Since we are what we eat, many home gardeners have chosen organic gardening so they can control what goes into the food they eat. This article will give beginners the 9 steps needed to plant and successfully grow vegetables and fruits organically.
1. Select your garden location.
Vegetables and fruits must have at least 6 hours of direct sunlight, so a sunny garden location is a must. A location that’s in full sun all day with a structure or trees on the north side (several feet away from the actual garden spot) will provide ideal sunlight and wind protection.
“When plants do not receive enough sunlight, you might notice them leaning and growing toward a window indoors or becoming leggy and weak outdoors,” says Molly Allman of SFGATE.
2. Solarize the soil.
Start your organic garden venture 1 year ahead of time if possible by solarizing the soil. Clear off debris from top of soil and cover the entire garden area with plastic sheeting that is 2-4 mils thick. Secure the edges of the plastic with rocks or soil and let the sun ‘cook’ the soil for 4-6 months. The solarized soil will be free of weed seeds, diseases and pests and you can start your organic garden with a sterilized soil.
Basically, “soil solarization takes advantage of the sun’s heat, trapped under clear plastic sheeting, to control many kinds of weed seeds as well as harmful fungi, bacteria, and some nematodes.” (sunset.com)
3. Perform a soil test.
Stacy Best, a Registered Kinesiotherapist and Master Gardener says “soil testing takes the guesswork out of organic gardening. Saving money, time and effort; healthy soil produces healthy plants and healthy plants are more resistant to insect damage and disease.” (stacybest.com)
The soil is what feeds the plants so it’s important the soil contains all the proper nutrition in a healthy balance. Test the soil with a pH kit you can purchase at any nursery supply center or take a soil sample to your local county extension office for testing. Soil testing will reveal the structure of your soil and what you need, or don’t need, to add to the soil to maximize its growing potential.
4. Work the soil.
Till the soil where your organic garden will be to the depth of 12-18 inches. Add whatever nutrients the test revealed the soil needs, plus compost. Compost prevents soil compaction, helping the soil retain moisture and feeds the soil, so be generous with the compost. A wheel barrel load of compost for every 10 x 10 foot section of garden is a good rule of thumb, but more compost should be used if the soil contains a lot of clay. Lightly till the amendments and compost into the soil.
5. Make a plan.
Make a scale-sized of the garden and surrounding area and note where there are existing trees, which areas get full sun, partial sun or is completely shaded. Drawing with different colored pencils to differentiate the garden area will help you when it’s time to purchase seeds and plants. Decide what types of plants you want and add them to your garden drawing.
Visiting your local garden supply center or pouring over a plant and seed catalog can help you decide which plants that will grow well in your climate. Each vegetable and fruit will have its own sun, soil and watering requirements (for some, a good quality watering can will do), matching the right plant to the right garden spot can mean the difference between success and failure. Make note of each plant’s mature height on your drawing and allow for enough room to grow when planting.
6. Start the planting stage.
Wait until all danger of frost has passed in the early spring and air temperature is consistently above 50 degrees Fahrenheit before planting.
As a general rule for purchased plants, dig a planting hole 4 inches deep into the prepared soil and place the plant in the center, then back-fill the hole with soil. Allow enough space between plants for width growth (plant labels will tell you the mature size of the plant).
Plants that need hills to grow in, such as melons and squash, simply mound up prepared soil into a 10 inch by 10 inch by 6 inch tall hill and plant 2 seeds, 1 inch deep, in the center of the hill.
To sow seeds in rows for growing vegetables like carrots, corn, okra, beans and peas, place seeds in the rows about 2 inches apart, then thin the plants after the seeds germinate according to package directions.
7. Remember to mulch and feed.
Add a 4 inch layer of organic mulch, like straw or wood chips, on top of soil after plants are 6 inches tall. This will prevent weed growth, retain soil moisture and the mulch will feed the soil as it slowly decomposes.
Feed plants with a side dressing of compost 4 weeks after planting by sprinkling a small scoop of compost around the base of each plant.
8. Do organic pest control.
Pick off the pests by hand if they’re are only a few, if you have too many to hand pick, several organic pesticides are available to control garden pests.
Tuck in a few marigolds around the perimeter of your garden and among tomato plants to ward off a variety of pests and plant some nasturtiums, basil and mint to repel mosquitoes, flies and other little flying garden pests while attracting insects that are beneficial.
9. Plant a fall cover crop.
When the organic garden is finished for the season, plant a fall cover crop, such as clover, collards or mustard and allow to grow all winter. These green crops will prevent soil erosion and weeds growth over the winter. In early spring till in the fall cover crop to add organic matter to the soil.
Don’t be intimidated by the term ‘organic gardening’ if you’re a beginner gardener. Organic gardening is very easily achieved and is just the label applied to a garden that’s grown without use of chemicals. All soil additives, fertilizer and pest control is done by natural methods so no artificial or harmful substances leach into the home-grown produce.