What is Organic Gardening?
Most gardeners do not understand what organic gardening is all about or how to have an organic garden. Organic gardening is essentially gardening without using synthetic products like fertilizers and pesticides. It involves the use of only natural products to grow plants in your garden. Organic gardening replenishes the natural resources as it uses them. In organic gardening, you consider your plants as part of the larger natural system that begins with the soil and includes water supply, the wildlife; insects and people. Everyone wants the food we serve to our families as well as our environment to be safe and healthy. A good organic gardener strives to ensure that his or her activities are in harmony with the natural ecosystem and aims at minimizing exploitation as well as replenishing all the resources consumed by his or her garden.
Gardeners and people who have come across the word organic gardening probably usually desire to know what it means. Organic gardening is a terminology that simply refers to growing of plants, vegetables, and fruits in the best natural way without the use of pesticides or synthetic chemical fertilizers. Even so, organic gardening is more than simply avoiding the use pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
Gardening organically encompasses supporting the health of the entire gardening system naturally. It means working in harmony with the natural systems including the soil, water supply, people, and even insects with an ultimate aim of minimizing destruction to living and non-living things in the natural environment while constantly replenishing any resources utilized during gardening.
Organic gardening fundamentals requires cultivation emphasized on creating an ecosystem that nourishes and sustains soil microbes and plants, while also benefiting insects rather than just putting seeds in the ground and letting them grow.
To begin with, there are three major areas to concentrate on to maintain the objectives of organic gardening. These includes: soil management which is dealt with by using organic fertilizer; weed management which is managed by manual labor and use of organic ground coverings; and lastly pest control which is dealt with by promoting beneficial insects and companion planting. These are the top key strategies for becoming an organic gardener. Proper knowledge is essential in organic gardening and requires simple fundamental lessons to get reliable results.
To sum up, organic gardening is as simple as relying on intermingling plant types and varieties, use of companion planting, dense planting in order for some plants to offer companion to vulnerable plants, and supporting natural systems to minimize spread of pests and diseases.
Organic Gardening magazine editor, Therese Ciesinski, describes organic gardening as:
“Organic gardening is more than simply avoiding synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. It is about observing nature’s processes, and emulating them in your garden as best you can. And the most important way to do that is to understand the makeup of your soil and to give it what it needs. If anything could be called a ‘rule’ in organic gardening, it’s this: feed the soil, not the plant.”
Step by Step Process to Start an Organic Garden
The following is a step by step process on how to start an organic garden:
1. Prepare the Soil
The soil is the most important thing or resource when it comes to organic gardening. It is achieved through continuous addition of organic matter to the soil by using locally available resources in every possible aspect. If you want your plants to be healthy, you will need to thoroughly prepare the soil on which they will grow on.
Just like human beings, plants require food and the food in this case comes from the soil. Therefore, you need to ensure that your plants get plenty of fresh nutrients. Proper soil conditioning will give your plants all the nutrients they need.
Chemical soil treatments not only destroy the soil composition but they also harm the important microorganisms, worms, and bacteria in the soil. To begin, you will have to test the soil PH. You can do this by buying a home testing kit or simply collect some soil samples and send them to the local agricultural extension office for proper testing and analysis.
2. Make Good Compost
As you wait for soil sample results, you can make the compost. Compost helps in providing plants with nutrients, helps conserve water, helps in the reduction of weeds and helps in keeping food as well as yard waste out of landfills.
Compost can be obtained or made from locally available resources such as leaves, grass trimmings, yard garbage/remains, and kitchen waste. Alternatively, compost is readily available for purchase from mulch suppliers or organic garden centers. You can use these steps in making compost.
- Measure out space that is at least three square feet
- Get a pile of natural dead plants or leaves
- Add alternating layers of leaves, garden trimmings (carbon) and nitrogen (green) materials, for instance, kitchen leftovers and manure. Put a layer or separate them with a layer of soil.
- Cover the pile with about 4-6 inches of soil.
- Turn the pile every time a new layer is added to the mixture. During this process, ensure that water is added to keep the mixture moist to enhance microorganism activity.
