Posted by Gardener Marc | Posted in Basic Gardening Tips, Vegetable Gardening | Posted on 26-02-2012
The topic of vegetable gardening is getting more and mor important once the summer comes closer. I prefer to buy organic goods, but even in the organic store in my hometown, most vegetables and fruits are not really “local”, so I’ll tell you how to grow your own organic food!
Even though I like to devote my garden space to pure flower gardening, growing my own vegetables is getting more important to me (and is making up an increasing share of my garden). Not only are self-grown vegetables ecologically superior to bought ones, but legumes from earth that you tilled with your own hands also bring a special feel to the dinner table.
So, here are 5 basic tips for organic vegetable gardening:
1. In which way is organic gardening different from “normal” gardening?
One should rather say that organic gardening is “normal” since it was practiced ever since men started to grow their food (until the industrial revolution)!
Organic gardening means not to use artificial herbicides, pesticides and fungicides. This may seem like a step backwards since you can’t rely on the “little helpers” you may have grown accustomed to.
On the other hand it’s just healthier for you and your garden (in the long run) to avoid the use of chemicals. In an extended sense, organic also means to rely on local produce – although for example guano is an organic fertilizer, it may come to you from places thousands of miles away. I’m not sure whether this should count as “organic”. Keep this in mind when you think about how to organize your gardening resources!
2. Is my garden suitable for organic vegetable gardening?
For the overwhelming number of gardens, this can be answered with a definitive “yes”. However, there are two factor that may keep you from growing your own vegetables:
- Availability of sun (i.e. if there are trees that shade most of your garden)
- and the possibility of contamination.
Most vegetables that you will want to grow need an abundance of sun – shadowy places simply will not do, you’re better off with shrubs and grasses here (or take green vegetables like lettuce that don’t need as much sun).
You should also think twice about growing your own vegetables if you’re living near a highway or heavy industrial areas that may create acid rain. Most amateur gardeners lack the time and resources to analyze their soil thoroughly. You can ask about pollution levels at your local cooperative extension service.
3. How should I prepare my garden?
The quality of your soil is a critical factor if you decide to grow vegetables organically. Organic matter like compost, manure or grass clippings contain nutrients in complex form that your plants can only absorbed when they’re stripped-down to their ionic form. You do, however, have the advantage of long-term supply of nutrients (and good texture) to your soil if you apply organic matter.
I’ve made the experience that it works fine to start early (in lake winter) by putting leaves, dried grass and compost on the soil and mixing it into the soil about 3 foot deep (some organic gardeners I’ve talked to till much deeper, but that may be more necessary if you have very sandy soil that needs huge additions of organic matter). There is of course the possibility to use cover crops that are later tilled into the soil, but this technique is less attractive if your garden space is limited.
4. What vegetables should I plant in my garden?
This depends on your taste as well as the climate of your region. You should pay special attention to the frost-hardiness of plants (check the requirements on table 6 on this paper
http://www.caes.uga.edu/applications/publications/files/html/B1011/B1011tables.pdf by the University of Georgia);
In the end, you’ll make the experience that some just grow better than others. You should, however, always follow the basic principle of plant succession!
Vegetables from one group should not be planted on the same earth in succession of other plants. The main groups are the plants from the
- nightshade family (eggplants, tomatoes),
- legumes (beans, peanuts),
- cucurbits ( cucumber, squash)
- and cole (broccoli, cabbage).
5. How can I control for pests without pesticides?
This is one of the most difficult things in organic gardening and one that may tempt you to use chemical – but you can safe yourself a lot of trouble by following these guidelines:
- Plants are more vulnerable to pests if they’re unhealthy anyway:
Care for good soil, enough sunlight and the right amount of moisture, and your plants will be hardier.
- Mono-cultures are more vulnerable – planting a diverse selection of plants will help you tremendously:
Also try to acquire disease-resistant varieties of vegetables you want to grow.
- Planting your vegetable early once winter is over will give them a head start to pests:
You can plant your vegetables from seeds inside the house and put them outside once you’re sure that frost temperatures are over.
These five principles will surely help you in avoiding some disappointments and starting your own vegetable supply successfully. If you’re interested in furthering your knowledge, I can recommend the discussion boards at www.organicgardening.com which also features a seed swap subforum!
P.S.: Not is just the right time to prepare your garden for growing vegetables!