What Is An Organic Garden: Information On Growing Organic Gardens
Eat organic, the ads in the ‘health’ magazines scream at you. One hundred percent organic produce, says the sign at the local farmer’s market. Just what is organic gardening and how can it be beneficial to you? Keep reading to find out exactly what makes an organic garden.
What is an Organic Garden?
Organic gardening is a term used to designate that the flowers, herbs or vegetables have not been subjected to any chemical or synthetic fertilizers or herbicides. This distinction also includes the ground they were grown in and how they were treated while producing.
An organic garden is one that uses nothing but natural methods of bug control and natural, organic means of fertilizing the soil. The belief is simply that organic food products are safer and healthier for us to eat.
Tips for Growing Organic Gardens
Organic farmers achieve natural bug control by using companion planting and beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, to rid the garden of pests, like aphids, that destroy crops. Many organic farmers, and even some who are not, plant their crops in certain combinations in order to repel pests.
A good example of this would be planting hot peppers near beans and peas with the idea that the capsaicin will deter the bean beetle and other insects. Another example of this would be marigolds in the potato patch to dissuade the potato bug.
A good organic garden is only as good as the soil it is grown in. To achieve superior soil, most organic farmers rely on compost, which is made from the breaking down of organic matter (i.e. eggshells, coffee grounds, animal feces and grass or yard clippings).
Throughout the year, organic gardeners collect the household waste, animal manure, and yard clippings for the compost bin. This bin is turned regularly in order to facilitate decomposition. Normally, by the end of a year, the waste matter will turn into what is known as ‘black gold.’
Early in the growing season, the organic gardener will work the compost into the garden plot, thus enriching the soil with the natural ingredients needed for a rich growing bed. This black gold is the key for rich soil, which in turn is key to growing organic vegetables, flowers and herbs. It gives the plants the nutrients they need to grow strong and healthy.
Organic Gardening Concerns
Currently, there are few large scale organic operations in the United States. Most organic gardens are raised by small farms and homesteads scattered around the country. Yet, the demand for organic, especially produce and herbs, is growing annually.
While there are numerous organizations that organic farms can join to have their produce certified organic, there are not FDA or USDA guidelines of what can be sold as organic in your local supermarket. This means, there is no real guarantee that because the sign says ‘organic’ that the product really is free of pesticides and herbicides.
If you are looking to purchase organic produce, your best bet is the local farmers market or health food store. Ask lots of questions to be sure of what you are truly buying. A real organic gardener will have no reservations explaining how they raise their product.
The only real way to ensure that you are eating organic is to grow your own organic garden. Begin small, choose a small area and start your own compost bin. Read a lot of books or check out any of the numerous article on this website. By this time next year, you too, can be eating organic.
Planter boxes, which work best for plants with shallow roots, are self-contained with solid sides and a bottom. Raised garden beds, on the other hand, include sides but no bottom and sit on top of the soil—allowing plants with deeper roots to grow past the depth of the bed.
Like other landscape features, not all raised beds are the same. Determine what will work best for you by considering these questions:
Where do you want to place your raised beds?
Choose a relatively level spot in full sun—avoid trees and bushes that will reduce the amount of sunlight that makes it through to the plants. Even if the best location is in the middle of your backyard, don’t fret about chopping up sod or hauling away gravel that’s in the way. Simply build the raised garden right over the top. Tip: Stop weed growth by cutting the grass/weeds as short as possible, then cover the bottom of the bed with a thick layer of overlapping newspapers or sheets of cardboard before adding soil.
How much full sun will each raised bed get per day?
If you want to grow vegetables, make sure the bed will get 8 to 10 hours of full sun per day. More is even better. With less than 6 hours of full sun, your yield will decrease. In fact, crops like tomatoes may never actually produce fruit. On the other hand, crops like lettuce appreciate some shade. Think ahead so that you plant the right flowers, fruits, and vegetables in the right conditions.
What is the best wood for organic raised garden beds?
If you want the frame to last, choose rot-resistant cedar, cypress, or locust. If longevity is not an issue, build the box from hardwood planks logs made of white oak, fir, or juniper or recycled materials such as barn wood. Avoid using treated lumber, such as railroad ties and utility poles, because the creosote used to treat them may leach into the soil.
You don’t have to build the frame out of wood for your raised bed garden to be truly organic. Other options are bricks, flagstone, or even large river rocks. (Add a liner to hold the soil in place.) Steer clear of concrete, though it may leach into your soil and alter soil acidity.
