Organic Gardening

A guide to natural gardening

Proponents of the organic gardening movement hold that natural growing methods yield healthier plants. Simply put, organic gardeners don't use chemical-based pesticides or fertilizers. Instead, they try to replicate Mother Nature's growing conditions in a more controlled environment, using the innate principles of garden ecosystems to create a harmony in which greenery can thrive.

On this page you'll find information on Organic Gardening, including:

If you've decided that you're going to switch to organic gardening this season, your soil is the place to start. Instead of adding chemical-based fertilizers, you're going to introduce soil nutrients drawn from natural sources, such as compost and food scraps, grass clippings and fallen leaves.

You're far more likely to succeed in your organic gardening efforts if you select plants that are native to the region in which you live. These plants have already adapted to the local climate and growing conditions, and have a much better chance to thrive than exotic plants. Imported plants can be very finicky about soil conditions, and may only be able to survive in a much narrower temperature range than they're likely to experience over the course of a full growing season in your area.

Organic Fertilizer

Natural methods of managing soil can be extremely effective and are applicable to both lawns and gardens. The two most important aspects of natural soil management are fertilization and pest control. Remember that predators only attack plants that are unhealthy, so prevention can be a very effective strategy. Nutrient-rich soil yields healthy plants, which are more readily able to ward off pest attacks.

Organic Lawn Fertilizers

Organic lawn fertilizers should be applied throughout the spring, summer and fall at regular intervals to ensure your soil has the proper nutrients. Once spring has set in, apply some liquid seaweed to your lawn; it has naturally occurring growth aids and provides essential minerals. A few weeks later, spread an organic blend of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium over your lawn. Then, late in summer, add finely ground compost—100 pounds of it for every 1,000 square feet of lawn surface. This will be most effective on an aerated lawn. Finally, in early fall, add another dose of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

You should also make sure that your lawn soil's pH level is optimized. Conducting a simple soil test will tell you if the pH is too high or too low. If it's higher than it should be, you can add some gypsum and peat moss to naturally lower it. If it's too low, introduce some ground dolomitic limestone to increase its alkalinity.

Advantages of Organic Fertilizers

Using organic fertilizer has many advantages beyond the obvious ones. First, organic methods release nutrients more slowly, which optimizes absorption. They are also beneficial over the long run, both for the soil as well as the environment. Organic fertilizers are also safe to both plants and humans, and they are very inexpensive.

Organic Fertilizer Recipes

While you can always optimize an organic fertilizer recipe for local soil conditions with the help of a gardening expert, this one has earned widespread praise for its general effectiveness:

  • 4 parts organic seed meal (containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium)
  • 1 part ground dolomitic limestone
  • 1 part soft rock phosphate OR ½ part bone meal
  • ½ part kelp meal

This recipe provides proper pH balance and all the nutrients your soil needs to grow healthy, thriving plants.

Organic Vegetables

There is some evidence to suggest that organic foods may be superior to non-organic alternatives. For example, a decade-long study undertaken by the University of California found that organic tomatoes had much higher concentrations of antioxidants than their non-organic counterparts. The absence of the chemical residues left behind by pesticides and fertilizers may also lead to better overall health. Of course, there are also those who just think organic vegetables and fruits taste better.

If you've made the switch to organic gardening, you too can enjoy healthful and delicious home-grown organic vegetables. All you need to do is follow a few easy guidelines for growing organic vegetables and apply conscientious care to your garden on a daily basis.

Growing Organic Vegetables

Beyond observing organic practices for fertilizing your soil, including the regular application of compost, there are several other strategies you can use to ensure your vegetables thrive. One of the most important features of a successful organic garden is the presence of a varied range of vegetables, which should be grouped by type. If a problem arises, this allows you to quickly and easily isolate it to a particular type of plant or section of your garden.

Quick and efficient weed removal is particularly important with organic gardens, as they can very quickly crowd out the vegetables you're trying to grow. Inspect your garden on a daily basis whenever possible to ensure you aren't having problems with weeds.

When you've harvested your vegetables for the year, let your soil rest so any nutrient remnants can settle and spread evenly. Then, during the next growing season, rotate the positions of your different vegetables. Because some vegetables require different concentrations of the three key plant nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), rotating your crops prevents a particular area of soil from becoming deficient or depleted of these vital elements.

Organic Herbs

Foodies the world over rave about the difference naturally grown herbs can make in improving flavor of your meals. While basil and oregano are the two most commonly cultivated herbs in home gardens, you can grow any plant that has the ability to thrive in local soil and weather conditions.

