Taking on organic gardening is the absolute best way to know what is in your fruits and veggies, but it can pose a few challenges. Everything wants to hurt or eat your food, so you have to figure out natural ways of preventing these mishaps, lest your organic garden be lost to nature. Here are a few easy organic gardening tips to help you fight off these natural disasters!
1. Seek the right sun.
Different plants require different amounts of sun, so knowing which plants need what is an organic gardening must. If you buy your plants already started, check the plant tag, as it will usually have this information. If you are starting your plants from seeds, the seed packet should provide this information. You can always Google it, too, if all else fails.
Full sun plants typically need 6-10 hours of direct sunlight, part sun/part shade plants need 4-6 hours, and shade plants need less than 4 hours. Check the sun’s rise and set patterns in your organic gardening area to help you with planning where to plant. Watery garden produce like melons, tomatoes, peppers, and squash love sunshine, while root produce like onions and carrots do fine in part sun. Leafy veggies like lettuce do best in the shade. No matter what sun your organic gardening zone gets, you can definitely plant something and watch it thrive!
2. Fertilize it!
Fertilizer is vital to organic gardening success. Your plants need nutrients in order to grow big and strong, and this is what makes them thrive. Nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus are required in varying amounts for optimal plant health, and these are the most prominent components in fertilizer.
There are several options for fertilizing in organic gardening, but the most prominent choices are cow manure and compost. Both stink, but that’s what your plants like! Manure can be acquired from a number of sources, including the obvious cow farm, and can be tilled in to your soil before planting. Compost, a great way to repurpose biodegradable waste, can also be tilled into your garden before planting and added throughout the growing season. Pet chickens are actually also beneficial to organic gardening, as they can turn the manure or compost, stir it in to the soil, and add some new ingredients to the mix.
3. Test the pH.
If you notice your organic gardening is yielding spindly plants with low produce yield, check the pH of the soil. Some plants like it acidy; some plants like it basic. If you tilled your garden, it likely has a universal pH. So if your peas are dying but your tomatoes are going crazy and producing more than you can keep up with, check that pea soil!
You can buy a soil meter for a few dollars and probe it into the soil for pH readings, or you can get a pH testing kit and be a chemist (which is really cool and fun for kids). Either way, organic gardening success requires proper soil pH, so you need a tester. The pH scale ranges from 0-14, where 0 is extremely acidic, 14 is extremely basic, and 7 is neutral. Your plants will usually like to have a soil pH somewhere around 7, but some are rather finnicky and like a specific pH best. To adjust the pH, add manure, pine needles, or coffee grounds to make the soil more acidic, and ground up eggshells or hardwood ashes to make it more basic.
4. Train, prune, and thin your crops.
It can be tempting in organic gardening to let your plants be natural and free, but they will suffer from it in the long run. Soon, you will have a jungle of plants fighting for sunlight and room to stretch their arm branches and root legs, which will cause some to die and others to become thin and produce less.
Build bamboo trellises for those beans, cut off a few crowded tomato branches, and sacrifice some baby carrots. You will not regret it soon when you are giving away bags of beans, tomatoes, and carrots because you cannot eat them fast enough! Eliminating the need for your plants to compete and aiding in their growth is vital to your ascent up the organic gardening ladder to maximum healthy food production.
5. Maintain proper water delivery.
We all know plants need water, but how, when, and how much water your plants get are all important organic gardening considerations if you want your garden to prosper. It is best to water early in the morning so the leaves can dry in the sun. If you water at night, the leaves do not dry as fast, making them more prone to diseases like leaf mold. To know if you need to water or not, check the soil. If you can form the soil into a ball, it is fine. If the soil is too dry to do this, water! Different plants have different moisture preferences, so to keep your plants happy, check out the vegetable plant watering guide in The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
There are several different methods to water your garden, but the best thing to remember is to make sure you water the soil much more than the leaves. Leaves can absorb a little water, but the roots are the main drinkers. Maintain loose soil for your plants so the roots can reach out in search for water. And if you live in a dryer area, mulch! This will hold in more moisture so you can water less. You can use things like leaves and sticks for your organic gardening mulching endeavors, but remember this may change the pH, so keep those pH testers handy!
