You’ve been trying to eat more organic foods, both to decrease the amount of pesticides you and your family consume and to help protect the environment. But take one look at your grocery store receipt and you know that buying organic can get very expensive, very fast. Luckily, there’s a way to grow your own delicious, fresh produce while having fun and learning at the same time: organic gardening!
Don’t know where to start? It is possible to hire someone to install and maintain a beautiful organic garden for you, but most of us can roll up our sleeves with a surprisingly low amount of effort. Remember, you can start small, even with just a single plant or two. Don’t worry if things aren’t perfect right away.
Organic gardening means you won’t use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, but that doesn’t mean your plants fend for themselves. There are an array of tools you can use to bolster plant health and ward off pests. Read on for specific tips, taken from expert garden blogger, Leslie Land, her New York Times book 1000 Gardening Questions & Answers, and other sources.
Start off on the right foot with all of the tools you’ll need for the job.
Top-Tested Clippers: Fiskars PowerGear Bypass Pruner ($25, amazon.com )
Ergonomic Trowel Set: Fiskars 3 Piece Softouch Garden Tool Set ($16, amazon.com )
Best-Selling Soil Test Kit: Luster Leaf Rapitest Soil Test Kit ($14, amazon.com)
Favorite Compost Bin: Yimby Tumbler Composter ($89, amazon.com )
Breathable Garden Gloves: Pine Tree Tools Bamboo Working Gloves ($8, amazon.com )
Lightweight Watering Can: Union Watering Can ($10, amazon.com)
In order to get the best results with your new organic garden, you’ll want to make sure the soil is properly conditioned. You have to eat, and so do plants, so make sure your veggies get lots of fresh nutrients. Healthy soil helps build up strong, productive plants. Chemical soil treatments can not only seep into your food, but they can also harm the beneficial bacteria, worms, and other microbes in the soil.
The best way to gauge the quality of your soil is to get it tested. You can get a home testing kit, or better, send a sample to your local agricultural extension office. For a modest fee you’ll get a complete breakdown of pH and nutrient levels, as well as treatment recommendations; be sure to tell them you’re going organic. Typically, it’s best to test in the fall, and apply any organic nutrients before winter.
Even if you don’t have time for testing, you’ll want to make sure your soil has plenty of humus — the organic matter, not the similarly named Mediterranean spread. According to 1000 Gardening Questions & Answers, you’ll want to mix in compost, leaf and grass clippings, and manure. Manure should be composted, unless you aren’t harvesting or planting anything for two months after application. Preferably, get your manure from local livestock that’s organically and humanely raised.
All gardens benefit from compost and you can make your own on site. Hey, it’s free! Compost feeds plants, helps conserve water, cuts down on weeds, and keeps food and yard waste out of landfills by turning garbage into “black gold.” Spread compost around plants or mix with potting soil — it’s hard to use too much!
The best compost forms from the right ratio of nitrogen- and carbon-rich organic waste, mixed with soil, water, and air. It might sound like complicated chemistry, but don’t worry too much if you don’t have time to make perfect compost. Even a minimally tended pile will still yield decent results.
1. To get started, measure out a space at least three feet square. Your compost heap can be a simple pile or contained within a custom pen or bin (some can be rotated, to improve results).
2. Add alternating layers of carbon (or brown) material — leaves and garden trimmings — and nitrogen (or green) material — such as kitchen scraps and manure, with a thin layer of soil in between.
3. Top off the pile with four to six inches of soil. Turn the pile as new layers are added and water to keep (barely) moist, in order to foster microbe action. You should get good compost in as little as two months or longer if it’s cold.
4. A properly maintained compost pile shouldn’t smell. If it does, add more dry carbon material (leaves, straw, or sawdust) and turn it more frequently.
A healthy garden soil is essential for healthy plants. If your soil is rich and nutritious there will be little need for fertilisers, and even pesticides.
We have all heard that compost is beneficial for our gardens, although most of us don’t know just how truly remarkable it is. Compost is decomposed organic matter, such as leaves, twigs and grass clippings. When you mix all these items together in a compost heap, they break down into organic matter that can nourish your garden. Good organic garden soil is loose and fluffy and retains air, nutrients and moisture well. If your soil is heavily clayed or over sandy, work compost into your beds to improve the soil structure and neutralise the pH. This will also increase the variety of beneficial soil organisms in the soil such as earthworms.
