Organic gardening is something of a ‘buzz word’ at the moment and a term you’ll no doubt have come across on your travels around the web. Don’t be mistaken though, this is no ‘fad’. In fact, it could not be further from one!
Organic gardening is about relying on natural systems and processes in order to support your garden and help it thrive. It simply means moving away from unhealthy and unnatural chemicals and instead, creating a microcosmic ecosystem that can sustain itself. It’s a highly rewarding endeavour to create a truly organic garden and one that will have tangible benefits for you and the environment.
Here then, you will find absolutely everything you need to know to get started with organic gardening and to fully appreciate the ideas behind it.
Essentially then, organic gardening means gardening using only organic products. All the plants, flowers and vegetables in your garden will of course already be ‘organic’ though, so how exactly is this different from ‘regular’ gardening?
The answer is of course that it comes down to things like the fertilizer and the pesticides you use. If you currently fertilize your garden with shop bought fertilizers, then you might find that they contain damaging chemicals. Likewise, if you currently use shop bought pesticides, then these too probably contain chemicals that wouldn’t occur naturally. Rather, these are synthetic compounds that have been created artificially.
(Don’t miss our post on the common myths about growing organically!)
Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are actually quite convenient though. They tend to be very effective and normally they are quite cheap too…
So what is the problem?
The first thing to consider is that many of these chemicals are not that safe or healthy. If you are spraying a synthetic pesticide around your garden, then essentially you are using a man-made poison. This then becomes a problem if you plan on growing your own vegetables as it means you’ll be potentially consuming some of those chemicals.
The same goes for your children who may be playing outside in the grass. This also plays a big part in organic farming – pesticides have been linked to a wide variety of different health problems in humans from short-term effects (like headaches and nausea) to long-term, chronic and sometimes even life-threatening conditions.
And what about any animals that might be playing around in your plants and flowers? If you have a cat or a dog, do you really want them smelling and licking those pesticides?
And this brings us nicely onto some of the ecological impacts. Because what happens once animals from outside start coming in and rummaging around your bushes and plants? They too could end up being negatively impacted by any pesticides you might have used.
Even the pests that you are purposefully trying to terminate with pesticides will likely play an important role in the environment. If you kill too many insects for example, this can end up having an impact on animals that prey on those insects, or it can cause certain types of plants and flowers to grow out of control.
Pesticides can unintentionally harm beneficial insects (like bees that help pollination) but even the pests you don’t want will usually play an important role.
Look at it this way: pesticides are the only man-made poison that we intentionally release into the atmosphere with the intention of killing living things. Perhaps we should think twice?
Non-organic fertilizers are meanwhile less concerning as they don’t include any intentionally harmful ingredients. Nevertheless though, they do present some issues of their own. For example, synthetic fertilizers may not be absorbed as well by the plants that you feed them to because they aren’t present in natural quantities.
You can think of this as being similar to consuming vitamin tablets vs getting your nutrition naturally from a healthy balance of fruit and vegetables. While vitamin and mineral tablets aren’t ‘bad for you’, they also may not offer the same health benefits because the body isn’t designed to receive nutrients in this format.
You can also liken this to the difference between grass fed and corn fed beef. Grass fed beef is generally much more nutritious for humans to eat because it has received its own nutrition from a healthy and natural source.
If you are growing fruits or vegetables then with the intention of eating them, it makes a lot of sense to make sure that you are using the best and most natural organic fertilizer in order to ensure that the food you’re creating will be as healthy and nutritious as possible!
You can learn more about the problems with using pesticides here.
And here is some more information on what makes organic gardening so good for us!
So if you’re taking synthetic, man-made products out of the equation, how can you go about providing your plants and flowers with the nutrition they need while keeping weeds at bay and killing off unwanted insects? It sounds very hard on the face of it but actually it is quite simple.
The very easiest way to go about organic gardening for instance is just to buy the same products you normally would but to look for those that say ‘organic’ on them. You can find many organic fertilizers, organic pesticides and organic seeds – all of which will work just like any other product except using only organic ingredients.
