Start an Organic Garden Today – An In-Depth Guide for Beginners

If you would rather feed your family food that isn’t produced with chemicals, then organic gardening might be a great option for you to try. While it isn’t always easy, it can be a rewarding and cost-saving experience.

What Does Organic Mean?

Many believe that organic means all-natural. While this is right in some respects, it is wrong in others. Think of all the times you’ve walked through the grocery store, passing all the organic offerings. Do you think they were all created in a wholly natural and hands-off manner? Did a farmer find a wild cow wandering around, milk her and call it organic?

The truth is as far as your grocery store and government regulations go; organic food is more about the way the food was grown or raised and less about the final product that you get. There are extensive lists of what organic farmers can and can’t do, but there are two main points below that are vital for you to be aware of.

​Farmers Can’t Use Synthetics

​The basic premise here is that if science created something, it should be used to grow your crops or feed livestock. Things like pesticides and soil fertilizers are created using chemical compounds that can be dangerous in certain quantities.

It’s much more than just telling consumers to wash off their fruits and vegetables. Pesticides can leach into the soil and build up over time. Since plants are rooted in the soil, and some rooted vegetables grow beneath it, there is a chance that, over time, the chemicals soak into the produce.

Chemicals in  Synthetics

Thus, no amount of washing will be able to make the food safe if this happens. The scary thing is that there is no way to tell if this has happened since the food won’t have an odor or foul taste. There is no testing for every product from a farm. The possibility that chemicals have found a way to your dinner table is a real possibility.

There are certain synthetics that organic farmers are permitted to use in very specific circumstances. The government has created a list of approved synthetics if a situation called for it.

​Farmers Can’t Use GMOs

GMO is probably an acronym you’ve heard many times, but do you know what it means? It stands for the genetically modified organism, and as far as going organic, it’s a big no-no. Why would farmers need to modify anything genetically?

One of the most popular examples of this practice is modifying plants to be drought-resistant and disease-resistant. Another example is injecting animals with growth hormones and antibiotics to make them plump up and develop quicker. Further, some fish farms produce fish that have been created to multiply faster or grow bigger faster.

You may remember a few years ago there was a big push to stop giving dairy cows hormones because studies showed that girls were prematurely going into puberty at really young ages.

Some girls as young as five years old were starting to develop and exhibit the signs of hormonal dysfunction. One of the leading causes of this was and still is believed to be the hormones given to animals, cows especially, to make them grow. It was the first real instance of people being aware that modifying food might not be a good idea for our health and that of our children. Some of the girls tested during this time showed estrogen levels four times the level they should have had. It is believed this was all being caused by the excess hormones in milk.

​Organic Gardening

On organic farms, animals that are used to feed humans in some way are not given growth hormones or given antibiotics. Those farms that are certified organic are prohibited from using any GMO in any aspect of the growing or raising process.

This means an animal that has been injected with hormones to plump it up can’t be made into feed for organically-raised animals. Likewise, if the organically raised animal gets sick and needs antibiotics, it is no longer certified as organic. The only exception is manure from GMO cows, which may be used as fertilizer on organic farms.

​Steps to Creating Your Garden

​​Preparing the Soil

First, the soil has to be taken care of. Plants grow best when the soil is in good shape. What constitutes good soil? Healthy soil has a proper pH balance. This means that it isn’t too acidic and has the correct balance gases such as nitrogen. Healthy soil is the fundamental foundation for a successful garden, especially one that is organic.

There are a few things that you can do to help get your soil ready. The first one starts months in advance. One of the best all-natural fertilizers is decomposed or composted organic material. You have probably known at least one person who has a compost pile in the backyard. Does that person freak out when they see you toss a banana peel in the garbage? That’s because to that person, the skin is going to become part of the compost pile in the backyard. This pile of leftovers will eventually have all the nutrients required to build up the soil for your garden.

To create a compost pile, you can either purchase a barrel or bin from a home improvement store, or make your own out of an old garbage bin or some pieces of wood put together like a box. You can even dig a hole in your backyard. You want to collect all the food waste first. Throw some of it in the designated compost spot. Next, add in some dry organic matter such as yard clippings or leaves. Put down some more food waste and so on. Once you are finished, cover the entire thing with a few inches of dirt. Now, every few days when you go to add more to your pile, take a shovel and turn it first. This will cycle through the organic matter and help it to decompose at an even rate.

While you might think it now, it really isn’t a disgusting endeavor. After a few months of tending to the pile, its contents should turn into a black soil-like substance. This black soil is the pay dirt (pun intended) you’ve been waiting for. It is what is going to beef up your soil and your plants to make your garden grow.

If your compost pile has an odor, it means you don’t have enough leaves or dry matter. Make sure you are adding equal amounts of those parts as well.

When it comes to healthy soil, note:

  • Stronger more dense soil is drought-resistant because it can hold more water
  • Healthy soil won’t wash away so your seeds and seedlings will stay in place
  • Feeding your soil will feed your plants

​Know What Plants to Choose

​When first trying to decide what plants to grow in your garden, aside from choosing plants that will yield the type of food your family eats, you need to consider the area you live in. Not all plants thrive in every nook of the country. It’s essential that you get the right plants for the proper season in your zone. There are charts you can refer to that are helpful in determining what grows best in your area

Another thing to decide is where in your yard your garden will be placed. Will it get full sun or partial? Is it partially covered or will it be open to the rain? These are all things to consider, not only when choosing where to start your garden but also when it comes to what plants to grow.

organic gardening- vegetables in the basket

CC0 pexels, via  pixabay

When deciding among seedlings and seeds, consider where the seedlings are coming from. Is the farm certified-organic or does it utilize pesticides and chemical fertilizers? At landscaping stores and nurseries, they should have a second of seedlings that were started organically. If you can’t find anything like that, then buy seed packets and go for it yourself. There can be an even greater sense of pride watching something grow from the ground up.