Topsoil is the upper-most layer of soil and is usually between 5-15cm deep. If your topsoil is high quality, it will be dark in colour and rich in organic matter. Some topsoils are very poor quality and lack nutrients. Should this be the case in your garden you will need to purchase a good quality topsoil, either in bulk or bags and work it into your beds together with the compost. You are also able to buy premixed topsoil and compost from your local GCA Garden Centre. In addition, topsoil is extremely useful for building berms, raising beds and fixing poorly levelled lawns, as it does not break down the way compost does.
Soil pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity in soils. The correct soil pH is vital for plant growth as it influences the availability of essential nutrients and affects the activity of soil microorganisms (the bacteria that decomposes organic matter will decline in acidic soil). When planting your new garden, it is beneficial to check the soil pH to see whether it is suitable or needs to be adjusted. To measure your soil pH use a soil pH meter or ask your local Garden Centre GCA, if they can assist you. If the pH of your soil is less than 5.6, it may be too acidic for most plants to grow in. To raise the pH you can add compost and dolomitic lime. If your soil pH is higher than 6.4 you will need to acidify your soil. This may be done by adding ammonium sulphate or acid compost.
When getting down to the dirty work of planting, make sure you have mixed your compost and natural garden soil using a 50/50 ratio. The compost in your hole is going to attract microbes to the roots which is essential for releasing plant nutrients to this area. Superphosphate and bone meal are two external sources of phosphate which is essential for good root growth and ensures that new plants get off to a good start. Bone meal is also an extra source of calcium for plant growth, so don’t forget to add the recommended amount to your planting hole for optimal results.
Moving onto your vegetable garden. Here the soil preparation is extremely important for producing a healthy crop. Adding a generous amount of organic matter in the form of compost, manure and mulch to your good quality topsoil is the best way to prepare the soil. Dig this in deeply (800mm) for best results. For raised vegetable beds a good quality potting mix can be used although a 1-part compost to 1-part topsoil ratio will work better for larger beds. For your herb garden and containers, a premixed herb or potting mix is ideal. Should you wish to improve your soil structure and water holding capacity even further you can add coco peat or sphagnum peat to your mix. These are natural, organic soil conditioners that save water, aerate heavy clay soil, bind sandy soils and reduce leaching (loss of nutrients).
So, if you suspect your current garden soil is not doing the best it can for your plants, bring in some new soil or start composting your own and reap the benefits of a ‘grass roots’ approach!
Beginner or an expert gardener you need to know that in the long run, it is the healthy garden soil that plays a pivotal role. The more you keep your soil healthy, the better your garden will grow. In this article, we will focus on Ways to Prepare Healthy Garden Soil that will help you to protect the soil structure, feed the soil with nutrients from both natural and commercial sources, and increase the diversity and number of the beneficial microbes and organisms that live in the soil.
The first step is to make soil fertile, is to Test your soil health, understand the Texture and type of soil and then follow the steps mentioned below:
1. Add nitrogen rich manure:
Manure makes a greater contribution to soil aggregation than composts. It is advisable to use organic manure with potting soil to gradually improve the soil quality.
Organic manures increase the humus content and water holding capacity of the soil. Plus it provides most important dose of macro nutrients (NPK) to plants.
Cowdung manure is the most commonly available organic fertilizer in India. It is always a good idea to use well decomposed manure instead of any kind of fresh animal dung. Ideal organic manure is dark, moist, consistent, rich in texture & more importantly it doesn’t have any unpleasant odour. Leaves of leguminous ‘green manures’ can be added to convert the otherwise balanced manure into nitrogen rich manure. Click here to buy cow manure online in India .
2. Try composting:
Composting can be defined as a means of recycling almost any organic wastes. The best part about composting is that it reduces the bulk of organic materials, stabilises their soluble nutrients, and triggers the formation of soil humus. Application of one-quarter inch per season is recommended as it will provide slow-release nutrients, which will dramatically improve your soil’s water retention and suppress disease.
Vermicomposting is one of the renowned composting methods. In this technique, earthworms are used to convert nutrient-dense materials, like manures, food waste and green crop residues, into forms usable by plants. You could also opt for ready made products like Organic veggie mix & ready to use pot-o-mix .