But if you go one step further than that, then you can start to get smart about the way handle your organic gardening. For instance, instead of simply looking for organic products to use as fertilizers and pesticides, you could actually create your own using natural processes.
This is what happens in nature all the time. If you wonder how a garden could possibly thrive in without the aid of synthetic chemicals, then you simply need to turn to nature where all plants and living things do exactly that! In the wild, nature provides its own pesticides and its own fertilizer! This is what you might describe as the ‘circle of life’.
So how does a plant or a tree normally get fertilized? Simple: it uses its routes in order to reach out and spread out and to thereby find minerals, vitamins and other nutrients that are located in the soil. Plants live off of water-soluble vitamins and so when it rains, this waters the plants and they are able to use this in order to soak up all the goodness in the ground.
Where did those vitamins, minerals and amino acids come from? Simple: they came from the decomposing remains of other organic matter. Bark, dead animals, old fruits, twigs, leaves, grass, branches, nuts… all of these things are discarded around the floor in forests and fields all the time and over time, they will decompose and start to sink into the soil. This creates incredibly nutrient-dense compost which the plants can then feed off of.
So how might you mimic this process yourself? One option is simply to use your own compost heap and then to create fertilizer from that! You can even use vegetable stock from your cooking – anything that will contain lots of nutrients in a liquid solution that will be readily absorbed by your plants and flowers.
So what about pesticides? Well, naturally pesticides in the garden are actually other animals. Attracting certain animals and insects can provide natural predators for the pests you don’t want in your garden.
Birds can be useful for eating slugs for example (as can hedgehogs!), while ladybirds are great for removing aphids. One common organic pest control method is to invite ladybirds into the garden by using ladybird patches and then to use this as a way to reduce the amount of aphids that make their way in.
Another way to deter a slug is to create mulch from certain plants that act as natural deterrents. Good examples are oak leaf or tobacco stem. You can also grow these plants nearby to help keep more slugs away.
Here is a handy list of aphid predators!
Here is a WikiHow for getting rid of slugs.
And don’t forget to checkout our post on bugs that are actually GOOD for your garden!
You’ll also need to be on the lookout for diseases that can affect your plants and to learn to diagnose them and treat them in an organic and eco-friendly manner. This book review is for a book that will help you to identify those issues.
Suddenly, the entire objective of your gardening has changed with organic gardening. No longer are you now spraying poison in order to get rid of the pests you don’t want; instead you’re actually inviting more life into your garden. The result is a garden that is brimming with life, color and activity and that feels all the more natural while being completely sustainable.
If you are very savvy about how you approach this, then eventually you can create a garden capable of maintaining itself with minimal intervention from you! Pests will be scared away on their own, while dead plants will fertilize those that are still thriving!
Eventually, you have created your own tiny ecosystem and this is a highly rewarding feeling that makes your garden much more than something that just looks pretty – now you have a thriving ecosystem that is actually contributing to the local environment and that is teaming with life!
Going organic is not just about making your garden more organic. Just as important is to think about how you can support an organic lifestyle in other ways. For example, you might choose to buy organic products whether that means organic foods and drinks or even organic makeup! Likewise, you can find or make your own organic soap.
Check out our reviews page to find a ton of great products to help you live a more organic lifestyle.
Getting started with organic gardening is easy.
First of all, you’ll need to pick your plot where you intend to grow your garden. If you have a huge amount of land, then that’s great but even if you only have a very small square to work with this can still allow for some creative gardening and you shouldn’t be deterred!
You can grow from pots and containers if you don’t have much garden but ideal is to grow straight from the dirt. This will right away provide you with more nutrients that come from the earthworms and other nutrients that live there. Worms are particularly beneficial because they help to breakdown other animal and plant matter into their constituent nutrients. They also aerate the soil, which is also useful.
If you are going to be using container gardening meanwhile, check out this link.
