortly after a heavy rain. Straw, old hay, grass clippings, leaves, wood chips, newspaper, and sawdust are common organic mulches.
Cultivate before piling on the mulch, and pile it on thick enough (3 to 6 inches for hay, for example; or six sheets of newspaper covered with a few inches of hay to hold it down) to prevent the weeds from growing through.
Black plastic is very good at controlling weeds, conserving moisture and warming the soil. However, it does not decompose and needs to be picked up every fall.
Because it warms the soil, black plastic frequently increases the yield of warm-season crops such as melons, peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes.
It is easier to lay the plastic before planting and plant through it than to lay it around plants. Lay the plastic and secure the edges with soil.
Plastic is a nonrenewable resource and is a source of environmental pollution. It should not be an organic gardener’s first choice of mulch.
Biodegradable plastic mulches made from cornstarch are available but are not approved for use in commercial organic production.
Organic pest control
Although insect frequently becomes pests in vegetable gardens, only a small percentage of all garden insects present any harm to the plants.In fact, most insects are directly beneficial as predators or parasites of pest insects.Others are pollinators or decomposers of plant and animal material.
Control and management of insects which become pest can take one of many directions.The intent should not be eliminating the pest but manipulating the environment where they thrive to reduce their population below which they don't cause substantial damage.
There are a number of ways you can organically reduce the pest population, see below.
Crops vary in the number of insects associated with them, Asparagus, beets, green and wax beans, carrots, beans, peas, and tomatoes have relatively few insects associated with them.
Cole crops; cabbage, broccoli,brussels sprouts, cauliflower, radish, and turnip, and potatoes have many insect pests and are difficult to grow without sustaining some losses.
Remeber to consider plant pest and disease problems before selecting the vegetable to grow.
Timing Planting Time
Insects populations are dependent on temperature and prevalence is for short predictable periods during growing time. By delaying or advancing plating dates you can avoid periods of high pest activities.
When avoiding pest is not entirely possible be sure to time when plants are highly susceptible not to coincide with the pest prevalence.
Sanitation and Clean Cultivation
Pest can overwinter in plant debris. Good sanitation and removal of plant residue in fall reduce or delays infestation the following spring. Working the soil in fall and spring exposes insects which live in soil.
Pest like slugs and cutworms are more of a problem in mulched gardens. Ensure weed control especially in grassy weeds because several pests lay their eggs.
Most vegetables exhibit different resistance to pest and personal experience with time can be used to select the most resistant cultivars.
Crop rotation can be used with insect pest with only one generation and do not migrate readily.
Diversifieng your garden and growing many different plants can reduce pest problem but require a good understanding of insect pest associated with each of the plants. The fewer pest plants have in common the better.
You can also research homemade organic pesticides recipes for various pests in your garden.
Best Practices to Reduce Pest and Diseases
- Check the micro-climate.Many fungal diseases occur when there is too much shade, due to plants being too close together or more vigorous plants out-compete weaker plants.
- Get close to your plants and regularly check them for emerging pest and disease problems.
- Set tolerance levels unless pest problems are at an unacceptable level. Accept that some losses and blemishes are normal in a chemical free garden.
- Practice a range of techniques – grow companion plants, manually remove pests and weeds and encourage biodiversity in the garden.
- Consider purchasing some beneficial insects e.g.green lacewings that eat aphids and whitefly.
- Home remedies can be effective. e.g. milk spray can be used to combat powdery mildew; beer traps for slugs/ snails or; linseed oil for earwigs.
How to Grow Organic Vegetables in Containers
If your vegetable gardening is limited by insufficient space or an unsuitable area, consider raising fresh, nutritious, homegrown vegetables in containers.
A window sill, a patio, a balcony or a doorstep will provide sufficient space for a productive mini-garden.
Problems with soilborne diseases, nematodes or poor soil conditions can be easily overcome by switching to a container garden.
Ready access to containers means that pest management is easier.
Almost any vegetable that will grow in a typical backyard garden will also do well as a container-grown plant. Vegetables that are ideally suited for growing in containers include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, green onions, beans, lettuce, squash, radishes, and parsley.
Pole beans and cucumbers also do well in this type of garden, but they do require more space because of their vining growth.
Variety selection is extremely important. Most varieties that will do well when planted in a yard garden will also do well in containers.
You should make sure your container garden has water, nutrients, and a physical support in order to grow healthy plants. A good growing media must also drain well.
Type of Containers
Almost any type of container can be used for growing vegetable plants. For example, try using bushel baskets, drums, gallon cans, tubs or wooden boxes.
The size of the container will vary according to the crop selection and space available. Pots from 6 to 10 inches in size are satisfactory for green onion, parsley, and herbs.
For most vegetable crops such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, you will find that five-gallon containers are the most suitable size, while one to two-gallon containers are best for chard and dwarf tomatoes.
Smaller container sizes are appropriate for herbs, lettuce, and radish crops. They are fairly easy to handle and provide adequate space for root growth.
Container materials are either porous or nonporous. Glazed, plastic, metal, and glass containers are nonporous. Regardless of the type or size of container used it must drain adequately for successful yields.
Adding about one inch of coarse gravel in the bottom of the container will improve drainage. The drain holes work best when they are located along the side of the container, about ¼ to ½ inch from the bottom.