There are many different reasons that you might find yourself bringing an organic lifestyle into your garden. For some, the allure of organic gardening stems from the desire to promote a healthy environment and further connect with nature. For others, these changes to your gardening habits are influenced by the potential negative effects of using unnatural substances on the food that you might be growing. In general, regardless of your initial motivations, organic gardening can have a vast number of positive effects in both your life and in the environment if you’re willing to put in the extra work to learn the ins and outs and set up a new gardening routine. In order to dive into the “how” and our step-by-step guide to start organic gardening, we must first dissect the “what”: What is organic gardening?
Defining Organic Gardening
Oxford Dictionary classifies organic in relation to food or farming as production without the use of chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides or artificial agents. It’s worth noting, however, that without further explanation, this definition must be taken with a grain of salt when considering what organic gardening looks like in 2020. Breaking this definition down, we must consider that organic and inorganic substances alike are chemical in nature, based on the scientific rather than colloquial definition of chemical and chemistry. In addition, organic gardeners do in fact use substances that act as fertilizers or pesticides. The important aspect here, however, is that the substances used are naturally created and pose no threat to the environment.
The two pillars of modern organic gardening are promoting a healthy environment and connecting with the earth in order to learn its patterns and preferences when it comes to gardening. This starts in the soil, which is the foundation of all gardening. Nurturing the soil in ways that are inspired by natural systems and methods is the bottom line of organic gardening, and this, by association, denounces the use of anything that could harm the environment - beyond just your garden - including man-made and toxic chemical additives that would not otherwise be used in nature’s processes.
Implementing Organic Gardening in Your Routine
While transitioning to organic gardening can be a personal process that involves the gardener’s unique interactions and experiences with their own garden, soil and resources, there are a few guidelines/tips to keep in mind that will assist you in making a seamless switch.
Preparing Your Soil
What you’ll need: a plot of land with eight to 10 hours of sunlight and good drainage, organic compost (homemade or purchased) or organically enhanced soil (purchased), newspaper and hay/straw/piles of dead leaves
If you're just starting off with gardening, make sure to pick a plot of land that receives full sunlight and allows water to easily drain rather than pooling on top of the land. This doesn’t have to be a large plot; 4 feet in length and width will do. At this point, you can use a sharp spade cut into the sod to expose the soil underneath and a pitchfork to break up any clumps, or prepare the soil by layering newspaper, hay and dead leaves on top of it early in the season and allowing those nutrients to decompose into your garden.
If you are an avid gardener transitioning to organic, you might consider starting fresh in a new plot in order to prevent the spread of any diseases or infestations that your current garden might carry. If you’re not quite ready to make that move, you can prepare the soil in your current garden using the above method of layering nutrients, or skip straight ahead to working compost into your soil.
Once your plot is chosen and prepared, you can begin the process of feeding and nurturing your soil. One of the most common ways that organic gardeners begin this process is by using homemade or pre-purchased compost. Compost gets broken down by microorganisms in the soil, turning it into a sort of natural fertilizer.
Protecting Your Plants
What you’ll need: mulch from native trees (clippings, leave, etc.), companion plants (see table below for list)
The two greatest threats to your organic garden are likely to be weeds and pests. Weeds are the easier of the two to control. By heavily applying mulch at the beginning of and throughout your gardening season, you can deprive weeds of sunlight and make it easier to pull them if they do manage to push through your heavy layer of mulch. An added benefit of mulch is that it helps preserve the water in the soil, allowing it to nourish your garden’s roots for longer.
Pests and insects can be a bigger challenge to conquer when it comes to organic gardening. You’ll want to make sure that you can limit their survival in your garden without causing damage to any non harmful creatures or the environment at large. The best way to do this is by partaking in companion planting. There are certain species of plants that are known to deter different species of insects, as demonstrated in the table below. Strategically planting these species, depending on the main pests in your area, can be a huge help in reducing the instances of pest infestation in your garden. It’s always a good idea as well to plant more than you are expecting to need in order to be prepared for infestations that do make it past your companion planting guard system.
|Companion Plants Index|
|Nasturtiums||White flies, cabbage loopers, aphids, beetles, squash bugs|
|Petunias||Aphids, asparagus beetles, leafhoppers, squash bugs, tomato hornworms|
|Lavender||Moths, fleas, flies, mosquitos|
|Thyme||Whiteflies, cabbage loopers, cabbage maggots, corn earworms, tomato hornworms|
|Dill||Aphids, squash bugs, spider mites, cabbage loopers, tomato hornworms|
|Fennel||Aphids, slugs, snails|
|Allium (chives, onions, leeks, shallots)||Slugs, aphids, carrot flies, cabbage worms|
|Chrysanthemums||Roaches, ants, japanese beetles, ticks, silverfish, live, fleas, begbuds, spider mites, harlequin bugs, root-knot nematodes|
If you are dealing with larger pests not manageable through companion planting, it may be a good idea to employ a net or protective barrier around your garden.
Ongoing Care of Your Organic Garden
Getting your garden set up requires you to dedicate a rather large block of time to preparing your garden for success. However, the most successful organic gardens require a steady amount of garden care time throughout the season and the year. Here are some of our key takeaways in caring for your organic garden:
- Be sure to feed your plants consistently, adding in compost regularly throughout your gardening season.
- Use gardening tools that adhere to your organic gardening principles of not putting any harmful toxins/chemicals into the environment. For example, check out the Element® Green&GROW® Lead-Free Garden Hose.
- Continue adding mulch onto your garden when it begins to look bare. Pick any weeds as soon as they arise.
- Rotate the location of your garden and/or crops each new planting season.
Organic gardening can be a fruitful, fulfilling and surprisingly easy task for the dedicated gardener. With these tips, you’ll be prepared to take your garden organic in 2020. Happy gardening!
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