The benefits of organic gardening extend beyond better tasting tomatoes. Organic produce free from pesticides reduces cancer risk. Homegrown organic vegetables raised using compost and other natural fertilizers reduces oil consumption. Replacing one tone of manufactured nitrogen fertilizer with organic counterparts such as chicken litter or compost saves the equivalent of 456 gallons of diesel fuel.
Of course, better tasting tomatoes is reason enough for many folks to try their hand at organic gardening. There is some hard work involved – no getting around that. But it’s not too hard and the pay off is good eating that is good for the planet.
Read more about 'organic gardening'
Here are a few things to keep in mind when getting started on your organic garden.
Consider the size of your family and how much you’ll eat before you plow up the backyard. Will you eat fresh produce only? Or will you be canning and freezing your harvest?
Pick your spot. It should be sunny and, for convenience sake, close to a hose spigot. You want a plot of well-drained soil if you decide not to build a raised bed.
Have your soil tested at the local Cooperative Extension System office to learn how best to amend the soil. The agricultural experts there are also a good source of information on what types of plants thrive best in your area and other organic gardening tips. You can find a Cooperative Extension System office close to you here: www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/index.html.
Take your time
Planning the planting of your garden is necessary because the natural processes key to organic gardening take time. Organic fertilizer and soil conditioning materials should be mixed into the soil of your garden at least three weeks ahead of planting. This is the most labor-intensive part of gardening because the material must be mixed in well with the dirt using an old-fashioned shovel and rake. Adding organic material such as manure or compost improves the structure of the soil, boosts its ability to hold water and contributes nutrients.
Time can also be an ally in fighting weeds. After preparing your bed, moisten the soil and cover it tightly with clear plastic. Use bricks to weigh down the edges. The sun will cook any weed seeds lying in wait, but the process takes a few weeks.
Reduce the number of weeds you’ll have to pull – yes, there really is no easy alternative – by putting down a layer of mulch around the plants in your organic garden. Common mulching materials include pine straw, wheat straw, fallen leaves and unfinished compost.
Be diligent. Better to spend a few relaxing minutes each day or two plucking the odd wayward weed than an entire Saturday morning reclaiming your garden.
Don’t let insects bug you
Fewer weeds mean fewer bugs. And not all bugs are bad for your organic garden. Praying mantis, spiders, ladybugs and wasps are bugs that eat the bugs that eat your vegetables. Planting herbs and flowers among the vegetables can attract predator insects that will keep harmful pests in check.
Organic alternatives to pesticides include insecticidal soaps and plant-based insecticides such as pyrethirn. But spending a few peaceful minutes in the garden each day and plucking bugs off the plants in your organic garden goes a long way in managing the damage they do.
(Text by Clint Williams)
Photo: Mark F. Levisay/Flickr