In recent years, organic gardening has become increasingly popular. More and more people are realizing the benefits of food free from dangerous ingredients or hazards, seeking to grow safe, unmodified crops in their own garden.
However, many people often don't know where to start when growing organically, as they're still used to relying on pesticides and other chemicals. Here, then, are some of the most important lessons you will learn as an organic gardener. This includes:
- Learning how to make great, organic compost
- Using insects as natural pest control
- How to combat weeds without chemicals
The main goal in most of these lessons is to stop relying on chemically produced assistance and learn to appreciate the subtle helping hand nature provides. You can do many of these in your own home for little monetary investment. If you put the time and effort in, you will find organic gardening to be a very rewarding experience.
Improve Your Soil
For growing plants and crops, good soil means everything. When you're strictly organic, you often can't rely on the soil enhancing chemicals and fertilizers (unless they're organic) to improve your soil for you. In my experience, a little effort goes a long way towards keeping your soil rich and fertile.
Instead of chemicals, you can often invest in high-quality soil, grown specifically for these purposes. This will add vital nutrients to your garden, giving you a fighting start. Similarly, you should encourage or introduce worms into your garden and compost. You should use both of these solutions regularly.
Making Use Of Your Own Resources
Even organic gardens need a helping hand but, to stay truly organic, you need to avoid using chemicals and artificial supplements. Fortunately, it's easy to find alternatives, often within your own home!
Composting is a classic example. Many people buy this because they don't know how to make it themselves. A compost bin or container is simple to set up and, as long as you ensure that only organic waste goes into it, you can create a material that's rich in plant-loving nutrients and free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals. Good compost generally takes a month or two to form and you can use leftover vegetables, dead leaves, and grass cuttings to create it!
Organic Pest Control
One of the biggest changes in going organic in your garden is going without pesticides. Granted, these are some of the most harmful elements found in modern farming, but it does mean you need an alternative solution. Going organic doesn't mean the bugs are going to leave your crops alone!
There are, of course, organic forms of pest control, if you're willing to embrace nature a little closer. Ask your local garden center if they sell insects for this purpose. Ladybugs eat various pests, for instance, and your local expert can recommend other beneficial insects. Similarly, bio-pesticides are organically friendly materials that repel or combat pests thanks to organically safe bacteria.
In addition to this, there are a number of species you might want to attract into your garden, if possible. A good pond will keep frogs and toads happy. In turn, they will keep flies and other vegetable-damaging pests at bay. Birds and bats are also great insectivores and birds, specifically, are easy to attract with a few well-placed feeders.
Choose The Right Seeds
Even if you know what you want to grow, the right seed can make a big difference. Always ask your garden center or farmer's market how they grow their stock. You might find they use various chemicals or modifiers and, if so, you should not introduce these to your garden.
Furthermore, it's always best to start with seeds, rather than saplings. Saplings are useful if you're just starting out, but these plants are already starting to acclimatize to the soil they are grown in. Often, seeds are much more versatile and adaptable, offering a better match with your own soil.
Safely Combat Weeds
Weeds are a gardener's natural enemy, yet many people don't know how to defeat them without chemicals. The fact is, most gardeners have safer, more beneficial means of killing weeds and a personal favorite of mine is mulch.
Mulch is an organic gardener's best friend. It keeps moisture, prevents weeds from going through and looks after the soil. Furthermore, organic mulch comes in many forms, such as:
- Dead Leaves - Collect these during autumn and allow them to decompose over your soil.
- Grass Clippings - Split these clippings in two, with one pile going to compost and the other pile reserved for mulch!
- Tree Bark and Cuttings - You might not have these yourself but your local garden center should be able to help.
You can also use straw and other organic materials, but these aren't often as beneficial. Good mulch will last a while, whereas straw often needs replacing.
In addition to this, you may have to get your hands dirty, too. The odd weed may appear here and there, so pulling it out yourself is one of the best ways to remove the problem. When you see a weed, take it out, making sure to remove the entire plant and not leave anything that can grow back.
Consider Grow Lights
If you're planning on growing crops all year around, you may want to look into grow lights. These lights help emit UV and encourage photosynthesis. They are also ideal for people who do not have a garden and want to make the most of their indoor space. I've always found such lights useful when I want to grow herbs or other smaller plants, as space is always readily available in the greenhouse or home.
While on the subject of greenhouses, don't underestimate the powerful effect the simple glass structure can have. The glass magnifies the sun, giving your plants what they need. This is useful for plants that tend to grow upwards, such as tomatoes, which can make the most of the light. If you do this, however, adding nutrient-rich compost and watering the plants regularly is essential, as the greenhouse effect often makes things very hot and dry inside.
As a gardener, it's your duty to ensure your plants are healthy. This involves removing them safely when they're not. Dead or ill plants take up room and, specifically with the latter, can run the risk of contaminating the rest of your produce. You should remove diseased plants entirely, including the roots, and dispose of them safely. This means burying them far away from your garden or burning them in a bonfire.
Ill plants should not be put into a compost or mulch, as this may encourage the infection. Dead or expired plants, on the other hand, are more than acceptable. Dead organic matter is a key element to composting and using old plants is an environmentally friendly way to recycle your garden's materials.
One more thing to remember - try leaving your dead plants in over winter. They won't produce anything, but they can protect the soil, form useful habitats for garden animals and still be of use to you come spring.
In summary, this might seem a little daunting at first, but a little effort really does go a long way. Doing everything yourself, wherever possible, is one of the key tenets of organic gardening. Not only do you ensure your garden is safe and chemical-free, it's also much more rewarding when you finally grow your own plants, vegetables, or herbs.
For a lot more great gardening tips, see our guide on 31 Ways to Make You an Organic Gardening Guru.