Homesteading, Organic Gardening, How to Farm, Preparedness, Self-Reliance
This is a guest post and entry in Round 2 of the Farm Dreams writing contest. The prizes for this round include:
This is a guest post and entry in Round 1 of the Farm Dreams writing contest. The prizes for this round include:
Door #1: A Travel Royal Berkey Walter Purification system from Directive 21. Valued at $228!
Door #2: Two Super Survival Seed packs from Seed for Security. Valued at $150!
Door #3: A 164' roll of electric poultry netting from Kencove. Valued at $140!
Door #4: A 60 serving entree pack of emergency food from MyFoodStorage.com. Valued at $119!
Door #5: A $100 gift certificate from Baker Creek Seeds! Valued at $100.
Round 2 ends began May 7 and ends July 7 so GET BUSY WRITING and email your entry to us today!
So, you want to grow an organic garden? Maybe you have used chemicals in the past on the garden but now you want to get away from those methods. Or, perhaps you have never used chemicals, but your garden has never really flourished or you are unsure if you are doing it “right”. Here are a few of the ins and outs of starting an organic garden.
An organic garden is best executed after developing a strong garden plan. It might seem boring, but the garden plan is the organic gardener’s best friend. It will make your life so much easier when it comes time to rotate crops (which is going to be important later). A garden plan can help you remember where to plant each year. This doesn’t seem like a big deal the first year but, trust me, you will be glad you made a garden plan when year two comes around. The garden plan is essential for organic gardens of all sizes because crop rotation is essential to soil health and important in the battle against bad bugs and plant diseases. A great resource for planning your garden is www.growveg.com. There is a fee to use it but it has become a necessity for our farm since we have begun small plot intensive organic gardening. If you don’t want to spend money on a garden plan, just keep a notebook or a journal or a file on your computer that you can look to later for crop layout and design. Note where you planted, what variety, how many, the layout, any notes about bugs, diseases, mishaps, or successes. This can help you remember which plants did well, what to try next year and where to plant that cabbage to break the cycle of disease and pests.
To grow an organic garden that is healthy and happy you must get to the root of the matter – har, har. The soil in an organic garden is the gardener’s first line of defense. It’s home to beneficial organisms, valuable nutrients, and minerals that aid the farmer in growing healthy plants and battling garden pests. Think of the soil as an ecosystem in itself. Without nurturing these valuable microorganisms, the soil is left starving and weak. Since the plants you put in the soil will also feed from the soil, they are left starving and weak as well if you never feed the soil. You will never have too much compost if you garden organically. Start that pile now! If you give no attention to the soil, the plants will face an uphill battle and the bugs and weeds will know it. And as an organic gardener, you do not want to encourage bad bugs or invasive weed species that might be hard to combat with organic herbicides and pesticides. The wonderful thing about growing an organic garden is that you are able to see how Mother Nature is often well equipped to combat the bugs and weeds if approached in the proper manner. The soil is the first step in organic gardening success.
If the area that you choose for an organic garden has never been used for such purposes before you will more than likely have some prep work to do before the plants go in the ground. A soil test can tell you a lot about where to begin with amendments. Your local extension office can probably do a soil sample for you to tell you what the soil is lacking or which minerals it might have too much of. Our local extension office does soil samples for $8 per sample or you can buy a small kit from your garden supply store and do it at home. It seems very scientific and maybe a bit cumbersome for some gardeners itching to plant something, but it is a necessary step. Once you have learned what your soil needs you can begin amending. Keep in mind that organic methods of amending often require a bit more time and preparation but the rewards are amazing (and often much cheaper, in my experience, than chemical amendments). Cover crops, composted manures, and nitrogen fixing plants are often a great method of correcting a deficiency in the soil. For example: nitrogen deficient soils can benefit from planting a crimson clover cover crop or a crop of peas or beans; soils deficient in phosphorus or calcium benefit from a bone meal application; and Epsom salt is great for adding magnesium and sulfur to the soil. It has been my experience that these types of amendments last much longer and contribute more to the long-term health of the soil than many chemical applications. It is important to become familiar with the letters N, P, and K and how each of these appeals to your different plants. Test your soil, then feed it. The soil will probably still be lacking the first year but it should still produce a harvest. Each year the soil will get better and better if you start organic gardening the right way.
