Is Your Garden as Organic as You Think It Is?
More and more people are recognizing the dangers of pesticides and are opting to grow their gardens organically. The thought of having delicious, nutritious food growing right in your own backyard, ready to be picked and eaten throughout the year, might sound like a fantasy to some, but it doesn't have to be just a dream idea: you can actually grow your own organic garden in a few simple steps.
However, although growing an organic garden isn't as difficult as you might think, there are some things you need to be aware of to do it properly.
Picking the Right Plot
The first thing you need to do is select a good garden plot. This is probably the most important step because where you put your organic garden will have the biggest influence on how well your plants will grow.
You should select a space that is open, arid, and gets at least seven hours of sunlight a day.
The natural ground in your yard will most likely be perfect and provide many, if not all, the nutrients your plants will need to thrive, but sometimes you have to go with raised garden beds or potted plants, and that's okay, too.
To see if the soil in your yard is good for organic gardening, check its pH balance, which is a numerical rating of acidity or alkalinity. All pH is measured on a logarithmic scale from 0 (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline) or 7, which is neutral and what you want. You can buy a soil pH test kit online for about $20. If you find your soil is too acidic or has too much alkaline, you can help balance it out by adding compost.
Preparing for Planting
After choosing a good plot, turn the soil and add any extra organic soil, compost, or fertilizer that you feel would be best for your specific plants’ needs. Then add a border using stones, bricks, or even natural wood to separate it from potential contaminants and to help keep out pests.
Selecting Your Plants
If you want to ensure your garden is 100% organic, you will have to look for plants and seeds that are organic to begin with. The best plants to grow are ones that are naturally found within your region and climate because these plants will thrive in your area.
Also, look for plants that complement one another. For example, if you are growing tomatoes, plant marigolds around them because they repel nematodes, tomato worm, slugs, and other garden pests. Every plant has companion plants that help them grow, so it's worth looking into.
Some plants are considered to be high-risk of being GMO because they are currently in commercial production. Some of those plants include alfalfa, sweet corn, beets, zucchini, and yellow summer squash. Oddly enough, hybrid and heirloom plants are not GMOs.
Caring for Your Organic Garden
Most people think gardening is harder than it actually is. The most important thing is to control weed growth, pest infestation, and pH levels.
Over time you will want to test the pH levels now and again to adjust and maintain a soil pH level of about 6.5 to 7.
Also, too many people rely on pesticides and other chemicals to deter pests when it's really just as simple as adding companion plants or trying other things like creating your own slug traps, sprinkling egg shells around, or creating other pest deterrents.
Instead of reaching for a weed-killing compound just remember to pull out weeds regularly, preferably as soon as they pop up, to help keep your organic garden weed-free. Hand picking tends to be most natural and efficient way of removing weeds, but you can also use a hoe or other garden tool.
Adding a layer of mulch over the soil can also help reduce weeds and create a barrier that prevents fungal disease. Again, make sure you buy organic mulch, which will also eventually break down into a healthy compost for your garden.
Fertilizer isn't always necessary when it comes to feeding your garden, but it can help. The best way to feed your plants is with natural products like animal manure and organic compost, which you can make from your own kitchen scraps.
In the end, everything you buy for your organic garden should be organic to start with, from the seeds to the soil, to the scraps you throw in your compost. You could accidentally contaminate your organic garden by unknowingly planting in chemically contaminated soil.
Do your research before you go shopping. Sometimes a product, for example seeds, may say they are organic but might be owned by a larger company that is involved in genetic engineering. You can view a list of seed companies that have taken the “Safe Seed Pledge” to ensure the seeds you buy are safe. It never hurts to ask your local garden retailers which products are 100% organic as well.
If you want more hands-on help choosing the best seeds, preparing your soil, or with any other questions about your garden, workshops are a great way to get expert advice that can apply directly to what you want to grow. The Home Depot provides free workshops on a variety of topics, like organic gardening, so be sure to check your local store’s schedule.