From composting to beneficials to conserving natural resources, organic gardening goes beyond bypassing synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. It encompasses a wide range of methods and techniques that work harmoniously within the natural cycles of our Earth.
Yet, with all the tilling, digging, planting, and watering, to a new comer, gardening organically can seem somewhat of a daunting task. Armed with a handful of gardening basics tossed in with a few beneficial local resources, creating your very own backyard harvest is easier than you may think. Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to reaping the benefits of having your very own organic garden. Besides, the best part of gardening organically is that you “control exactly what goes in the ground, what goes on the plants and what vegetables [you] get out of it,” says Suzy Provine.
From the Ground Up
And it all starts with compost. All of those curbed bags of grass clippings, raked leaves, and thrown out kitchen scraps is what gardeners refer to as “black gold” – the most basic and essential component to every organic garden. Rather than bagged in plastic and added to the landfill, this wonderful mixture, tossed into a compost bin and briefly attended to ensuring the right amount of air, moisture, and heat, turns into the very thing your garden needs to grow and thrive. Where conventional gardeners would add synthetic fertilizers to boost their soil, the organic matter in compost delivers a slow time-release of nutrients to your plants to help sustain your garden.
There’s a Method to Happiness :)
Planning your garden, figuring out what to grow and where, is another essential aspect of gardening and one your gardening adventure cannot begin without. When planning your garden, find a spot in your yard that gets at least six hours of full sun during the day. No amount of beautiful compost, watering, or love and attention can replace the need for good ol’sunshine.
What to Plant?
Most beginner gardeners want to know what to plant. And the answer is easy: list all the veggies and fruits that your family eats on a regular basis, making sure that your choices will grow in our climate zone. This will not only ensure that the plants survive and thrive, but your family too will attend to the garden and enjoy the harvest.
Gardening is not only an act of growing your gown food and herbs, it’s also great exercise, a chance to get up close and personal with Mother Earth, a calm and relaxing respite from busy lives. And if you have the time and energy to devote to it, fabulous. Time to get dirty!
Water, Water, Water
Your plants will need regular watering and, during our hotter months of July and August, even the most frequent waterings from the hose sometimes isn’t enough to keep your garden from thirst. Rain barrels will help you conveniently collect and conserve water from your roof and transport airborne and deposited nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) to your garden plants. Made from recycled food barrels, these kits include netting to prevent mosquitoes and a valve for easy watering.
What’s more, when you connect this water to your drip irrigation system, you’ll not only be conserving water and reusing it in your garden, you’ll also reduce your water bills. Quickly installed, drip irrigation will get water to the roots of your plants, making it environmentally efficient with no water loss to wind and evaporation.
Kids + Dirt = Fun!
With mom and dad having so much fun in the garden, the kiddos are sure to want to get in on the action. And why not? Children will get to learn a great deal about the decomposition process while turning the compost pile, the life cycle while watching seeds grow into plants, how nature works keeping an eye on the bees while they pollinate. And what kid doesn’t love to dig around in the dirt and find earth worms, busily wiggling their way through the garden. Children easily see that the garden is alive and needs food, water, and tender loving care just as they do.
“The boys love digging,” says Suzy, mother of four dirt lovers. “They are really good at loosening up the soil and mixing in the compost. They also like planting seeds, though some of the tiniest seeds are really tough for them too handle and we end up with very dense patches of things like lettuce and carrots.”
Coupled with the love for getting dirty and being outdoors, getting your children involved is simple. Depending on your child’s age, temperament, and abilities, you’ll be able to see where you can enjoy their help and when it’ll be a good time for a distraction. By setting aside a space of their own, let the kids create a fun children’s garden, where they can grow their own giant sunflowers, easy-to-plant veggies, a bean teepee, and snow peas to snack on.
Oh, there is one final lesson in organic gardening. The bugs: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Oh, yes, there are good bugs. Called beneficials, these bugs - like Lady Bugs, the Praying Mantis, and Bees - help your garden stay healthy and strong, naturally, organically. With jobs ranging from pollination to feasting on those pesky bad bugs that would otherwise eat your crop, beneficials help you keep your gardens free and clear of problems without the use of harmful pesticides.
Ask an Expert!
A great online resource to know about is the Home & Garden Information Center that will answer all your pest and plant problems and questions. Call their hotline, Monday-Friday, 8am -1pm, at 1-800-342-2507, or go to their website at www.hgic.umd.edu. From online, you can send a question, including an uploaded photo of an insect in questioning.
Keep it Simple, Keep it Fun
If this is your first time gardening, remember: a healthy, well tended to garden will provide you with a better bounty than a large stressful, ignored one. All gardening skills are acquired through trial and error, so keep note of what works, what didn’t, and always try again next Spring!
Moreover, when gardening organically, focus more on what you can do rather than trying to do it all perfectly.
It’s your garden.
Have fun with it and enjoy!
as seen in Nesting Magazine by Lia Mack