6. Do not ignore the missing leaves!
If you notice your pepper plant’s lower leaves have vanished from the stalk, do not brush it off as nothing. Remember, you are organic gardening. In regular gardening, chemical compounds are added to the garden to keep all sorts of inconveniences at bay. In organic gardening, though, it is up to you to keep these things in check. So when leaves go missing, you need to do some searching. Slugs and snails love pepper leaves, and they tend to come out at night. Many garden pests actually come out at night, so it is good to go on nightly strolls to observe your organic gardening progress and see if anything is trying to impede that progress.
Thankfully, there are natural remedies to ward off intruders. Making salt rings on the top of the soil around the bases of your pepper plants will protect them from further damage. And if you are dealing with larger intruders like rabbits or deer, try mixing some cayenne pepper and garlic in water and spray it on your plants. For any pest, there is a natural and easy repellant you can whip up and spread out so your organic gardening experience remains positive.
7. Keep up with weeding.
Once again, organic gardening requires more attention than regular gardening because you are gardening chemical-free. Herbicides are out of the question for you. So, if you find that your vegetable plants are being crowded by weeds that are slowly killing them in a number of ways, it is time to feel that soil between your fingers and pull those weeds. You could coat them with vinegar, but it is risky because though it would get rid of those weeds, it could also kill or damage your vegetable plants.
Weed your garden at least weekly because it can otherwise become overwhelming to both you and your plants. It is best to pull weeds when the soil is damp because the root of the weed comes up more easily. You can also get a small hand cultivator to help you loosen the soil to get the weeds at the roots. Only getting the greenery and leaving the roots does not kill the weed, and the roots are still drinking what your vegetable plants should have.
8. Observe the peculiar and investigate.
Part of organic gardening is being your garden’s private investigator. You need to look for anything your plants are doing or not doing or missing or having extra of or anything out of the ordinary. This practice is the difference between success and failure. If you notice something is off, you need to ask yourself why. After you come up with a hypothesis, test it. If you think your plant needs more water, water it and see if it helps. If it does not, check for bugs.
Every vegetable plant has a pest associate notorious for plaguing it, so research the distressed plant and see what its bug is. Cabbage has cabbage worms. Squash has squash bugs. Even carrots have bugs that plague the roots. If you need to uproot a plant to help you diagnose the problem, do so with care so you can replant it. Even if you lose one, it could save the rest. Checking things like sun, soil pH, and water are all great places to start if there is no apparent plant harm.
9. Edge with herbs.
Herbs are an invaluable organic gardening asset, as they are so versatile for you and your organic gardening success. Rosemary, sage, various mints, marigolds, and basil are beautiful both in appearance and odor. However, many pests think they are gross.
Herbs are organic gardening angels because they keep out the bad and add so much good. Enclose your garden with herbs, and you will have less pest issues to deal with. Plus, you will have so many organic ways to spice up your cooking! Then, harvest and dry the herbs at the end of the season and use them to cook with or make an array of wonderfully scented things for around your home.
10. Plan crops for different seasons.
If you want to enjoy the organic gardening experience year round, you certainly can. After your summer crops have had their time and the leaves have started to fall, it is time to start your organic winter garden. Root veggies like onions and carrots can grow in the winter, as can certain varieties of spinach, asparagus, and peas.
Pull up your summer vegetable plants and compost them or till them directly into the garden. Either way, you need to till again. Since you are planting a new crop, check sun, water, and pH requirements of your intended plants, and have at it! Winter crops need less care, as bugs and weeds will not be around, but still watch for animal involvement and proper nutrient reception.