Starting an organic garden can be a daunting task. Sometimes it seems to be like a mystical holy-grail of gardening. It is quite simple and often your first season is the easiest one. You will find that most of the difficulties lie in the set-up.
Starting out with a natural garden you should establish a mission statement. I would suggest asking yourself a few questions to help you establish where you are at where you want to end up.
Are you new to gardening?
If you are, you should prepare to make some mistakes – organic garden or not.
What standards will you hold yourself to? This is a tricky one – if you are only growing for yourself, you won’t have to meet any certification requirements. You may find it tempting to cut a few corners to make the job easier. It’s up to you if you think it is ok to use a poison like glyphosate along your fence lines for example if it’s ok with yourself. This is a no-no if you want to meet certification standards.
If you wish to sell your produce you will have to meet the standards of your certifying authority. Almost all certifications need three years of “conversion” before you can go “organic”.
In The Beginning
All that aside, where do you actually start your organic garden? At the beginning, of course, that means the soil. If you have your spot picked out cover it with a cheap and easy to remove mulch like straw.
Mulch may get in the way and slow down production but when the ground is in a “holding pattern” you can reap the benefits. It is amazing what a difference this will make to your soil. The moisture under the mulch will make the soil friable. It creates a nicer habitat for Earth Worms to live in, even in a few weeks.
When growing with a natural gardening system, it is important to get your soil right. There are no cheats like throwing a handful of super phosphate in the ground before you plant. But soil amendments don’t have to be difficult either. Start with a simple PH test. A couple of handfuls of Dolomite will go a long way if need be. Adding animal manure is fantastic.
I can’t overstate how much of a benefit this is. Sheep manure is great for potatoes, but whatever you can get will make a huge difference. You can use chicken manure like super at planting – I do it all the time.
Chicken manure in pellet form is easy to use. If you have access to cows and horses you can make a lame patch of dirt yield like crazy. It’s well worth the time to walk around with a shovel and wheel barrow.
A Quick Note on Advice
Asking for advice from the professionals at your local nursery may be useless. Too often they only learn conventional methods on their study – be careful.
Don’t discount Permaculture
You don’t have to take on the whole ethos, but using some of the principles is a great idea. It is good to think about what you are trying to achieve and take a few snippets here and there to help. For me, the jury is still out on the benefits of planting by the moon but it’s worth a try. If you have success continue. Ideas like mulching and companion planting do help keep your soil in tip top condition can increase your yield. Be aware that you may be increasing your workload as well. Clean cultivation is the easiest way to manage your garden because the less competition the better.
Ideas like mulching and companion planting do help keep your soil in tip top condition can increase your yield. Be aware that you may be increasing your workload as well. Clean cultivation is the easiest way to manage your garden because the less competition the better.
Don’t Fight Nature
This is true of any gardening. When you are learning how to garden organically you need to stack the odds in your favor. Don’t risk wasting time on a crop that may not yield, make certain of it by growing what is in season. As you build your soils and your systems you will gain the skills and experience to push the boundaries.
Creating micro-climates or using micro-climates you have is a great way to extend yields. You can get an early start on a crop or grow that unexpected variety. If you have north or south facing wall (depending if you are in the northern or southern hemisphere) you may be able to leverage it.
Using plants is another creative way to make micro-climates. Underneath canopy plants can be a great way to lock in extra heat in in the cold or keep things cool in the heat of summer.
Yes, there is Basil and Tomato, but there is so much more. Plant a quick growing crop like Bok-choy next to your Tomatoes. Harvest the Bok-choy after six weeks and the roots stay in the ground to feed the tomato. By this stage, the Tomato is growing into a feeding machine and will start to yield soon.
The best system to start with in your organic garden is “The Three Sisters” Corn, Beans and Pumpkin/Squash. The Beans fix a little nitrogen for the Corn. The Corn is something for the Beans to grow on and the pumpkin shades out the weeds. It has been in use since the early Mayans.
All these tips may help you create a more successful switch to organic gardening but the key is the soil. Keep adding manure and organic matter to it and keep it covered with crops or mulch to keep it at its best.
Growing organically can be easy and satisfying – don’t be scared to jump in and give it a go I am sure you will be happy with the result.
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