Organic Gardening Basics

There are basically four essential elements to growing a successful organic garden. One is mulching, two is pest control, third is fertilizers, and fourth is weed control.

Mulching a garden helps to hold water, reduces weeds and adds essential nutrients back into the soil. You can purchase organic mulch in most home centers, but my preference is not to use any ground overlay at all and to handle weed control by hand. Having said that however, I DO like to use mulch between the plant boxes or rows to keep down on weeds.

One of the easiest ways to deal with pests in your organic garden, is to use a simple soap spray on your plants and then follow it with a clean rinse. It works well and I use it all the time for nearly every type of infestation. The one thing I found that it doesn’t work particularly well on is vine borers. For those, I watch the plants (squash and other thick vine plants) and when I see a leaf beginning to turn brown, I look at the vine and can always locate where the borer is at. They are moth pupae which are laid on the vine and when the eggs hatch they bore in and eat their way up the vine. All that is necessary to deal with them is to take a pocket knife and cut the vine open right where the green area meets the brown (because that’s where the borer is at) and pop it out. I usually just leave them on the ground because they cannot get back to the plant and will die and add nutrients back to the soil. Another way to keep down on certain pests is to plant Marigolds along the edges of your plants. They work well to keep down on some varieties of bugs.

When it comes to fertilizer, my preference is fish emulsion. It can be found in any home center and makes for an excellent fertilizer. It’s sold in a concentrate, so you just add water and to the garden. Be careful not to over fertilize because you can burn the plants. If your plants require more acid, (you can test this with a simple ph test) you can use coffee grounds. They work wonders.. believe me. Another thing that works well for fertilizer is to use plant rotation from year to year, or to plant a nitrogen fixing plant (such as peas) next to a plant that uses nitrogen. This works especially well in high density gardens, such as Square Foot or French Intensive.

Weeds can be treated with vinegar, but I’ve never done it. I’ve always preferred getting into the garden and working, so I pull the weeds out that will come out (they are easiest to pull after a rain or watering) and for the one’s that are stubborn, I just use my spade or some other tool to loosen the roots and then they will pull up easily. After they are loose, it’s usually a good idea to put them in the mulch pile, unless they have gone to seed. Often a mulch pile will get hot enough to destroy the seeds, but I never wanted to take the chance, so on the rare occasion that one does began to go to seed I throw it away.

Although I didn’t add it to the list above, compost is also important for an organic garden to add essential nutrients. It can be made from almost anything you have on hand including ground up leftovers, leaves and grass. You can get compost bins from home and garden centers, or you can easily build one. I’ve seen them built out of everything from plywood to steel barrels.

And finally, if you want to plant herbs for organic cooking, they make a beautiful addition in the organic garden and don’t need a lot of attention.