Another necessary part of organic gardening is crop rotation. So, you’ve amended your soil, you’ve finally planted, nurtured, and harvested your bounty, and you’re ready to plant again. Perhaps you reason that since your cabbage did well in a certain spot you should just plant it in the same spot again the following year and expect the same results. This is not the organic way. First, the cabbage you planted last year fed off of the nitrogen in the soil, leaving it somewhat depleted. In order to nurture the garden’s first line of defense, the organic gardener must feed the soil and not allow it to become too depleted. By knowing what you planted last in that spot, and planning the next crop based on what that spot needs, you can maximize the health of your soil, and ultimately, the health of your plants. So, in this example the gardener would want to plant a nitrogen fixing plant, like beans or legumes, in the spot where the cabbage grew to replace the nitrogen the cabbage took. Another example would be planting based on the needs of the plant. The gardener might plant peas to fix nitrogen into the newly cultivated soil, cabbage next because it needs the nitrogen, parsnips in the spot where the cabbage grew since it does not like rich soil, followed by beans to replace the nitrogen. This rotation gives the maximum amount of harvest before having to replace the mineral being depleted. Another reason crop rotation is essential for the organic gardener is to confound bad bugs and diseases. Moving the plants around keeps the bad bug populations down and encourages good bugs because of the diverse habitats being introduced every time a rotation is made. Diseases are less likely to become a problem as well if the gardener moves crops around each year. The diseases for one plant might not affect a plant from a different family so move those guys around each year and become familiar with which plants follow each other in the rotation.
The last tip for the beginning organic gardener is to mulch, mulch, mulch! Organic gardeners have the pleasure (and sometimes the misfortune if you meet the wrong weed) of not resorting to those quick-fix chemicals to keep the weeds at bay. As many of us know they are just that – a quick fix. The weeds will return if the ground is left exposed. It is just a matter of time. The beauty of organic gardening is that heavy mulch can often keep the weeds at bay while conserving your precious water since it keeps the sun from drying the soil too fast. (Are you beginning to notice a trend in organic gardening? Everything really builds on something and compliments something else in the process.) We have found the best mulch to be shredded newspaper. It forms a web of paper mache after it gets wet and makes it hard for weeds to pop through. Simply mulch around plants with several inches of the shredded paper to prevent weeds. It is important to shred the paper and wet it instead of laying down whole sheets. Whole sheets dry too fast and the wind will carry off your precious “mulch”. If the area needing to be mulched has yet to be planted then seeds will need an area to sprout. In these areas, we are usually planting fast growing crops like lettuce or radishes that are sown directly in the soil. For these spots we simply sow the seed heavily so that the area is totally covered by the plant’s leaves and shades out the weeds. It is important to remember to never leave the ground fallow for more than three weeks. Keep it mulched, grow a living mulch or plant a fast growing crop to keep weeds at bay. Remember, you want to nurture the soil and leaving it to the weeds and the sun is not nurturing the soil. If the soil is bare and exposed to the elements it’s microscopic ecosystem might not thrive. And, in the organic garden we are looking for thriving healthy soil in order to get thriving healthy plants.
While this is in no way an exhaustive list of must-haves or must –do for the organic garden, these three basics are the key to getting started off on the right foot. There are many topics that are much more detailed and specific like organic pesticide and organic herbicide methods and brands, the benefits of drip irrigation, and the basics of composting. But, the basics of organic gardening begin with the principles I’ve outlined and are necessary for the beginning organic gardener and a happy, healthy garden.
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