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Organic Vegetable Gardening

September 10, 2011

There is no better satisfaction than growing and eating your own juicy, healthy food from your organic vegetable garden. Plump red tomatoes, crunchy carrots, fresh potatoes and long cucumbers, all lovingly harvested and arranged on your kitchen table.

Commercial vs. Organic Vegetables

You likely know that garden-fresh vegetables taste better than store-bought, and do you know why? Home-grown veggies taste better simply because they contain more nutrients. The quality of the soil is what makes your food. In order to feed the billions of people on this planet, farmers must resort to tons of chemical fertilizer to keep our food supply going.

Synthetic fertilizer does not add organic matter to the soil (they mainly add nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) nor do they replenish the hundreds of micro nutrients needed for well-rounded, nutrient-rich food. Not enough nutrients in the soil means that crops are more susceptible to disease and insects. Pesticides are essential to keep our commercial food alive, because there is nothing in the soil to help – no beneficial bacteria, fungi or insects to help fight disease and deliver nutrients to the roots.

Thus, the food we eat from the conventional grocery store is laden with pesticides and lacking in a lot of the micro-nutrients we need to stay healthy. This is the trade off for cheap food and industrial farming. “Eat your veggies!” rings hollow if the vegetables we eat do not fulfill our nutritional needs.

If you are just beginning your foray into organic gardening after using synthetics, be aware that, in the beginning, you may not be satisfied with your results. Synthetics are popular simply because they give immediate results. As an organic gardener, you will realize that the natural process takes time – all fertilizers are slow-release, and building up your soil with disease-fighting microbes is a multi-year process.

In the meantime, you will have a more thorough knowledge of how plants grow, more butterflies and birds in your garden, a flourishing army of insects and microbes in the soil that fights pests and plant disease for you, and more savings in your wallet – you will be using free compost from your kitchen scraps and yard clippings rather than repeatedly buying chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

The end result is … yes, healthier, juicier, tastier vegetables!

Creating Your Vegetable Garden the Organic Way

There are as many different ways to plant a garden as their are gardeners, but these basic steps will get you started:

  • Plan your vegetable garden – Situate it in an area of good drainage and in a sunny location.
  • Check your soil’s pH level – Remember when I mentioned that soil means everything? Your vegetables will be sickly and eventually die if it’s not at the right pH. You want it to be neutral (about 7, the same as water). Contact your country extension office to test your pH, or do it yourself with a kit.
  • Prepare your soil – Early in the season, till and aerate your soil and mix in a few inches of compost and other organic matter such as composted manures (for extra nitrogen). You may also consider soil amendments like various meals, greensandicon and alfalfa pellets that add essential minerals, if your soil is deficient. Remember that organic fertilizer is slow-release – it may take a few weeks to become effective, so build your soil at least three weeks before planting.
  • Planting season – Whether from seed or from a garden center, plant your vegetable crop when the danger of frost is past, and when the buds are on the trees. Stagger your plantings – that is, plant the same species at different times, so you’ll have a constantly ripening supply of vegetables, rather than having them ripen all at once. Water deeply, then only every few days. You want the roots to grow strong to seek water sources deeper in the soil. You may wish to invest in a soaker hoseicon to both conserve water and to only wet the soil, not the leaves.

  • Mulch – After the days are warm, begin mulching. Mulch is thick organic matter, such as hay, grass clippings, newsprint and leaves. Apply over the soil and near (but not touching) the stems of your plants. Mulch provides a protective covering for your soil, helping to retain moisture, prevents weed growth (if applied several inches thick), and keeps the soil temperature even.
  • Pest control – Yes, insects will wish to dine on your plants. The “eww” part will be using non-chemical methods to get rid of the larger ones – yup, picking them off. The good news is that you have mother nature on your side – every pest insect has a predator. When you spot the problem, find out what pest is causing damage – each problem insect will have solutions. As a quick example, introducing ladybugs (and you can actually purchase ladybugs!) feed on aphids. In a pesticide-free garden, the beneficial insects will begin to arrive and live in your garden, protecting your plants and feeding on pests. Read the quick tips to learn more about pest control.

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  • Disease control – Fungi is the #1 cause of plant disease, and it will always pose a problem. The best practice is to minimize what causes fungus growth. Do not overwater (this causes mold growth on the soil and root rot), properly prune your plants, make sure the soil is aerated, encourage proper air circulation around your plants by not planting too close, and cut away and dispose of diseased parts (DO NOT compost them!). Clean your garden tools with bleach after using them, especially after treating diseased plants. Wash your clothing as well. Mold spores easily stick to your clothing, and you can inadvertently transport them around your garden or even your houseplants. Organic fungicides are also available to help combat plant disease.
  • Mid-summer fertilizer side dressing – At mid-summer, your first batch of compost should be ready. Apply it between the rows of your crops and carefully mix it into the soil. This acts as a good, gentle boost to reinvigorate your soil after the heavy early growing season.

  • Harvest time – You did it! If you staggered your plantings, you will begin to have a constant supply of fresh vegetables. Depending on the vegetable, you will either harvest them when they are young (ie beans) or when they are full and ripe (ie tomatoes). There are a variety of ways to store them. Harvest in the morning, and on cloudy or cooler days. This way, the veggies will have a higher water content.
  • After harvest – Once your plants are harvested, immediately uproot them. If they are not diseased, chop or shred them and place in your compost, or bury them. If you have a few weeks before frost, plant a “green manure” cover crop of alfalfa, clover and other legumes. These plants actually draw nitrogen from the air, rather than from the ground, resulting in a net nitrogen increase. Before they seed, plow them over so they decompose in the soil, adding nitrogen.
  • Winterizing your vegetable garden – To avoid pest problems next spring, clean your garden of rotten fruit, moldy leaves and weeds with seeds. (Dispose of these, do not add to your compost pile.) Then add a protective layer of mulch (lawn clippings and shredded leaves) that will form some insulation from harsh winters and add more nutrients as they slowly decompose.

Bountiful vegetable gardens are an act of love and care, and keeping them healthy and well-tended for years to come mainly depends on organic practices such as developing healthy soil rich with nutrients and beneficial microbes, various natural protein meals and, of course, compost.

Quick Tips for Successful Organic Veggies

  • To save space, plant crops that mature at different times. For instance, radish seeds will germinate before carrots and beets, and will be ready to harvest and eat when the other vegetables begin to sprout
  • Plant lettuce between other, taller plants, as they will benefit from the shade during the hot summer days
  • Try staggered planting to provide a steady bounty of vegetables in the late summer and through the fall. For instance, plant tomatoes every two weeks or so. That way, they will all ripen at different times, so when you’re finished eating the first planting, the second will be ready for you to harvest.
  • Learn about companion planting – many vegetables thrive better, protect each other and even taste better when grown together.
  • Control pests by learning some simple organic practices – companion planting to fool pests (they mainly find a food source by scent and color, so mixing in other plants may confuse them), cleaning your garden to prevent a safe haven for pests, adding nectar-producing plants to encourage benefical insect populations (your army against the bad insects), and using only local methods for specific pest problems – this is so you do not accidentally kill beneficial insects in your yard.
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28 Comments leave one →
  1. September 21, 2011 6:57 am

    I’m linking to your site nice blog I just started this one about a month or so ago Happy Gardening…

  2. September 21, 2011 2:17 am

    how do I follow you ?

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