The successful cultivation of organic herbs requires care and close attention, though. While all the evergreen principles of organic gardening apply to herbs, there are a few other specific techniques you need to know about to create the best possible growing environment.

Growing Organic Herbs

Beyond providing optimal soil conditions, it is very important that you closely consider the benefits of companion plants when growing organic herbs. In the wild, many herbs grow in close proximity to other, unrelated types of plants. This is because the different plants have a symbiotic relationship with mutually beneficial results. For example, specific plants attract specific insects, and the presence of these insects can be an overall benefit to the health of your herbs. The opposite is also true—certain companion plants can ward off insects that may otherwise prey on the herbs you're trying to grow.

First, however, you should do some careful research to find out what type of light, soil and moisture conditions your herbs will need. Then, place and plan your garden accordingly. Remember that organic herbs can also be grown indoors in pots or containers, and the closely controlled conditions can be highly beneficial. Pest control, for example, is much easier in an indoor environment.

Then, select and plant good companion plants in your organic herb garden. Aromatic herbs such as thyme and lavender grow well alongside members of the cabbage family. Chamomile and anise aid basil, and basil is, in turn, a good companion for oregano. You should consult a companion plant chart for a comprehensive list, which is available through your local nursery.

Organic Fruit

As with organic vegetables, many people believe that organic fruit tastes better than its inorganic counterparts. Some commercial fruits are also treated with chemicals to preserve their shelf lives; apples, for example, may be coated with wax or nontoxic amounts of arsenic. Even so, there's no reason you should ingest these chemicals—which often remain in trace amounts even after the fruit is washed—if you don't have to.

Growing Organic Fruit

One of the ancillary benefits of growing fruit trees in your yard is that their blossoms enrich the surrounding soil when they fall off and decompose. A fruit tree can make a wonderful addition to any organic garden, with both practical and aesthetic benefits.

When selecting fruit trees, you'll have your choice of three different sizes: dwarf fruit trees, which are specially cultivated to be smaller; semi-dwarf trees, which are a good choice if you have a little more room to work with; and full-sized trees, which take longer to reach maturity but have the potential to bear more fruit. Apple trees are a natural choice given their hardiness, but apricot trees also thrive in most climates of the continental United States. Citrus fruit trees are limited to subtropical-like climates and cannot withstand much frost at all. Peach trees can also be finicky, but not to the same extent as citrus trees.

Pollen is required in order for your tree to bear fruit. Some fruit trees pollinate themselves, but others require an external source. Apple trees, for example, are ideally paired with crabapple trees because of the pollen they provide. Bumblebees will provide all the labor you need!

Organic Fruit Seeds

Your commitment to organic gardening means you need to start with seeds that come from naturally grown trees themselves. Certified organic seeds conform to strictly codified standards that ensure that previous generations were grown naturally, without the use of any chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

Organic Pest Control

Most of the undesirable chemicals found in gardens come from pesticides; if you're growing fruits and vegetables, organic pest control has obvious benefits. However, you can use natural alternatives to chemical pesticides no matter what type of plants or flowers populate your garden.

One important distinction you should make is between nontoxic and organic pest control. Nontoxic pest control uses chemicals that don't leave toxic byproducts, but they're not necessarily naturally occurring either. Organic pest control uses only natural substances and ingredients, so you'll want to avoid things which are nontoxic to plants but not natural, such as dishwashing liquid, isopropyl alcohol and laundry detergent.

Organic Pest Control Recipes

The ingredients you use will depend on the type of pest you're trying to kill. Fruit flies, aphids and slugs are among the most common pest problems in gardens.

To repel fruit flies, spray your garden with a combination of basil essential oil and water. You'll want to use 1 teaspoon of oil for every 1 cup of water. Make sure to shake before use to combine the ingredients properly.

With aphids, you have two choices. One is to introduce ladybugs to your garden; they prey on aphids and can make a dramatic difference. You can also use a combination of dried, chopped hot peppers and water as a natural aphid pesticide. Combine four parts water with one part cayenne peppers or Thai chili peppers. Hot peppers contain a substance called capsaicin which repels the aphids; the more capsaicin, the hotter the pepper and the more effective your pest control.

Slugs are drawn to fermented yeast, so all you need to do is half-bury a container of beer in your garden and the slugs will crawl right into it. Simply swap out the container filled with slugs with a fresh batch of beer until the problem is gone.