So, you've decided to start organic gardening at home. Good for you! Since you want to avoid chemical use, nutrient-rich soil and disease and pest-resistant plants become even more important. Our organic gardening tips will have you well on your way to delicious vegetables in no time.
For the healthiest plants, make sure you have optimal growing conditions. For most vegetables, that means full sun (at least 6 hours of direct sun a day). If you have poor soil, amend it with lots of organic matter, such as compost.
Some plants, such as tomatoes, are naturally more susceptible to pest and disease problems than others. To reduce problems, look for disease-resistant varieties. (Disease resistance is usually mentioned in catalog listings, seed packets, and plant tags.)
In most soils, fertilizing your vegetables isn't necessary, but it will help them grow faster and give better crops. If you feed your plants, choose natural products. Types of organic fertilizer include well-rotted animal manure from plant-eating critters (rabbits, horses, sheep, chickens), prepackaged organic fertilizer bought online or at your local garden center, and compost from food waste.
Note: If you have rich soil already, you may be best off not fertilizing. Too much of a good thing can make your plants put on lots of lush, soft growth that is loved by pests. Slower-growing plants often resist insects and disease better.
If you plant the same vegetables in the same spot every year, disease can build up and be ready to attack before your plants have much of a chance. Keep the element of surprise against your disease foes and try to plant your crops in different parts of the garden each year.
Because many closely related plants are affected by the same diseases, avoid planting them where their relatives were the year or two before. Two of the biggest families to watch out for are the tomato family (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant) and the squash family (squash, pumpkin, cucumber, watermelon).
Organic soil is a crucial element in maintaining a healthy vegetable garden. The main component of organic soil is organic matter, such as compost, manure, or peat moss. Properly made compost is the best option for organic soil; it contains microorganisms of previous plant life, which will feed your plants the nutrients they need. No artificial ingredients necessary!
A layer of mulch over organic soil not only helps reduce weeds, but it creates a barrier that can prevent fungal disease spores from splashing up onto plant leaves. In most cases, a layer of mulch 1 to 2 inches thick is best. Use a mulch made from an organic material that will decompose (such as cocoa hulls or weed-free straw). As it breaks down, it adds organic matter to the soil for you.
By keeping weeds under control, you have the potential to save a large number of vegetables. Weeds not only compete with your plants for water and nutrients, but they may also attract insect pests. And many insects spread disease as they feed from one plant to the next. The most organic (and easiest) way to control weeds in your garden is to pull them out by hand. Use a trowel to lever the entire weed's root out of the ground to nip it in the bud.
Many diseases spread rapidly in dead, fallen foliage. Regularly—once a week or more if you have time—walk through your garden and pick up shed foliage. In addition, you can sometimes prevent a disease from spreading through an entire plant just by picking off an infected leaf. Throw dead or diseased leaves in the trash, not in your compost pile.
Wet leaves, especially in the afternoon or evening hours, can attract disease. Avoid watering your plants with a sprinkler. Instead, use a water-saving soaker hose to deliver water directly to the roots.
While jamming plants in is a great way to get the most from your plot, it can also cause problems. Avoid planting your vegetables too close together. Good air flow between the plants can help prevent many types of fungal diseases.