An organic vegetable garden can be very productive if you know a few tips and tricks. Growing organically means that no chemicals are used in the soil or on the plants. No synthetic fertilizer, weeds killers, pesticides, or growth hormones can be used in an organic garden.
But how will the plants grow and produce without the assistance of chemical additives, sprays, granules, and potions? Simple. Let the plants do all the work.
Decomposed plants (compost) feed the soil and make it fertile. Certain plants deter pests, some prevent disease, some act as a living mulch, and some enhance the flavor of the vegetables. An organic vegetable garden works together to enable each plant to be healthy and productive.
Test garden soil with a pH kit you can purchase at any garden supply center. Soil testing will reveal the structure of the soil and what you need or don’t need to add, to the soil to maximize its growth potential.
Test the soil in early spring as soon as the soil is workable. This will allow you enough time to add amendments, work the soil, and allow the soil to rest before planting.
Start With The Soil
The soil feeds the plants so you will need to feed the soil before planting the garden. After adding the amendments (if any) that the soil test indicated was needed, cover the top of the garden spot with 6-inches (15cm) of organic matter.
Use compost or well-rotted animal manure. Manure from cows, chickens, horses, rabbits, or other farm animals is fine to use as long as it is aged and decomposed. Fresh manure may contain harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, that can cause illnesses in humans when edibles are grown in it.
Work the organic matter into the soil 8-12 inches (20 – 30cm) deep so it will be down at plant root level.
Water And Observe
Saturate the soil so the nutrients in the organic matter will begin to leach out into the soil and observe the garden spot for 24 hours. Note shady or semi-shady spots, which side receives the morning sun, and which side receives the afternoon sun.
Knowing where the sun hits the garden, and at what time of day, will help you select the right plants and plant them in the right location. For example, tomato plants need to be grown in full sun but squash plants benefit from a little afternoon shade. If low-growing squash plants are planted on the correct side of tall-growing tomatoes the squash will be shaded in the afternoon.
Select Seeds or Plants
After all danger of frost has passed and soil has been prepared, it’s time to select seeds and plants. A local garden supply center is the best choice for first-time gardeners because they will carry seeds and plants that will grow best in your climate.
Make sure seeds/plants are non-GMO, not hybrids, and are labeled as heirlooms and/or organically grown or harvested.
At the end of the first growing season, save seeds from your produce so you will have plenty of organic seeds for next season.
Plant the seeds and plants according to the directions found on the packets or labels. Water well and keep soil moist until seeds germinate or plants become established.
Research which plants grow well together and which plants provide benefits to the organic garden. This is known as companion planting and will help your garden be more productive.
For example, cabbage worms devour developing cabbage heads and they can be repelled naturally by planting onions, dill, sage, beets, rosemary, thyme, or lavender near the cabbage.
Once the plants reach 4-6 inches (10-15cm) tall, add 2-inches (5cm) of organic mulch around the plants. Use straw, compost, wood chips, or other organic matter. The mulch will help retain soil moisture, prevent weed growth, and supply nutrients to the soil as it slowly decomposes.
Food And Water
A side-dressing of compost can be placed near each plant in mid-summer to keep them well-fed. Compost tea is also easy to make and will feed and water plants at the same time.
How to make compost tea
- Place 1-cup of compost in a piece of cloth and tie the ends together to create a teabag.
- Place the teabag of compost in a 5-gallon (19 L) bucket of water.
- Allow it to steep in the sun for 2-3 days.
- Use the tea to water garden plants.
At the end of gardening season, clear soil and place all garden waste in the compost pile to decompose and sow a winter cover crop. This will prevent soil erosion and improve the soil structure of your organic garden. Sow collards, turnips, kale, ryegrass, alfalfa, or soybeans and allow them to grow throughout the winter. Turn under any remaining plants in early spring as green manure to feed the soil.
Plant crops in a different location each year to help prevent depletion of nutrients and an invasion of pests or disease. Use the 3-year rotation rule for best results in an organic garden – wait 3-years before planting a crop in the same location.
Favorite Organic Vegetable Tips
They are easy to grow organically. Plant them up to the first set of leaves – roots will develop along the stem that is buried and provide the plant with extra nourishment and moisture. Always wash your hand before touching the plant to prevent passing germs or bacteria to the plant. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of Epsom salts around each plant to prevent blossom end rot.
It should be planted in early spring. Select a sunny location that receives shade during the heat of the day. Sow lettuce seeds every 2-weeks for a continual harvest until the summer. Sow lettuce again in late summer for a fall/autumn harvest.
They are heavy feeders, love a sunny location, and require constant soil moisture.
Create small mounds of soil and plant 2 cucumber seeds or 1 plant in each hill. Space hills 2-feet (60cm) apart.