Organic Vegetable Gardening: Getting Started
by Andrew Delry
Imagine biting into a perfect ripe strawberry, still warm from the summer sun without having to worry about chemical or pesticide residues. More people are turning to organic gardening for the peace of mind it provides, knowing that their home-grown food is free of potentially dangerous chemicals. By following a few simple guidelines and with little cost, you can have your own organic piece of gardening paradise.
At it’s most basic, organic vegetable gardening is a way to grow plants without the use of chemicals. In practice, what makes organic gardening different is that it uses a variety of natural methods to support the growing needs of plants.
What’s wrong with using chemicals?
Most pesticides that are used to kill insects also kill many beneficial insects and bacteria. Continued use of chemical fertilizers actually reduces soil quality, requiring the use of larger and larger amounts of fertilizer to provide the nutrients that are normally present in the soil. A vicious cycle begins, with more chemicals being added to a soil that is increasingly void of life.
Every garden soil is different, so before you start to fertilize, it’s important to know the nature of your soil. The best way to find out what your soil needs is to have it tested by your local cooperative extension office. Be sure to ask that recommendations be in the form of organic amendments rather than for agricultural chemicals.
The most important nutrients a plant needs are nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Nitrogen can be obtained by adding manure, alfalfa meal or fish emulsion. Bone meal, a by-product of animal slaughterhouses, is rich in both phosphorous and calcium. Potassium can be supplied by kelp meal, made from dried seaweed. There are also many natural fertilizer products available that supply the right balance of the nutrients, all in one package.
Start with the Soil
There is a saying among organic gardeners, “take care of the soil and the plants will take care of themselves”. Soil is the foundation for plants which is why so much of organic gardening focuses on improving soil. A sure-fire way to improve your soil is by adding lots of organic matter such as compost. This improves the soil’s ability to store nutrients and helps retain moisture during droughts. Add as much compost as you can and you will be amazed by the results.
Putting Weeds and Insects in their Place
There are a number of ways to control insects without having to resort to pesticides. One way is to encourage beneficial insects, like common ladybugs, that feed on problem insects such as aphids. You can attract beneficial insects by planting marigolds, yarrow, fennel, parsley or Black-eyed Susan. Use physical barriers to keep problem insects from your most susceptible plants by using row covers and netting. If necessary, use natural pest control products such as insecticidal soap to let them know who’s boss.
What is the best way to control weeds organically?
Mulch, mulch and more mulch! Mulch is a thick blanket of material such as leaves, grass clippings, straw or bark chips spread over the soil. It’s benefits include retaining moisture, moderating soil temperature and blocking sunlight from reaching the soil, which helps to reduce weeds. Any weeds that do grow through the mulch will be weaker from lack of sunlight and should be easy to pull out by hand. Besides, pulling weeds is good exercise and gives you an excuse to skip the gym! If weeds do start popping up in unwanted places such as between paving stones or interlocking brick there are many natural weed killers available at your local home and garden center.
You are now on your way to enjoying the fruits of your labor.
Organic gardening doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Anyone with a patch of soil and some inspiration can grow healthy chemical free vegetables. Start this Spring and enjoy a healthy bounty by Summer.
Andrew Delroy is a writer and avid gardener living in Toronto, Canada. For more information about composting and organic gardening, visit his website at www.compost-info-guide.com.