Various organisations are promoting the concept of composting these days vigorously. There are machines available too. Don’t know about it yet? Do watch the new Swachh Bharat commercial casting Amitabh Bachchan and highlighting the benefits of composting here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwYf-PSjsug
3. Plant cover crops:
To feed our soil, build its fertility and improve its structure with time, you should consider growing cover crops. Freshly uprooted cover crops provide already available nutrients for the soil microbes and also for food crop plants. Plus, the pores opened up by the decaying roots of these cover crops permit oxygen flow and water to penetrate the soil. Consider growing clovers, alfalfa, beans and peas as they are valuable cover crops, as they fix the nitrogen from the environment into forms available to crop plants.
Know more about Cover Crops here.
4. Mulching is full of advantages:
Use organic mulch to keep the soil covered. The mulch retains soil moisture and protects it against temperature extremes. Microbes, earthworms and other forms of beneficial living organisms can “nibble” at the mulch, and gradually incorporate their residues into the top layer of the soil. High-carbon mulches are preferable for weed control when compared to the materials that decay promptly since they endure longer before being incorporated into the soil food web. It is necessary and advisable to renew mulches that are in place for the entire growing season.
Understand mulching in depth, Mulching types, techniques and its long-lasting advantages.
5. Use permanent garden beds and paths:
The Key strategy for protecting soil structure is to grow plants in wide permanent beds, restrict foot traffic to the pathways, and plant as closely as possible. Close planting shades the soil surface, which in turn benefits both soil life and plants by conserving moisture and moderating temperature.
You also can use paths to grow mulches, or mulch the paths and take advantage of the foot traffic to grind materials such as straw or leaves. Then add this finely shredded material to the beds, where it will break down readily than in its coarser forms. Read about tools for raised beds .
There is no dearth of tips, and the list is endless. But to begin with, you can follow these primary and necessary ones.
The biggest mistake beginning gardeners make is using lousy or too-thin soil. Before planting anything in your yard, prepare your garden beds by digging to loosen the soil and adding organic material! This prep work can save you untold disappointment and, perhaps more than any other factor, assure a bountiful and delicious harvest.
If you’re working with a brand-new garden (or one that fell fallow and you’re bringing it back to life), you can stake it and get it ready the autumn before you plan to plant. This act gives the soil and the amendments you’ve added time to settle and meld. It also means you have less work to do next spring.
If a fall start isn’t possible or practical, go ahead and prepare the ground in spring — but don’t start too early. If the ground is still semi-frozen or soggy, digging in the soil can compact it and harm its structure. How do you tell whether it’s ready to be worked in? Grab a handful and squeeze — it should fall apart, not form a mud ball.
Follow these steps when preparing your soil:
Most plants are content with 6 to 8 inches of good ground for their roots to grow in.
If you’re planning to grow substantial root crops (potatoes, say, or carrots), go deeper still — up to a foot or more (yes, you can use a technique called hilling, where you mound up good soil around crops like potatoes, but this method doesn’t excuse your making a shallow vegetable garden).
Add lots and lots of organic matter! Try using compost, dehydrated cow manure, shredded leaves, well-rotted horse manure (call nearby stables), or a mixture. If your yard happens to be blessed with fertile soil, adding organic matter is less crucial, but most soils can stand the improvement. Mix it with the native soil, 50-50, or even more liberally.
Maybe your area’s soil is notoriously acidic, or very sandy, or quite obviously lousy for plant growth. The good news is that organic matter can be like a magic bullet in that it helps improve whatever you add it to. You have to replenish the organic matter at the start of every growing season or maybe even more often. (If the soil stubbornly resists improvement, resort to setting raised beds atop it and filling these bottomless boxes with excellent, organically rich soil.)
About This Article
This article is from the book:
About the book authors:
Suzanne DeJohn is an editor with the National Gardening Association, the leading garden-based educational nonprofit organization in the U.S. NGA’s programs and initiatives highlight the opportunities for plant-based education in schools, communities, and backyards across the country. These include award-winning Web sites garden.org and kidsgardening.org.
The National Gardening Association (NGA) is committed to sustaining and renewing the fundamental links between people, plants, and the earth. Founded in 1972 as “Gardens for All” to spearhead the community garden movement, today’s NGA promotes environmental responsibility, advances multidisciplinary learning and scientifi c literacy, and creates partnerships that restore and enhance communities.