No matter which way you decide to go – seedling or seed – be sure you follow the directions on placement. Proper spacing between plants is essential in keeping the soil well-oxygenated. If you want to start out with seeds, placing a few together is fine, but once they start to grow, you’ll have to remove some to prevent overcrowding.

There are always plants that are universally easier to grow than others. These include:

  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Pole beans

If you have never had a garden before, you can’t go wrong with one or all of these choices. They tend to be relatively straightforward to grow, and they often have you harvesting yummy fruits and vegetables throughout the season.

​Watering Your Garden

​Soil, sun, and water: Those are the three elements that are required to grow anything, organic or non-organic. Too much sun and water can be a bad thing; likewise, too little can also be a detriment to your crop.

The best source of water for your garden is rain. There are a few reasons for this.

Rain is temperate: Some plants don’t do well if they are shocked with water that is too warm or too cold. Rainwater falls, in general, at the ambient air temperature (although it may not feel that way to you if you get stuck in a rainstorm).

Raindrops are better for greenery: The best way to avoid having fungus and bacteria collect on the leaves and fruit of your plants is to water them more towards the base of the plant. Watering from the top with a hose or watering can is not a good idea as the water can collect and sometimes cause rot. While the rain is falling from the top, the droplets don’t tend to stay on the greens too long. Enough of it gets through to the soil to start giving the roots the full benefit.

Rain is free: There’s nothing wrong with capitalizing on it when it comes! If you haven’t done so yet, think about placing a rain barrel near your garden where it can catch plenty of rain. This way, when you go through dry spells where it doesn’t rain much, you can use your collected rainwater to feed your garden.

Typically, your garden won’t need much more than an inch of water per week. This is inclusive of rainfall. Use a rain gauge in your garden to determine how much additional water you need to add or if you can skip it. If you do hand-water your garden, make sure to do it as close to the base of the plants as possible.

​Keeping Bugs Away the Natural Way

Bugs are essential for maintaining the balance of chemicals in your garden, and yet they can also be a total nuisance. Unfortunately, many destructive insects like to take up residence on beautifully grown plants. They know where to go to get the good stuff! How can you keep the destructive bugs at bay while being accommodating to the helpful, friendly insects (like earthworms, bees, and butterflies)?

There are a few preventative measures you can take to try and keep the bugs from making a salad bar out of your garden.

Grow some plants predatory bugs don’t like. You can place these as a barrier around your garden. Plants that don’t have succulent leaves or big blossoms tend to detract from the appeal of your garden. You can also plant things that will attract the bugs that feed on the nuisance bugs. This method can also work for predatory animals too, such as deer. Planting mums around your garden can keep the beautiful but pesky creatures away. The smell of the mums is overpowering that they won’t notice all the beautiful tomatoes you have growing on the other side.

Don’t be so quick to chase out those frogs. Frogs are natural predators and love to eat the bugs that will destroy your plants. If you have a frog or lizard that has taken up residence around your garden, that may be all you need to guard your precious crop. There is a good chance though that they will leave at some point, so it’s a good idea to employ more than one method of keeping pesky pests away.

Make sure that your garden isn’t deficient in something. Your garden may be dying, and you don’t know it yet. If you have an infestation of bugs and nothing is keeping them away, it might be time to check the chemical components of your soil to see if something is off. Do a thorough inspection of your plants for spots or signs of disease or infection.

Get an organically approved pesticide. If the problem gets too much for you to handle, head down to your local nursery and ask them for some organically approved pesticides, or you can make your own. Essential oils are a great way to attract the bugs you want while keeping the ones you don’t want far away.

​Weeds Are Always There

Weeds, while a nuisance, are perfectly harmless to your garden if you are diligent in your efforts to control them. If your garden becomes overgrown with weeds, they will soak up all the oxygen and nutrients in your soil and choke out your plants. Pull weeds at the root as soon as you see them prevent them from getting out of control.

You can also use mulch or straw to try and keep weeds from erupting. Either method works for a period of time.

​How to Keep Your Garden Growing and Producing

Imagine a few short months ago you started with a compost pile and a dream. Now that dream has grown, and it’s got a lot to show for all your effort! When your plants start producing, it is super important to begin harvesting the fruit. This might mean you’re pulling tomatoes and bundles of beans out daily. The more you collect, the more your plants will produce. A productive plant is a healthy plant.

It’s best to cut the fruit rather than pulling at it. Sometimes yanking at a plant can inadvertently damage it. Make sure you harvest according to the guidelines set forth on the seed packaging or by looking online for advice. Harvesting something too soon or too late can have negative consequences for the future of that plant.

If your first effort at organic gardening paid off with a bounty of fresh fruits and veggies, then congratulations! It probably wasn’t always easy, but you did it. You managed to grow your own healthy and chemical-free garden. You know where those beans came from and what was used to keep those caterpillars from destroying those tomatoes. Now that you’ve had success gardening, keep the fun going! If you have any interest in hydroponic gardening, you can practice that over the winter months when it’s too cold for anything to grow outside. Remember to keep your compost pile up even during the winter. You’ll be needing it again next growing season.

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