How to Start Organic Gardening–Back to Basics!

Organic gardening is increasing in popularity more and more every year. People want healthier food, and they want to know where it comes from. The best way to do that is to learn how to start organic gardening!

With organic gardening, you know exactly where your food came from, how it was grown, and that it was grown with love of yourself and your family in mind. You also can save yourself a lot of money in the long run, by avoiding the high cost of organic produce.

First, you need to know where your garden will be located. You’ll need a sunny spot that will get a lot of sunlight throughout the day. The soil needs to be of a good quality—ideally, the soil will be rich, dark, well-draining, and full of nutrients. If you think your garden spot may have been exposed to lawn chemicals or other toxins, consider a raised bed garden.

Raised beds have many advantages anyway, including having the soil warm sooner in the spring. A raised bed has sides at least six inches high, and is filled with soil. Weed blocking fabric or cardboard should be laid down first to prevent weeds from growing up through your garden.

The bed sides can be made of almost anything, from wood to plastic to rocks. Avoid concrete blocks, as concrete absorbs an incredible amount of water, you’ll either have dried-out plant roots or a high water bill. Also avoid any wood that had been treated, or has been painted with toxic paint or stains. The best book on raised bed gardening is Square Foot Gardening, by Mel Bartholomew, and it’s a wonderful resource for those who are researching how to start organic gardening.

Next, you’ll need to do some research on where to put what types of plants. A plant variety may do excellent next to one type of plant, and terrible next to another. Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte is an excellent source for helping plan your garden layout.

You also want to know how tall a plant can get, and how much sunlight and/or shade it can tolerate. Vining plants should be trained up trellises at the north end of the garden, where they won’t prevent the sunlight from getting to the plants that need it. Lettuces will need to be shaded from the hot midsummer sun to prevent them from bolting (going to seed).

Order garden seed catalogs in December, when they first come out, so you can spend the winter doing your planning, and be ready by spring. As tempting as it may be to buy the cheap seeds from a big box or grocery store—DON’T! They are almost always from companies that produce GMO seed—seed which has been genetically altered, and may, according to one seed company’s own study, be a risk to your health. Even if the seeds say “organic”, that doesn’t mean they’re good. Stick with companies like Baker Creek Seeds and Seed Savers—fabulous small companies dedicated to preserving heirloom seed (open-pollinated, historical seed).

Another consideration for seed choice is whether or not the seed will do well in your growing zone. Check out the USDA growing zones online to find out what zone you fall in, and purchase seeds that will do well in your area.

Gardeners in the north should stick to shorter-season seeds, while gardeners in the south need to choose varieties that will tolerate heat, and possibly drought if you live in a dry area.

If you have poor soil or are using the raised bed gardening method, you’ll need to bring in good soil. Some companies deliver dirt for a reasonable price, but be careful—you often won’t know where it came from, and it could be full of lawn chemicals or other toxins.

A safer—though more expensive—choice might be mixing your own. Mel Bartholomew uses a mix of equal parts peat moss, vermiculite (crushed volcanic rock that holds water), compost (from a varied blend of compost types.

Once you’ve learned how to start organic gardening, and your garden is in and growing, watch carefully for garden pests, and research organic pest-control methods. Slugs can be caught by setting out a saucer with beer in it, and aphids can be killed by mixing a solution of crushed fresh tobacco leaves (a good reason to grow one or two tobacco plants) and water, and spraying it on your plant. There are also organic, natural bug repellants out there, but they are more expensive.

Look for the OMRI-certified brands—that tells you that it’s allowed on certified organic crops. You can also order beneficial bugs like ladybugs, and introduce them to your garden to eat some of the pests.

Gardening can be hard work, especially the first year. But in addition to knowing where your food comes from and saving money, you also have the benefit of getting exercise, fresh air, participating in an activity that is fun for the whole family, and gaining the many scientifically-validated health benefits that gardening can bring.