NGA is best known for its garden-based curricula, educational journals, international initiatives, and several youth garden grant programs. Together these reach more than 300,000 children nationwide each year. NGA’s Web sites, one for home gardeners and another for those who garden with kids, build community and offer a wealth of custom content.
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SERIES 19 | Episode 08
Autumn is the best time to prepare soil for planting. Good soil preparation makes or breaks the garden. It improves the water-holding capacity of the soil and for plants that means the garden is more able to withstand water restrictions and anything else nature throws at it.
Generally soil can be classified into three groups – clay, loam and sand. To determine your soil type, just dig down about 10 centimetres and grab a handful of soil. Squeeze it into a ball. Loamy soil forms a rough ball but crumbles readily. It’s an ideal mixture of coarser and finer particles and varying degrees of organic matter.
Remember that organic matter is anything that derives from something living and includes humus from decaying plant and animal material, such as animal manures, kitchen scraps, garden prunings, pine bark and sawdust. The benefit of organic matter is that it improves the soil structure, aids aeration and drainage. It also encourages soil life such as microbe, earthworms and adds nutrients to the soil.
The water holding capacity of soil is also important. To work this out, tip a litre of water into a pot of soil and measure what has drained out. In our test 500 ml of water drained out and 500 ml remained in the soil for the plants to use. So if you’ve got loamy soil it’s usually pretty good. But it can be improved by adding more organic matter, such as compost or aged animal manure.
Clay soil consists of fine particles. Grab a handful of moist clay and squeeze it together to form a smooth, round ball. If you let that dry, it will go hard. The advantage of clay soil is that it holds onto moisture and nutrients longer and there’s less moisture lost through evaporation. That means that plants need to be watered less frequently. In our test a pot of clay soil had a litre of water added to it and hardly any soaked through.
The disadvantage of heavy clay soil is that it becomes waterlogged, with poor drainage and aeration. Gardeners with a heavy clay soil need to mix in some gypsum – a natural mineral. This helps to break up the clay and will improve its structure so that it forms crumbs that are easy to work. Add organic matter, such as compost or aged animal manures, because they’re important for all soils.
Sandy soil has particles that are quite large and coarse compared with clay. Grab a handful of moist, sandy soil and it won’t stay together. Once sandy soils dry out they become hydrophobic, or water repellent. To test for water repellency just tip a little water on top – if the water just beads on top and doesn’t run through it’s hydrophobic. A litre of water poured onto a sandy pot showed that the water didn’t penetrate evenly through sandy soil. In fact nearly 800 ml of water drained straight through, and that’s problems for plants, because there’s no water holding capacity in the soil.
The best solution for sandy soil is to add organic matter such as compost or aged animal manure, and mix it through the soil. Our test showed that just by mixing fifty-fifty organic matter with sandy soil it improved the water holding capacity of the soil – only 150 ml of water drained through. Try using products such as soil-wetters, but look for biodegradable, organically based soil-wetters. Other polymer-based or petro chemical based products may pollute the soil.
And when it comes to using fertilisers, use organic-based fertilisers, such as pelletised manures or blood and bone. Soluble fertilisers leach through sandy soils and can contribute to the blue-green algae problem. Once your plants are in, top up the soil with an organic-based mulch, such as peastraw or bark. Healthy soil means healthy plants and it’s absolutely vital for a waterwise garden.
As spring is upon us it’s an opportunity to get your hands in the dirt and grow some delicious organic food. We’ve pulled together seven steps to starting and enjoying your organic garden! Step On.
As spring is upon us it’s an opportunity to get your hands in the dirt and grow some delicious organic food. We’ve pulled together seven steps to starting and enjoying your organic garden!
Step One: Choose a good spot
It’s important to select an area that is open, well drained and is exposed to at least seven hours of sunlight a day. Planting in natural soil has many benefits, including providing the nutrients for healthy plants and a strong yield, but be sure to pick an area that has a fence or other protection from larger pests such as rabbits, rodents or deer.
If your soil isn’t in optimal condition or may have been polluted with insecticides or other contaminants, or if you live in a place with little or no natural soil, you may want to try a raised bed or a container garden. You’ll have to do more planning because raised beds and container gardens typically require more work to maintain optimal soil and irrigation conditions. But happily you can do container gardening anywhere. That means no excuses, so start your own organic garden today.
