Organic gardening is an incredibly popular option for so many home gardeners. Even if you don’t see a reason to go completely organic, using organic gardening techniques can not only make your vegetables healthier but also save you money in the long run. Organic gardens don’t use as many short term resources. Instead, you make small investments of time and resources that add up to a productive garden.
Don’t feel like you have to start going with a 100% organic gardening today. Start out by doing your own seed starts or reusing your kitchen scraps in a compost pile. If you want to go totally organic, that’s fine too. You should become familiar with OMRI and it’s purpose in the organic gardening world and product labels.
Organic Seed Starting
I highly recommend starting your own seeds as a fabulous way to start your own organic gardening. If you want to use your crop to get seeds for next year, make sure to buy heirloom varieties since their seeds will breed true to form. When choosing seeds, read the back of the packet for all the important information.
The back of the seed packet will have incredibly important information. You will find the year the seeds were packaged, which is important since they’re only good for a couple years. There will also be planting instructions for seed depth, amount of sun, and timing.
For a potting mix you can use something labeled as a “seed starting” mix, which is the easiest way to be certain you are using the appropriate mix. I personally use a basic potting mix from Black Gold. It is vital that you use potting mix and not soil though, since soil can compact down and prevent seeds from sprouting. You can mix your own potting mix with peat, perlite, and a little fertilizer, though it’s difficult to get the mix correct and unless you are doing a lot of plants it isn’t any more cost effective.
When it comes to grow lights, there are a ton of options available to you today. I personally use an LED light fixture that gives off a purple light ,making my living room look kind of like a drug den. It is incredibly effective though and it’s very simple to see any diseased or dead plant parts. My mom uses a fluorescent light fixture that looks much more calm but it’s still a somewhat raucous light blue. Make sure to get something that is full spectrum so that your plants get the light that they need. I leave my fixture on all the time and it works great for my plants.
Organic Gardening Companion Planting Techniques
Three Sisters Garden
There is an Iroquois technique that is my favorite companion planting technique. When it is warm enough to plant, you plant corn in a small cluster on top of a mound. About three weeks later, you plant beans underneath the corn. A few weeks after that, you plant squash beside that. The corn provides structure for the beans to grow on. The beans fix atmospheric nitrogen into something the other plants can use. The squash shades the ground to help keep the weeds away.
Compost is one of the easiest ways to add nutrients to your soil organically. Not only is it easy but it makes a great use out of your kitchen scraps as well. Compost does take some time to work its magic and make your organic garden extraordinary because you need to mix it into the soil year after year. If you are like me and your soil is kind of awful to begin with, build some taller raised beds for the ultimate in good compost laden dirt. Check out my how to article on how to build these fabulous raised beds.
Good compost mixes both green, wet items, like grass clippings, and brown, dry items like newspaper. You can also mix in specific things to get the desired nutrients, from nitrogen to calcium. If you want to add nitrogen, mix in coffee grounds for example. For more information on specific compost adders, check out my information on plant fertilizers.
Organic Gardening Disease Control
Organic gardening pest control is done by putting in a little amount of time on a regular basis. A healthy garden is a garden that remains free of pests. If you plants are fertilizes and the garden is mulched well, you are less likely to grow pests in addition to vegetables.
In organic gardening, the best defense against insects is other insects. After all, its a bug eat bug world out there. Ladybugs, praying mantids, and spiders are all insects that prey on other insects. Most home centers have some of these options for sale. Encourage birds to make homes in your garden as well.
If you have a problem with all insects, whether beneficial or not, I highly recommend diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth is fossilized, tiny seashells that you can spread on the ground. The shells cut the exoskeleton of insects and kills them. Theory says that you could probably eat the stuff without being harmed, but I wouldn’t try it.
Plants are susceptible to all types of viruses, bacteria, and fungal invaders. For fungus issues, if you water early in the morning and low to the ground, most fungal diseases can be prevented. My favorite method of watering to prevent fungal diseases is with a drip irrigation system. I go into these systems in depth in another article though. Bacteria and viruses can be prevented from spreading by pruning diseased tissue. I have a rose that has mosaic virus spreading through it. Unfortunately, I had to cut back the majority of the plant last year but it’s coming back. I’ll continue to fight on though because the rose isn’t gone yet.
Slugs, Snails, and Moles Oh My!
Slugs, snails, and moles are the most invasive of the garden pests. The good news is that slugs and snails are easy to keep at bay with copper around a raised bed or hazelnut shells used as mulch, ever popular here in the northwest. My mother is still a huge fan of beer traps; small lids full of beer laid out in the garden beds to attract and kill them.
Moles are easiest to keep out of beds with 1/2″ hardware cloth laid underneath. You could try to set traps throughout the burrows or use a bad smelling repellent. Cats are the most effective mole killer you can find and there are thousands of barn cats that need good homes. For a little food, water, and shelter, they’ll keep your garden mole free forever.
Organic gardening is a labor of love. It is one labor that is well worth it though in the end for the gardener. You will find that you have a great sense of accomplishment when your garden produces for you. Every pepper, every ear of corn become more valuable. You have the reassurance of knowing that the produce was grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. For the family that has people more sensitive to chemicals, an organic garden is incredibly valuable. Put a little time and effort into your organic garden and it will reward you endlessly.