You’ve decided that you want to grow healthier food and grow a better garden and that an organic garden will do that for you. But organic gardening can seem so complicated. Let’s face it, reaching for the bottle of Roundup seems so much easier than pulling weeds by hand or using a hand hoe.
When you decide to start organic gardening, you’ll need to shift your mindset of how you’ll take care of your garden. You’re no longer just thinking about the plant itself and its needs, but the plant’s environment. You’ll need to consider how to care for the soil, the plant and any organisms that interact with your plant- both good and bad.
What does it mean to have an organic garden?
An organic garden is raised with as few man-made or synthetic chemicals as possible. You’ll want to swap out pesticide sprays and powders for chemical-free methods or natural chemicals. The soil will need to be amended, but you’ll want to keep fertilizers natural: think compost and manure, bone meal, fish meal, etc.
Having an organic garden means eliminating the need for synthetic chemicals. Instead, you’ll nurture the environment that the plant grows in. An organic garden will produce healthier, more nutritious vegetables for you. You’ll also notice a difference in flavor from your organic vegetables. We won’t go into all of the positive effects of an organic garden here, but instead let’s talk about how you can get started with an organic garden.
Where to start going organic
Growing an organic garden can seem like an uphill task if you’ve been gardening using conventional methods. You’ve probably stocked your garden shed with all sorts of sprays, powders and fertilizers to manage your garden with that aren’t organic-garden friendly. You’ll have to eventually say goodbye to your stash of sevin dust, Miracle Gro and Roundup. If you decide to ditch conventional methods all at once, you might burn yourself out. It’s a good idea to ease into organic gardening since it is so much different from conventional gardening.
There are a few different ways that you can start organic gardening and it’s really just a personal preference as to where you want to start. Here are a few good starting points:
Start by swapping to organic fertilizers
Do you buy bagged fertilizer? If so, this is a simple swap that you can make. Rather than buying synthetic fertilizers, opt for organic fertilizers. Since organic gardening is popular, there are many options for quality organic fertilizer.
You can find organic fertilizers anywhere that you can buysynthetic fertilizers. Simply look for a fertilizer that is labeled as organic.
Many popular brands of synthetic fertilizers have come out with organic lines of fertilizer, so you can keep buying your favorite brand. There are also organic soil amendments that you can buy to add specific nutrients to your soil. Look for these: Worm castings, Greensand, Comfrey, Bone Meal, Azomite, Coconut Coir, Gypsum, Kelp Meal, Fish Meal
These organic soil amendments are good options for adding specific nutrients to your soil to improve the overall health of your soil.
Start a compost pile
This is an easy option that is not only beneficial for your garden but for you also. You can turn food scraps into what many gardeners call ‘black gold’. Compost is extremely rich in nutrients and can improve your garden tremendously.
A compost pile is a simple way to turn waste into compost. It doesn’t require a ton of time or supplies to get started. You can start a compost pile by putting together a three-sided container. You can do this with old pallets, fencing, wood or nearly any other type of container. Add your compost materials to the container and allow it to break down. Every week or so, take a shovel or pitchfork and stir the pile up. This distributes oxygen around in the compost, allowing the organisms that break down the compost to breathe.
You can add many things to a compost pile, but here are some of the best things that you can add:
Straw, leaves, grass clippings
Potato and carrot peels
Old lettuce, cabbage or leafy greens
Newspaper or cardboard (not printed with glossy ink)
Non-animal food scraps
Bedding from herbivores (i.e. rabbits, hamsters, etc.)
Do not add fats, meat, bones, fish, oil, seeds, or plant parts that have been treated with chemicals. Animal food scraps, dairy products or oil will not break down properly. These things will also cause the compost pile to rot and smell bad. This can not only cause nasty odors in your yard, but it can attract scavengers like raccoons, foxes or bears to your home.
Educate yourself about Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
One of the most common questions about organic gardening that gets asked is “how will I deal with bugs in my garden if I can’t use pesticides?”. It’s a valid question, especially if you’re used to relying on chemicals for your pest control.
Integrated pest management, or IPM, is a series of steps that you can take to control pests in your garden. You’ll start with the least invasive step and if needed, work your way up the ladder to more aggressive methods of control.
The first step is to physically remove pests from your plants. When you see a pest insect, remove it. An easy way to do this is to carry around a small bucket or bottle filled with water and insecticidal soap. When you see a bad bug, simply pick it off and drop it into the insecticidal soap. The insect will die. This is very effective because it not only removes the bad bug without harming other insects, but it prevents that insect from reproducing. It’s also a good idea to carry around a roll of duct tape. When you see eggs from pest insects, use the duct tape to remove the eggs.
If removing insects by hand doesn’t work, you can move up to the next steps of control. These often include using environmentally friendly methods like adding beneficial bugs, diatomaceous earth or other methods of control before opting for harsh, broad-spectrum insecticides.
Take small steps to make a big change
Organic gardening can seem overwhelming. If you try to go completely organic all at once, you may feel overwhelmed, and your garden may crash. There’s a learning curve when it comes to organic gardening, even for the most experienced gardener. Give yourself some grace and ease into organic gardening.
Commit to either replacing your synthetic fertilizer with organic ones or by making your own compost. Start learning how to control insects in your garden using more natural methods.
If you’re not a fan of handling insects, invest in a good pair of garden gloves and start working towards overcoming your fear of picking bugs off of your plants by hand.
Every small step that you can take to turn your conventional garden into an organic one will have massive impacts on your health, your garden’s health and the environment.
This post was written by Shelby DeVore, the founder of Farminence. Shelby is a passionate gardener with 20+ years of experience gardening and growing food at home. She currently lives in West Tennessee on a 14-acre homestead with her husband, three children and too many animals to list.