Step Two: Prep the soil for planting
For a spring garden, prepare the soil as early as possible. Most importantly, be sure to till, or turn over the soil down to 8- to- 12 inches deep beneath the surface and remove any rocks or debris. The next big step is to add organic matter and organic fertilizer. And make sure to irrigate the soil before planting.
Step Three: Pick your organic tools and materials
Organic gardening requires many of the same tools as any other garden: a rake, a hoe, compost, mulch, and seeds or seedlings. Soaker hoses or drip systems can ensure that your garden’s temperature and moisture remain consistent and controlled, improving the odds that you’ll have a full harvest. But organic differs in that you don’t want to select seeds that aren’t certified organic. Organic seeds and seedlings will carry the USDA organic seal. You’ll want to avoid potting mixes, seed starters, or bags of soil that don’t carry the organic seal. Call ahead to your local garden center to make sure they carry organic supplies.
Step Four: Preparing the bed
Raised beds are a good solution if you want to grow organic plants or crops in compromised soil or otherwise inhospitable conditions. If you decide to invest in a raised bed, here are some things to remember:
First, create a border around the bed with brick, stone or even natural wood to shield the soil from potential contaminants. The border should be at least 16 inches high to ensure that the roots are protected. Then fill the bed with a mix of organic compost and organic soil and start preparing the bed for planting.
Step Five: Selecting seeds and planting
Even with a perfect tract of soil, raised bed or container, you still have to choose the plants or crops that grow best in your region and climate. To get the highest yield, research which ones thrive in your area. You also want to pick crops that you and your family or neighbors really enjoy to make for a celebratory harvest. Consider planting “companion plants” close to your primary plants or crops. These can provide necessary nutrients to help your crops grow or specialize to repel pests that would otherwise be attracted to your plants. To find out the best companion plants do a quick Google search about your particular crops.
Step Six: Care and upkeep
Arguably this is the hardest step, because this is when you face the challenges of pests, irrigation and tending to your crops. So let’s break it down a bit.
Irrigation: If you’re watering your garden by hand rather than relying on a soaker hose or drip system, do it in the morning. This should increase the amount of water that your plants retain while also making it less likely that detrimental harmful mildew or mold will form. With most crops, you’ll want to water the soil rather than the leaves. Be sure to research the best watering practices for your particular crop.
Soil: For the best crop results, you’ll want to adjust and maintain a soil pH level of about 6.5-7.0. Your garden supply store will carry a pH meter and pamphlet to help you test and adjust levels. Remember to use companion plants to nurture the soil and don’t forget to feed the soil, use compost and check for earthworms. Earthworms equal healthy soil.
Pests: Keep an eye out for pests. If companion plants don’t repel all of them consider creating using deterrents such as slug traps. Neem oil and other natural horticultural oils can deter particularly insistent pests without relying on synthetic chemical pesticides. At least twice a week flip over a leaf to look for pests like aphids or other pests. If you find them, introduce some beneficial insects like ladybugs. Ladybugs can consume up to 50 to 60 aphids a day, so they’ll clean up those aphid-infested leaves in no time. Ladybugs can be purchased at your garden supply store.
Also look for missing leaves and bites larger than your thumb. They’re a sign of larger pests such as rabbits, rodents or deer. There are several ways to combat them, but this takes us back to Step One: Secure your garden so that large pests can’t easily invade it. Crates, netting, reemay cloth, fencing and other barriers can also help to thwart those pesky invaders.
Step Seven: Harvest
This is the best part of gardening – enjoying the fruits of your labor. Literally! A crop requires consistent harvesting. If not harvested regularly, many crops will turn to seed and stop producing. Most vegetables reach their peak flavor when they’re young and tender. If you’re aiming to make a crop last all season be sure to research the best harvest times for your region and pay attention to frequency.
Harvesting is the most rewarding experience. You’ll feel elated to have fresh fruits and veggies filling up your counter and you’ll be amazed at the how much better the taste and quality is once you bite into that first homegrown, organic salad. From all of us at Only Organic enjoy the season and happy planting!
If you’re like many people, you may be increasingly concerned about the safety of the foods you are buying at the grocery store. Health concerns over the use of pesticides and genetically modified produce have lead many people to consider growing their own vegetables.