Look for an airy loam, or well-draining soil with a good mixture of sand, silt, compost and clay. Depending on your region, you may find that your garden has more silt, more clay or more sand.
Turning the soil can help with this but it’s also a good idea generally to learn about the type of soil you have so that you can get a good idea of what will grow well there. If your soil is unworkable, then consider using a raised bed which you can construct using brick or wood.
To get your soil tested, you might choose to use a home testing kit or you can send a sample of your own to your local agricultural extension office. If it doesn’t turn out to be quite the soil you’re looking for, then you can always purchase handy organic soil like this ocean forest soil (click for review).
Early on, you’re likely to want your own compost that you can use to feed plants, conserve water and cut down on weeds.
To start, just measure out a space that’s at least three feet square. You can either make a true compost ‘heap’ by just piling the compost up, or you can contain it in some kind of custom built pen or container made from wood. You can even get compost bins that can be rotated which can be useful.
Now just start adding your organic matter – alternating between carbon layers (soil, trimmings, leaves) and nitrogen (kitchen scraps, manure). Add water from time to time to keep it fairly moist and you should start to get good compost in as little as two months.
Something that will make life much easier for you when you first start organic gardening is just to ensure that you are picking the right plants. You already know the type of soil you have now and you should have a good idea of the PH level as well as the content. You can also check the USDA’s Hardiness Zones which will act as a useful rough guide.
Choose plants that are going to be well suited to the temperature, light, moisture etc. in your area and that are known to grow well in your type of soil. If you’re looking for seeds then you can buy organic seeds online, or you can look at your local farmers’ market. The latter option is often a good one, as it allows you to look for seeds that may have been sourced locally and therefore are likely to be well-suited to your region.
Better is to buy stocky seedlings with just a few blooms and with roots that don’t appear overcrowded. Other things, like sunflowers and coriander, are better grown from seeds.
For those looking to grow their own fruits and vegetables, there are certain types of plants that are particularly good for providing you with yield in a small amount of space and short amount of time. They are:
If you quickly want something to show for your efforts, then any of these would be a good place to start! We also wrote a longer post on this: check out the best plants, fruits and veggies for your organic garden.
When you begin planting, you should have some idea of what you want your garden to look like. That means you should have an overarching vision, that will incorporate fruits and vegetable (if wanted) as well as areas that are intended to simply look aesthetic.
Think about which plants grow well near to each other and be sure to read up on the requirements with regards to the sunlight and space. It might be that some plants are better going on particular sides of the garden if it means they will get more light.
Plants that are for harvesting should be grouped tightly in beds that won’t get walked on. This helps to reduce the amount of weeding you need to do and will also reduce water waste. You can likewise target your nutrients better with your compost.
Maintenance now involves simply using fertilizers and pesticides as and when they are needed. You can either buy organic pesticides and organic fertilizers (see our reviews) or you can look for natural things you can use as fertilizers, use your compost and find natural pest deterrents online.
There are ways and ways to water your plants. One tip is to always water your plants in the morning where possible. This is because the weather is coolest in the mornings (typically) and there aren’t as many strong winds. This means that more water will be used rather than evaporating. Watering in the evening means that your soil will be damp overnight, which increases the likelihood of your plants being damaged!
Of course you’ll also need to do some weeding from time to time. And how does the organic gardener deal with weeds? Simple – by pulling them out!
Be sure to check out our post on good weeds before you go destroying them all and remember that this is a great chance to get closer to nature, to spend some time outdoors in the sun and fresh air and to get some exercise!
That said, one organic method you can use to reduce the amount of weeds is to try applying some organic mulch. This will rot down into the soil in order to prevent weeds. You can also use straw and wood chips but these can get a little pricey.
Finally, here are a few tips that will help you out as you get started on your organic gardening journey…
Good luck and remember to have fun! While this is a great way to provide food for your family and to do your bit for the environment, it’s also just a highly rewarding personal project. Try to enjoy it and remember that it can take a while to get the hang of everything!