You also can create an organic raised garden bed without building a frame at all. Just mound rich organic soil to a height of 12 to 20 inches between two parallel furrows.
What length and width will let you grow what you need while still being easy to maintain?
Many gardeners like to build raised beds that are 6 to 8 feet long—handy because most timbers come in 8-foot lengths. If you build a bed any longer than that, you’ll be tempted to cut through the middle of the garden to get to the other side instead of walking around it. Your time-saving shortcut will compact the soil, which is not good for plants. Regarding the best width: Build raised garden beds that are narrow enough to let you reach the middle easily from both sides. Most raised gardens are 4 feet across because the average person can reach about 2 feet.
If you want multiple beds, leave enough space between them for a wheelbarrow. That will make it easier on you when it’s time to add soil/amendments, spread mulch, and harvest produce. If you want to grow grass between your beds, leave enough space for a lawn mower to roll through.
How tall do you want to make the raised beds?
If you’re planning to grow root vegetables, build your raised-bed vegetable garden at least 12 to 18 inches tall. The good news? That height bed will be easier to build than a taller one. The not-so-good news? You’ll need to kneel and bend while gardening. The shallow depth will be problematic for deep-rooted plants. And all of the plants will be at risk if the native soil beneath the bed is contaminated.
If you build a frame so that it reaches slightly below waist level (28 to 30 inches high), you’ll be able to sit on edges to work the soil and harvest your bounty. That’s a real benefit for people with aching joints or who use a wheelchair. Build raised vegetable garden beds that are at least 4 feet tall (and will take a mountain of soil to fill) to discourage furry invaders like rabbits and moles.
What do you want to grow in each bed?
Vegetables? Companion plants to deter pests? Perennials, including native plants that attract beneficial insects? Consider each plant’s mature size—height and spread. (Corn, pumpkins, melons, potatoes, and winter squash need lots of space to thrive.) Allot enough room in the raised beds to accommodate the chosen plants or face a decrease in productivity. Tip: You may want to plant your vegetable seeds, seedlings, or transplants in rows to make it easier to weed and harvest.
Ingredients used for base materials include peat moss, coconut coir, and partially composted pine bark. There are pros and cons to each make a decision based on availability, ingredient efficacy, and the environmental sources and impacts of each option.
The base makes up about one-third of a typical mix, so selecting the right balance is essential. Incorporating a blend of ingredients proves superior to choosing just one.
You now have the skills, the tools, and the equipment necessary to apply these strategies to your own organic garden. This is awesome! The tips here should help you with your organic gardening. Don’t stop here, though, you should continue learning. Now, you can apply this new information to make your organic garden function better and become a more enjoyable endeavor.
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4. Improve the Soil
The more fertile the soil, the better your vegetables will grow. The same holds true for other plants. Residential soil always needs a boost, especially in new construction where the topsoil may have been stripped away. Your soil could be excessively wet, poor and infertile, or too acidic or alkaline. The solution is usually simple: Add organic matter. Add a 2- to 3-inch layer of compost, decayed leaves, dry grass clippings, or old manure to the soil when you dig or till a new bed. If you decide not to dig or are working with an established bed, leave the organic matter on the surface where it will eventually rot into humus (organic material). Earthworms will do most of the work of mixing humus in with the subsoil.
To learn more about your soil, have a soil test done through your county cooperative extension office. They'll lead you through the procedure: How much soil to send from which parts of the garden and the best time to obtain samples. Expect a two-week wait for the findings, which will tell you what your soil lacks and how to amend it.
How to Start an Organic Garden
Last Updated: March 10, 2021 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Ben Barkan. Ben Barkan is a Garden and Landscape Designer and the Owner and Founder of HomeHarvest LLC, an edible landscapes and construction business based in Boston, Massachusetts. Ben has over 12 years of experience working with organic gardening and specializes in designing and building beautiful landscapes with custom construction and creative plant integration. He is a Certified Permaculture Designer, is licensed Construction Supervisor in Massachusetts, and is a Licensed Home Improvement Contractor. He holds an associates degree in Sustainable Agriculture from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
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Organic gardeners grow healthy, high-quality foods and flowers without using any synthetic chemicals. Organic methods are healthier, better for the environment and wildlife, and are less expensive because there are no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides to buy. Additionally, one of the best ways to avoid chemical residues, like glyphosate residue, on your home-grown crops is to avoid using these chemicals in your garden. All of this is accomplished by working with nature, instead of against it. Best of all, you can be an organic gardener with only a few square feet of sunny space for your garden. Done right, established organic gardens can be easy to maintain.