Benefits of Growing an Organic Vegetable Garden
– Easy access to fresh produce
– Improved taste due to freshness and lack of chemicals
– Avoid pesticide residue
– Reduce exposure to harmful chemicals
– Does not harm the water table
– Kinder to the environment
If the idea of growing your own organic vegetables sounds good to you but you’re not sure where to start, please read on for 10 tips for growing your own organic vegetable garden. It may be easier than you think to have nutritious and healthy vegetables, free from concerns of pesticide residue.
1. Prepare the soil before planting.
While some vegetable plants might be able to survive in poor soil, all plants will grow better and be more productive with rich garden soil containing lots of organic matter. Do yourself a favour, and take the time to work lots of compost and other organic materials into your garden bed before you plant anything. It will pay off more than just about anything else you can do.
2. Choose the right plants for your region and conditions.
Before you plant anything in your garden, do some research to find out which types of vegetables and which varieties are most likely to do well in your growing conditions. You’ll want to take growing zones into consideration, as well as the amount of sunlight and rainfall your garden will receive.
Local farmer’s markets, other gardeners and staff at local garden centres can often give you some insight into which specific varieties typically do well in your area.
Strong sturdy plants that are well-suited for your specific growing conditions will require much less watering and babying over the growing season, so it’s well worth spending the time to pick your plants wisely.
3. Plant flowers in or near the garden to attract bees and other pollinators.
Vegetables rely on mother nature to help them along, and pollination is a key factor in the success of your vegetable gardening endeavours. Encourage bees and other pollinators to visit your vegetable plants by planting flowers either in the garden or close by.
4. Make your own organic compost and mulch.
One of the best things you can do for your vegetable garden is to supply it with lots of organic matter. Compost helps the soil retain moisture, provides a source of nutrients to the plants and the worms and microbes that help improve the soil.
It’s easy to make your own garden compost by piling up a mixture of leaves and garden clippings, grass clippings and other organic household waste such as egg shells and coffee grounds.
5. Purchase seeds or starter plants from reputable sources.
Always ensure you are purchasing certified organic seeds, or starter plants that were raised without the use of pesticides or chemicals. Many nurseries and seed catalogues do have certified organic selections. Local farmers markets can also be a great source of organic seeds and starter plants for your vegetable garden.
6. Plant heirloom varieties when possible.
Heirloom vegetables are the old-fashioned varieties that have been around for much longer than all of the current hybrid varieties that were bred to be more disease resistant or longer lasting. They have many advantages over modern hybrid varieties, including exceptional taste, more nutrition and the fact that they are often cheaper. Another benefit is you can save your seeds from this year’s crop of heirloom vegetables to grow plants next year – something you cannot do with hybrid varieties.
7. Use companion planting principles in your garden.
In nature, certain plant combinations work particularly well together. Planting compatible flowers, herbs or other vegetables with different vegetables can help increase yields, deter insects, minimize disease and even improve the flavour of your vegetables. There are also a few combinations that are best to avoid.
8. Use raised beds to extend the growing season.
Building raised beds is a great way to provide your vegetables with rich organic soil to grow, and can extend the growing season significantly. The soil in raised beds will warm up earlier in the spring, and will certainly make it easier to weed and harvest than bending down to the ground. Just be careful not to use any chemically treated wood such as pressure treated wood to build the sides of your raised bed.
Marigolds are great companions
9. Use vertical gardening techniques.
If you have a small area for your garden, consider using some vertical gardening techniques to maximize your space. By using trellises, cages, string, and other supports to train certain vegetables to grow up, instead of out, you have more room to plant other vegetables.
Another advantage of vertical gardening methods is improved circulation, which can help prevent mildew and other disease by keeping the plant leaves and vegetables off the ground.
10. Rotate crops from year to year.
Crop rotation is a common technique among farmers, as it helps to reduce pest and disease problems and avoids depleting the soil of certain nutrients. It is wise to practice this same principle in your home vegetable, and avoid planting vegetables in the same spots from year to year.
To prepare your organic growing area – whether it is a pot, single bed or a large allotment – see Managing your soil and Home composting. It will help you to create the perfect soil – that has nutrients and texture to provide life for your plants.
The best place to start is The Principles of Organic Gardening. These explain the thought behind organic growing. Designed with a helpful traffic light system, they help you on your organic growing journey – whether you are a complete beginner, or want to convert to organic, or be reminded of good organic practice.
