What is Organic Gardening?

Organic gardening faces many garden challenges. See our tips, along with the many advantages, of growing a garden organically.

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Today, many gardeners are returning to organic gardening. Organic gardening is simple to understand: Just don't use any synthetic fertilizers or pesticides in your garden. Although chemicals aren't always bad, we know that their overuse can pollute water, air, and even our bodies when we ingest products that are grown chemically. The many advantages of organic farming are increasing, as it is a good way to ensure the food you eat is free of pesticides or chemical fertilizers, and that the flowers, shrubs, and trees you grow will thrive without danger. Start your very own organic garden with our helpful tips!

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How to Start Organic Garden

Getting Rid of Chemicals

Once you've decided to start organic gardening, what do you do with all those chemical products stashed in your garage or shed? You have two options: you can use them up, carefully following package directions, or you can take unwanted chemicals to a local hazardous-waste disposal site, where they can be disposed of without danger to you or the environment. One rule of thumb is to never pour products directly down a drain, toilet, or storm sewer—they can contaminate groundwater—and don't recycle the containers that held the chemicals. Getting rid of your chemicals is the main step in creating an eco-friendly garden for your home.

Learn even more secrets to creating a healthy garden!

Utilizing Earthworms

Earthworms are a gardener's best friends. Their tunneling keeps soil loose, and their production of nitrogen-rich excrement adds fertility. Earthworms flourish in an organic garden and especially love a 2-inch-deep layer of compost atop the soil.

If your soil does not already have earthworms, take steps to improve the tilth—proper soil structure—with the addition of organic materials, then buy earthworms to release into your soil. Earthworms will make your organic plants smile from leaf to leaf.

Keeping Weeds at Bay

The easiest way to prevent weeds in your organic garden layout is to add 2 inches of organic mulch atop the soil. It conserves moisture, adds organic material to the soil as it breaks down, and serves as a natural weed barrier. Newsprint can also be an effective weed barrier with your organic plants, but it usually needs heavier mulch on top to keep it from blowing away.

See how to mulch.

Plant your organic plants as close together as you can without crowding them. When the organic plants grow thick enough, the leaves will shade out weeds, which also need sunlight to flourish. Practice a little bit of hand-weeding every day. Many gardeners find weeding to be relaxing and oddly therapeutic. Regular weeding keeps weeds small and prevents large ones from setting seeds, creating hundreds of new weed problems in your organic garden layout.

To control weeds growing between hard surfaces, pour boiling water directly from a teapot. Be careful, though—the hot water kills any plant it touches and can kill earthworms and other beneficial bugs.

Check out our Weed Identification Guide!

Feeding the Soil

To be a successful organic gardener, you need to learn about soil first. Every organic plant needs the right kind of soil. Soil is made of many parts: weathered rocks and materials combined with organic matter, water, and air. Organic matter improves the workability and structure of all soils. It helps break apart tightly-packed clay particles and allows water and air to move through the soil. It also improves sandy soil, allowing it to better retain water and nutrients in your eco-friendly garden.

Utilize Organic Matter

Organic matter is the most dynamic component of soil. It may be living or dead, or composed of plant or animal materials; particles may be easy to see or infinitesimally small. A teaspoon of healthy soil contains an entire universe of microorganisms. These microorganisms work to decompose plant and animal parts. When the organic matter stabilizes and stops decomposing, the result is humus—a naturally rich, dark, crumbly material that increases soil fertility and helps retain water. Utilizing organic matter is an easy step to take when gardening for beginners.

The ideal soil for growing vegetables is loam: a blend of 40 percent sand, 40 percent silt, and 20 percent clay. Loam is ideal for growing many types of plants because it holds moisture and nutrients and has plenty of pore space for air, water, and roots.

Make Your Own Compost

So what is organic matter, and where do you get it? Compost is a good beginning. You can create your own compost beds to make your own, buy it in bulk, or add bagged compost.

Other organic nutrient sources include blood meal, cottonseed meal, fish emulsion, and a cover crop, such as annual ryegrass or oats, that is tilled into soil two to three weeks before planting vegetables or other garden plants.

Get tips for making your own compost!

Use Organic Mulch

Take wood chips, cocoa bean hulls, straw, chopped leaves, or compost after planting to conserve moisture. As the mulch decomposes, it adds organic material to the soil. Using organic mulch is one of the many benefits of organic gardening that will help you the most in the long run.

See more on mulch!

Test Your Soil

Finally, you may want to test your soil to find out whether it is alkaline or acidic and to correct any other imbalances or deficiencies.

See how to test your soil.

Organic Insecticide

Some bugs are good, while others are not so good. Some bugs act as tiny patrolling guards, while the bad guys can strip your plants and still not be satisfied until they take all your neighbor's plants, too. Diseases and other critters can also be considered pests.

The scientific term for managing insect and disease pests is integrated pest management, or IPM. IPM starts with the easiest methods and funnels down to using chemicals as a rarely used, very last resort.

The easiest approach to pest control methods is to prevent the problems from the start. Give plants the right organic potting soil, sun, and moisture. As you work in the garden, check for any problems, and use a variety of trusted sources, such as a local university extension service, to identify the source. If you think a plant has a pest problem, decide if the damage is enough to warrant action. If so, start with the least toxic method of control first. Utilize these pest control methods for a great organic pest control solution:

Physically Remove Affected Leaves

Handpick bugs, tossing them into a bowl of soapy water. Remove small insects such as aphids and spider mites with a sharp blast of water from a hose.

Use Floating Row Covers

Floating row covers are a lightweight, woven material that are placed over plants. These covers can be an effective barrier and truly organic pest control method in protecting your plants from harm.

Use Commercial Sticky Traps

You can use commericial sticky traps to attract and capture leafhoppers, flea beetles, and whiteflies, but they may not be effective enough to control a large infestation. Many believe that Japanese beetle traps attract more bugs than they kill.

Use Organic Chemicals

If nothing else seems to be working, use organic chemicals as a last resort, and buy only the appropriate chemical for the situation. There's no need to use an atomic bomb if a tiny shotgun blast will do.

Learn more ways to fight garden pests!

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