Organic Gardening 101: How to Get Started

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

Not only do you get off your butt and out of the house, you get some exercise and you get to appreciate the natural beauty of growing your own food.

You get to witness the various stages of plant growth.

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

A gardener carries a box of freshly harvested organic vegetables.

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

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

Benefits can be gained through organic food gardening. Your food will taste better.

You aren’t using 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 that nature built, will not be killed off.

Organic gardens cost much less: when you have your natural ecosystem in place it requires less maintenance.

You’re not always out there putting out chemicals trying to keep things in balance. You’re using compost rather than expensive fertilizers.

These fertilizers are needed more and more as your growing seasons of non-organic gardening depletes natural nutrients, and thus are not sustainable.

The best part about organic gardening is that is it healthier. You do not risk putting pesticides or synthetic fertilizers into your body.

If I have convinced you that organic gardening is the way to go, I encourage you to do more research on this, and find the best methods that suite your particular area.

The following is a description of what I do to raise a wonderful, high yield, organic garden.

I have a 25 by 25 foot garden space. Every year, production increases as the soil gets better and better.

I start off this time of year by combing through seed catalogs to see if there is anything I am interesting in growing that wouldn’t be available at a local nursery.

There are thousands of esoteric items not available as seedlings.

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

If you are interested, I suggest you research.

I am too lazy myself to go through this process. Every winter, in mid February, I use a propane torch to burn the weeds and remaining plant life away.

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

Once my garden is charred, I throw on my compost and an organic mixture of fertilizers (mentioned at end of article) and till them in with my roto-tiller.

For the seeds I am interested in, I try to get them by February and sprout them six to eight weeks before planting.

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

In early May, I select my plants from the nursery. I choose these instead of seeds because they have such a high success rate.

If you pay good money for large, healthy stock from a reputable nursery, you will have the best results.

Before planting, I am sure to lay out my rows of soaker hose. A soaker hose not only uses much less water (up to 70%), it delivers water much deeper into the roots where it is needed.

You will actually find higher production using soaker hoses rather than broadcast watering, and much lower water bills.

Soaker hoses look like black garden hoses with pores, where the water sweats through.

Miracle Gro MGSPA38100FM Premium Bulk Soaker Hose Kit with EZ Connect Fittings, 3/8-Inch by 100-Feet

Be sure to water your garden well, but over watering can cause tomatoes to crack. During the peak of summer I usually turn the soaker hoses on every other day for a half hour.

If you see your leaves wilt, you will need to water more.

Corn is a great garden vegetable to grow. It does take more resources, however.

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

Home grown corn is very different from supermarket purchased corn. The sugars in corn start to break down into starch the second it is harvested.

If you grow your own corn, it is best to get your water boiling for cooking the corn, and once it has reached the boil, pick your corn.

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

Corn can be hard for the home gardener, often because home gardeners fail to fertilize or water sufficiently as mentioned previously. Also, the seed packages will tell you to not soak the corn kernels before planting.

This is because if you were to put a soaked kernel into a dry ground, it will fail. If you soak the kernels in water, however, and then plant them after 24 hours of soaking into a moist soil, you will have a good jump start on the growing.

I soak my kernels, and usually get 12 foot stalks (depending on variety.).

Roma tomatoes are great to grow, as they are easily canned and can be used year around and made into 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 wonderful, but are very unique and beautiful looking.

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

Once you plant tomatoes put your tomato cages up around the plant if they are vine type tomatoes. Some tomatoes grow along the ground and a cage will not make any difference.

Other crops I have huge success with are beans. I plant bush beans and pole beans along my garden fencing. Beans are another wonderful addition to your dinner table.

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

That means that while you are waiting all summer for potato harvest time, at least you’ll have an ample supply of beans. Beans, however, do not like excess fertilizer.

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

If you supply your beans with too much nitrogen, they will grow really thin and too fast. Beans are nitrogen fixing, meaning that the roots actually supply nitrogen into the soil.

Carrots are also a great crop to plant. You must be sure that your soil is very loose with plenty of sand so your carrots can grow.

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

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

If you are like me and love garlic, you are already too late. I am sorry to inform you.

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

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 with organic gardening. Since you will not be using herbicides, you will need to manually pull rogue weeds.

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

Weeding can be minimized with the use of the before mentioned soaker hoses, as water will be very localized. Mulch can also be used between rows to smother weeds.

Otherwise weeds can be easily contained by constant upkeep. Eliminating 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 entitled: “A Better Way to Fertilize Your Garden” by Steve Solomon. This is the recipe:

  • 4 parts cotton seed meal
  • ¼ part agricultural lime, finely ground
  • ¼ part gypsum (breaks apart clay)
  • ½ part dolomitic lime
  • 1 part bone meal
  • ½ part kelp meal

Mix these thoroughly. You can obtain these at your local farm or feed store. In Portland, I can get all these items at Portland Concentrates. Use 4 quarts mixture per 100 square feet.

Good luck with your organic garden. It can be hard work, but trust me, it is very rewarding. Once you try gardening, you will probably look forward to every summer, filled with garden delight.

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