It’s wise to plan your planting – making a note of what veg will grow where. This means you can keep yourself in vegetables all year round, as well as rotating where you plant your crops from year to year, to avoid disease and to maximise your soil’s fertility.
Our How to Grow cards cover a selection of vegetables, fruit and herbs – from artichokes to apples and turnips and thyme. See also weed management, and how to cope with pests and diseases the organic way.
Preparing your organic growing area
Your first battle might be with weeds. These compete with other plants for light, nutrition and water, so you need to clear them before you start growing. If your plot is small, you can dig the weeds out, making sure you remove the whole plant, plus root.
However, if your growing area is large, don’t try clear it all before planting. Hours of digging will only lead to back ache and the depressing sight of weeds returning. And if you resort to a blast of weed killer (glyphosate formulations), you are using toxic chemicals on the very area you want to grow your healthy fruit and veg.
Instead, divide the plot in half. Dig one half, in the other you will feed the soil by using a thick organic mulch that covers the soil to exclude light. Here’s how:
1 For the mulched half, cut down the larger weed foliage to just above soil level using a satisfying slash technique (you can use much of the foliage on your new compost heap, so long as there are no seeds). Then cover the area with a mulch that will exclude light. You can use a variety of materials to do this – a layer of compost or well rotted manure is ideal, recommended 1 wheelbarrow full per 5 sqm, topped by cardboard (weighed down by bricks or another thin layer of compost so it doesn’t blow away), or a black plastic membrane, also pinned down. (Don’t use carpet – many of the dyes have toxic chemicals that can leach into your precious soil.)
Leave this for at least 6 – 12 months. It’s that simple. You don’t have to do a thing, as the weeds will weaken in the dark and the earthworms do their work to enrich the soil.
2 Now dig the area where you want to start growing. Take out tough and woody weeds like docks, thistles, nettles and brambles, removing all the roots. Put the foliage on the compost heap, drown the roots in a bucket of water for a couple of months – then add to the compost heap. See FAQs for how to deal with bindweed or brambles.
Then add compost or manure – one big wheelbarrow, or 5 large buckets, for every 5 square metres of ground. Dig this compost into the top 10 cms of soil, and your bed is ready for planting. If you want to sow seeds, use a rake to break down and gently flatten the topsoil into a fine texture (known as tilth) so the seeds can access soil and water to germinate.
If you are growing in containers, prepare your organic growing medium according to the plants you plan to grow. See Container growing and our helpful page on Garden Compost or Potting Compost?
Now you are ready to grow!
The following pages will help you get started, to care for your soil, to manage your allotment, to make your own compost and feeds, manage your weeds, deal with pests and diseases, save your seeds and harvest your crops. All done the organic way – saving money and the environment. We hope you enjoy the organic way. Not only are you safe from chemicals, but you are encouraging a healthy life for you, the plants and the planet.
The key to a successful vegetable garden is healthy soil. But even if your garden area doesn’t have perfect soil, you can improve it. In this guide, we’ll show you how to prep your garden beds so that you’ll end up with your best vegetable garden yet this season.
Clear The Beds
When do you want to clear the beds for spring planting? Preferably, in the fall. You may have some flowers planted there or some other plants that you care for during other seasons, but if you are trying to get your beds whipped into shape for vegetable gardening, the best time to start is in the fall.
However, if you don’t want to begin cleaning out the beds that early, waiting until early spring to clear the beds is an alternative option. First, clear the entire beds of any weeds and debris. Be sure to yank the weeds up by the roots, and get any sign of them completely out of the garden soil so they don’t rear their heads again during the growing season.
Analyze and Amend Soil
During fall when you’re clearing the beds is also a good time to analyze the soil if you have the means. Do a soil test and see exactly what type of soil you’re working with. Too much sand will make the soil too dry for many plants, while too much clay will make the soil too wet for some vegetables.
The perfect soil for vegetable gardening is a good combination of earth, sand, and clay. Depending on what you find out from the test, you may want to add in a bit of what your soil is lacking to achieve the proper balance.
Dig up the soil using a shovel or garden fork, going about 12 to 14 inches deep. If you have a rototiller, this is the time to break it out and let it work its magic. During this phase, you can work in a three- to four-inch layer of compost, rotted manure, or other amendments needed. Also, continue to remove any debris, such as rocks and stones, that you might find. Rake the soil until it is as level as possible. The end result should be loose, well-aerated soil with excellent drainage.
