Organic Gardening 101: How To Get Started

Spring is just around the corner, so now is the time to start planning your garden. Building a garden can be a very rewarding activity.

Not only will you get off your ass and out of the house, you’ll get some exercise and you’ll learn to appreciate the natural beauty of growing your own food.

You will become acquainted with the different stages of plant growth.

At the end, you have the reward of great-tasting food, which is not only better quality than you can get at the supermarket, but may even be better for you.

We link to suppliers to help you find relevant products. If you buy through one of our links, we may earn a commission.

You know what went into your food and you don’t have to worry about toxic chemicals being absorbed into your body.

I’m not your typical green, organic, Prius-driving, mantra-singing, granola eater. I drive an SUV, own guns, and use Roundup on pesky weeds in the front yard. However, I do advocate organic methods when it comes to growing your own food.

Benefits can be gained by gardening organically. Your food will taste better.

You don’t use super high concentrations of nitrogen to accelerate plant growth beyond natural ability.

Your garden will thrive on an organic diet, as the beneficial bacteria and insects that complete the ecosystem built by nature will not be killed off.

Organic gardens cost much less: if you have your natural ecosystem in place, it will require less maintenance.

You are not always throwing out chemicals to balance things out. You use compost instead of expensive fertilizers.

These fertilizers are increasingly needed because your growing seasons of non-organic gardening deplete natural nutrients and thus are not sustainable.

The best thing about organic gardening is that it is healthier. You don’t run the risk of putting pesticides or synthetic fertilizers in your body.

If I’ve convinced you that organic gardening is the way to go, I encourage you to research this more and find the best practices that suit your particular area.

The following is a description of what I do to grow a beautiful high yielding organic garden.

I have a 25 by 25 foot yard. Each year production increases as the soil continues to improve.

I start looking through seed catalogs this time of year to see if there is anything I find interesting to grow that wouldn’t be available at a local nursery.

Read Also  Ultimate Guide to Understanding Garden Soil

There are thousands of esoteric items that are not available as seedlings.

There are many who proclaim that a no-till garden is the only way to go. They claim that not tilling the garden allows your underground ecosystem to fully develop.

If you’re interested, I suggest you do your research.

I’m too lazy to go through this process myself. Every winter, in mid-February, I use a propane torch to burn off the weeds and remaining plants.

I also believe this can kill harmful plant pests such as insect eggs and various plant diseases.

Once my yard is charred, I toss in my compost and an organic blend of fertilizers (listed at the end of the article) and work them in with my roto tiller.

For the seeds I’m interested in, I try to get them in February and germinate them six to eight weeks before planting.

Here in Portland, Oregon, I plant in mid-May, so March 1 is the time for me to plant the seeds. I use grow lights and seed trays with warmers. A conservatory can be used.

At the beginning of May I choose my plants from the nursery. I choose these over seeds because they have such a high success rate.

Paying well for a large, healthy supply from a reputable nursery will give you the best results.

Before planting, I definitely lay out my rows of soaker hoses. Not only does a soaker hose use much less water (up to 70%), it brings the water much deeper into the roots where it is needed.

You will even find higher production using soaker hoses instead of broadcast watering, and much lower water bills.

Corn is a great garden vegetable to grow. However, it takes more resources.

You will need to water corn heavily almost every day and you will need to fertilize heavily. In addition to your organic mixture in your soil, for corn, apply fish emulsion or fish fertilizer weekly for best results.

Home-grown corn is very different from grocery store-bought corn. The sugars in corn begin to break down into starch as soon as it is harvested.

If you’re growing your own corn, it’s best to boil your water to cook the corn, and once it boils, pick your corn.

Read Also  How and when to compost tomato plants

The less time the corn spends cooking the stalk, the better. You will be amazed at the quality of your homegrown corn; you’ll never want to buy store bought again.

Corn can be difficult for the home grower, often because home growers don’t fertilize or water enough, as mentioned earlier. Also, the seed packets will tell you not to soak the corn kernels before planting.

This is because if you were to put a soaked kernel in a dry soil, it will fail. However, soaking the granules in water and planting them in moist soil after 24 hours of soaking will give you a good start to growth.

I soak my kernels and usually get 12 foot stems (depending on the variety).

Roma tomatoes are great for growing because they can be easily canned and used year-round and made into a sauce.

There are also many more tomatoes to experiment with. There are literally hundreds of varieties. Some great for sandwiches, some great for salsas, and some not only taste great but are also very unique and beautiful looking.

I would encourage someone to try several varieties of heirloom tomatoes and some hybrids. Did you know you can grow black or white tomatoes?

Once you have planted tomatoes, place tomato cages around the plant if they are truss-type tomatoes. Some tomatoes grow along the ground and a cage won’t make a difference.

Other crops I’ve had great success with are beans. I plant bush beans and pole beans along my garden fence. Beans are another wonderful addition to your dinner table.

A great feature of beans is that they don’t take too long to ripen and they produce over a period of several weeks.

That means that while you wait all summer for the potato harvest, you will at least have an ample supply of beans. However, beans do not like excess fertilizer.

While you would fertilize all your other vegetables every two to three weeks with an application of fish emulsion, you don’t want to apply any supplemental fertilizer to your bean crop at all. Your initial soil amendments will suffice.

If you give your beans too much nitrogen, they will become very thin and too fast. Beans are nitrogen-fixing, meaning the roots actually provide nitrogen to the soil.

Read Also  How To Make And Use Comfrey Tea Fertilizer

Carrots are also a great crop to plant. You need to make sure your soil is very loose with plenty of sand for your roots to grow.

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage are known as cold weather crops. They are best planted later in the summer and harvested in cool fall weather. Shade is also a good idea for these crops.

Follow any planting instructions that come with your seeds or plants.

If you love garlic like I do, you’re already too late. I am sorry to inform you.

Garlic can be started with the same soil preparations as your vegetable garden, but should be started in the fall, usually around Halloween and no later than Thanksgiving.

The bulbs need a cold shock.

Once planted in the fall, garlic bulbs can be harvested in early to mid-summer.

Weeding is a challenge in organic gardening. Since you won’t be using herbicides, you’ll need to remove weeds manually.

This is necessary, as weeds can choke your plants and starve them of water and nutrients.

Weeding can be minimized by using the soaker hoses mentioned earlier, as water will be very localized. Mulch can also be used between rows to smother weeds.

Otherwise, weeds can be easily controlled with constant maintenance. Removing small weeds before they have a chance to grow large roots is much easier.

Organic Fertilizer Mix

I learned about this mix from an article in Mother Earth News. This article was titled, “A Better Way to Fertilize Your Garden” by Steve Solomon. This is the recipe:

4 parts cottonseed meal ¼ part agricultural lime, finely ground ¼ part gypsum (breaks clay apart) ½ part dolomite lime 1 part bone meal ½ part kelp meal

Mix these thoroughly. You can get these from your local farm or feed store. In Portland I can get all of these items at Portland Concentrates. Use 4 liters of mixture per 10 square meters.

Good luck with your organic garden. It can be hard work, but trust me, it’s very rewarding. Once you garden, you will probably look forward to every summer of gardening fun.

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our Terms of Service for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.