- The compost should not smell but in case it does, add some more dry leaves, saw dust or straw and then turn it regularly. Do this for about four weeks or a month and you will have good compost needed for your organic garden.
3. Prepare Your Garden
Once you are waiting for the compost to be ready, the next step is to prepare your garden. After receiving a go ahead from your local agricultural extension officer concerning the right soil type, it is now time to prepare the garden area. Using available gardening tools you can carefully prepare your garden. However, it is important to ensure that you do not completely destroy the soil.
4. Choose the Right Plants
Once you are through with preparing your garden, the next step is to select the right plants for your garden. Soil sampling and testing will come in handy at this stage. It is important to choose plants that will thrive well in specific micro-conditions of your soil type. Carefully choose plants that will thrive well in different spots in your garden in terms of moisture, light, and drainage as well as the soil quality. Remember the healthier your plants are, the more and more resistant your crops will be to attackers.
Another mechanism for growing organically is to select plants suited to the garden. Crops well adapted to the gardens climate and conditions are better able to grow with minimal input. Also, growing crops well adapted to the site ensure greater natural defenses. Meaning, little attention and input is required for boosting crop productivity.
When purchasing seedlings, ensure that you go for plants that are raised without synthetic chemicals or pesticides. Your local farmers market is a good place to do your purchases. You will not only find a variety of plants but plant varieties that are best suited for your local area. Carefully select plants that look healthy and are without overcrowded roots.
5. Plant the Crops in Beds
When planting your crops ensure that you plant them in wide beds. Planting them in beds prevents you from walking on them and destroying the soil surface when harvesting or when cutting the flowers. Additionally, grouping crops helps in reducing weeding, wastage of water and makes it easier for you to apply compost. It also enables the plants to utilize the available nutrients and water. Ensure that there is adequate space between the rows. This helps in promoting air circulation which helps in repelling fungal attacks.
6. Water the Crops
Once you have planted your crops, the next step is to water them. It is good to water the plants immediately after planting them to give them the much-needed water to enable them to continue growing. You can also water them every morning. It is recommended to water your pants in the morning because there are no strong winds, mornings are cool and the water lost as a result of evaporation is immensely reduced. Experts recommend considerable, infrequent watering for plants that are already established.
7. Weeding: According to CSU, Weeds reduce crop yield by competing for water, light, soil nutrients, and space. In agricultural crops, weeds can reduce crop quality by contaminating the commodity. They can serve as hosts for diseases or provide shelter for insects to overwinter. It may be a hard work to pull out weeds by hand but then its a good exercise that helps you to get some fresh air.
8: Provide Nutrients to Your Plants: When you do organic gardening, you need to look out for eco-friendly ways to protect your plants from toxic pesticides and fertilizers. So, you need to make sure that your plants get enough light, nutrients and moisture that help them to grow better. Also, a diverse garden would help to prevent pests, by limiting the amount of one type of plant and gives boost to biodiversity.
Instead of using chemical pesticides, organic gardening emphasizes on promoting beneficial insects and companion planting. Organic farmers need not to eliminate insects and diseases by using chemicals. Rather, pest control is done through keeping pests and diseases below damaging levels. One of the major mechanisms is by promoting beneficial insects and pest predators such as bats, birds, lizards, toads, and spiders.
The key to succeeding in this area is to grow a wide variety of companion crops that supports the ecological niche of these species. Avoiding the use of synthetic pesticides as well ensures their survival. Nipping off infected/infested leaves or buds, uprooting infected crops, crop rotation, and handpicking insect pests and eggs are excellent methods for controlling pest populations. Maintaining garden cleanliness is another effective tool for organic pest control.
Natural sprays or pesticides can equally be used in addition to the cultural pest control methods. They are readily available from organic garden centers and their products contain the bacterium Bacillus, neem oil, and minerals like copper. Their ability to break down quickly has promoted their wide usage in place of the synthetic chemical pesticides. Besides, there are some vegetable/fruit pests and diseases that are beyond natural and organic control, thereby requiring the use of natural sprays.