Fertilize The Soil
Once you have gotten the soil cleared, tilled, and better balanced, now is the time to add in the precious plant food that will help your vegetables grow optimally and produce plentiful harvests.
We like organic fertilizers for vegetable gardening, but standard fertilizers are also an option. Space the bags out evenly on the top of the freshly plowed and mixed ground. Break open the bags, and pour their contents out on the top of the beds. Spread fertilizer with a rake, and work it directly into the ground by piercing the soil with a shovel, breaking through at least six inches deep into the cultivated soil you prepared during the first few steps.
Alternate between the rake and the shovel to work the fertilizer into the soil, turning the soil with a shovel and smoothing out the surface with the rake. IMPORTANT. Always follow the instructions on the bag when you are adding fertilizer, so that you do not burn your plants or harm your soil.
Continue to Amend With Compost
In the world of gardening, patience is key. However, there are always ways to work around if you have a shortage of prep time and still find success. If you decided to plant after just one season of preparation, it’s not the end of the world. You will just want to do some work in between growing seasons to get the soil back to the nutrient-rich levels needed for optimal vegetable growing.
Add in compost as early as possible so that it has time to break down before the next spring rolls around again. Before long, you’ll be passing by the produce section in lieu of your homegrown bounty—all thanks to your hard work preparing your garden’s soil.
When it comes to building soil for your garden, you may be wondering where to start, if the soil in your backyard will suffice, or if you can simply amend a plot in your backyard. Whatever you may be wondering about building your own gardening soil, we’re here to help!
With this simple recipe, you will be well on your way to building nutrient-rich soil that your plants will love.
Making a Gardening Soil Mix
- ¼ Compost
- ¼ Native Soil
- ¼ Sphagnum Peat Moss
- ¼ Aeration (such as pumice stone, rice hulls, lava rock)
The above ingredients will make up your base. Feel free to purchase compost from an organic gardening store or use your homemade compost to create the base.
A good way to look at this is for every 2 cubic foot of soil you intend to make, you will want to add the following to form your soil base:
- 5 gallons of sphagnum peat moss
- 5 gallons of aeration
- 5 gallons of compost
- 5 gallons of native soil
Now that you have the soil base ready to go, it’s time to add some additional nutrients for your plants. For each cubic foot of soil you make, you will want to add a ½ cup of each of the below inputs to the soil.
After the inputs are added in, you will want to add a few additional minerals to the soil mix as well. For each cubic foot of soil you make, you will use one cup of each mineral listed below.
What if I want to sow seeds directly in the soil already on my plot?
Of course, if you aren’t looking to prepare containers, raised beds or other areas, but would prefer to amend a plot in your backyard, you can!
Testing Your Soil
To start, it is highly recommended that you have your soil tested. By doing so, you will easily be able to determine what is missing from your soil.
For instance, we had a soil test done on a plot we intend to plant directly into. The results showed that there was not much organic matter and high nitrogen. Due to this, we mixed compost into the plot, covered the area with mulch, and planted nitrogen-fixing trees around the area.
Once your test results come back, you too will be able to deduce what will benefit your existing plot the most.
An added benefit to having your soil tested is discovered nutrients that are locked within the soil. By discovering these hidden treasures, you will be able to add other nutrients that aid in unlocking the other from the soil, so that plants can uptake it during their growing cycle.
But, I don’t want to get my soil tested, what can I do?
So, you want to skip the soil test and just get to planting, huh? We get it, we like to grow things too and sometimes paying for a soil test just isn’t in the deck of cards or maybe you’re a week behind already and just need to get the plants into the ground. Whatever the case may be, it’s okay!
If you’d prefer not to have your soil tested prior to re-amending it, you have a few options to prepare your garden beds for the upcoming planting season.
To start, add some fresh compost where your garden plot will be. You can mix this into the soil if you’d like, but it is not totally necessary. Once the compost is added, we recommend adding mulch, watering and letting the area “bake” for a week or two. After this, your garden plot should be ready for planting!
Throughout the growing season, just beware of any deficiencies that begin to show themselves. This will be a clear indicator of other nutrients missing in the soil. If you notice any deficiencies during the growing season, be sure to address them as soon as possible, otherwise, you may be disappointed come harvest time.