9. Use of Organic Fertilizers
As much as organic matter and compost will improve water and nutrient retention in the soil, the supply of all the required nutrients for healthy and productive growth is limited. Besides compost, organic gardening requires additional fertilizers drawn from natural sources such as: plant products like wood ash; natural deposits for example rock phosphate; and animal byproducts as well as manures.
Agricultural lime is another natural product frequently added to soil to improve its quality. It is produced from naturally occurring limestone and is added to the soil to optimize pH if the soil is too acidic. Soil pH levels vary from one locality to another. Local extension offices usually provide guidance on soil pH level testing within their jurisdiction areas. However, most soils do not need additional liming.
10. Taking Care of Your Organic Garden
There are important maintenance tips for your organic garden if you want to maintain or harvest healthy plants. Some of these practices include:
- Watering in the mornings
- Use of compost
- Use of natural manure especially from animals that do not eat meat
- Weeding at the right time
- Prune regularly to allow for proper aeration and effective use of nutrients including light.
Various Benefits of Organic Gardening
- Reduces the Amount of Pesticides You and Your Family Consume
Organic gardening focuses on the use of only natural products to grow plants. This means that there is no use of pesticides. Therefore, the crops obtained from this type of gardening are free of pesticides and other chemicals. You will live a healthy life without worrying about consuming chemicals through consuming crops.
Organic gardening promises good health because the produce is free from toxic ingredients and other synthetically enhanced chemicals. The fruits and vegetables grown in the organic garden do not have the chemical residues which enter the body when eaten. Organic veggies are also proven to contain higher mineral and vitamin contents compared to those grown using pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers.
Furthermore, complementary medicine professionals affirm that there are high nutrient concentrations such as Vitamins C and D in organic food products. Organic gardening also adds an extra benefit of exercising the body, especially from manual labor including planting, weeding, and harvesting. Thus, gardening can be an enjoyable and meaningful way to boost physical exercise. The outdoor environment also offers a refreshing means of connecting with nature, sunshine and fresh air, acting as a stress reliever
- Helps In Conserving the Environment
Use of chemicals on crops is one way in which we pollute the environment. The chemicals sprayed or applied on the crops seethe through the soil into the water. This puts the microorganisms at risk. When spraying the crops, the wind carries away the chemicals into the atmosphere, and this is air pollution. Therefore, embracing organic gardening is one of the best ways of maintaining a healthy environment.
Choosing organic gardening massively aids in environmental preservation. Growing vegetables and fruits in a natural way will not only ensure healthy produce but also promote a friendly and toxicity free environment. Organic gardening is the surest way of preserving a healthy and green environment by ensuring ecological balance and minimal disturbance to the natural environment.
It ensures birds, small animals, and beneficial insects are free from chemical harm. Organic matter used to prepare the soil also helps to improve the soil quality. Therefore, organic gardening offers the most beneficial outcome for good environmental health. Putting an end to chemical fertilizers and pesticides that leach into the ground and find way into water supply is only a possibility through organic gardening.
- Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Crops that contain chemicals release these chemicals into the atmosphere in the form of greenhouse gasses. These gasses combined with other impurities in the air pose a risk to the air we breathe in. Additionally, these gasses also contribute immensely to global warming, and we all know the negative effects of global warming.
- Better Taste
Organic vegetables and fruits contain scent and taste which are simply better due to their natural growth compared to those grown commercially. To a very large extent, veggies and fruits grown commercially cannot bear or beat the natural flavors of those that are grown organically. Fresh vegetables and fruits from the garden have always tasted better and have natural flavor.
- Saves Money
A tremendous way of saving money is by growing your own organic vegetable garden. Saving money is something that every person wants to do but it can only be realized by undertaking small initiatives like growing own veggies and fruits. Through organic gardening, one can save up to 50% of the money used to buy fruits and veggies at supermarkets as well as other perishable stores.
To conclude, organic gardening is beneficial to the people and the environment. However, learning how to start an organic is a very important step in ensuring that you conserve the environment and that you grow your own delicious fresh produce. To give your crops the needed nourishment, you can use natural fertilizers, for example, seaweed extracts, fish emulsion or manures obtained from animal droppings especially cow and chicken droppings that is readily available or bought from your local garden center.
Image credit: Julie Gibbons
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