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Organic foods have grown in popularity. Doing so drastically decreases the pesticides you and your family consume as well as protect the environment from toxic chemicals. However, you may have noticed, as I have, that the prices for foods labeled organic can be hard on your pocketbook. And how can I be sure that these foods are really and truly organic?
One solution is growing your own produce organically. Organic means completely natural, right? And what could be easier than natural? But the reality is, there is more to organic gardening than meets the eye. Fortunately, I have found that by avoiding the following popular mistakes, you can have a very rewarding organic gardening experience.
Letting the Garden “Take Care of Itself”
Organic does not mean letting the garden take care of itself. It does not mean ignoring fertilizers and pest control. It does mean eliminating the use of inorganic chemicals. Chemicals can harm beneficial insects and upset the natural balance of the soil’s microorganisms. The goal of the organic gardener is to eliminate the use of these chemicals.
Even the occasional use of inorganic fertilizer changes the organic garden to a regular garden. Harsh chemical fertilizers only give plants a quick burst of nutrients to stimulate plant growth. On the other hand, organic fertilizers begin a cycle of soil care that ensures fertility for future gardens.
Organic fertilizers are part of a cycle of taking care of your soil to ensure it is fertile and well-balanced for future gardens.
Don’t Think More is Better
Too much of any nutrient can affect the soil’s balance. Even natural fertilizers contain the same ingredients as manmade. The difference is that organic fertilizers come from organic sources. Resist giving your plants a second dose of fertilizer when you notice a surge of growth after an initial application. This can result in huge green leaves and little or no fruit. I have also seen a big influx of insects that come to munch on all the excessive, tender foliage.
Always follow the package direction for organic fertilizer and pesticides. These amounts have been worked out in extensive field tests. As far as insects go, I have found that if you watch and wait, nature and the food web take care of the problem for you. I have seen my rosebuds completely encrusted with aphids and then an army of soldier beetles would march in and take care of my problem for me. Only use even the safest pesticides as a last resort.
Too Much Gardening Too Soon
If you are new to organic gardening, start small. Using a smaller space and a fewer variety of plants until you get the hang of it can help avoid a lot of frustration. Some good plants to start with are tomatoes, green onions, summer squash, beets, green beans, peas, and leafy greens. You could perhaps have ONE zucchini plant, and ONE cantaloupe or watermelon. These are the basic easy-to-grow vegetables. Choose your favorites and keep it simple.
Too Little Sun
The light requirements for vegetables do not change just because the garden is organic. A tomato planted in ideal soil and given the correct amount of fertilizer won’t produce any fruit if it only gets a few hours of sun each day.
A garden planted in a side yard that only gets sun for part of the day can be challenging. Most vegetables love the full sun. Leafy greens like spinach and lettuce can thrive in the morning sun and shade the rest of the day. Make yourself familiar with the light requirements of all your chosen plants.
Choosing the Wrong Varieties for your Planting Zone
Don’t ignore your USDA planting zone guide. This is especially important for perennials. For example, citrus trees and rosemary will not survive the cold temperatures of the northern zones.
Most vegetables are annuals, meaning they grow and die in one season. Become familiar with the length of your growing season when choosing the various varieties of annuals. For example, don’t select long-growing season tomatoes and peppers that bear fruit in 100 days if you live in an 85-day growing zone.
Failing to Mulch
Mulching means adding a layer of material between plants. Mulch holds in moisture, deters weed growth, and protects the soil surface from the elements of sun, wind, and pounding rain. One to two inches is usually adequate for vegetable gardens.
Mulch can be inorganic such as stone or plastic, or organic like chipped bark, sawdust, or shredded paper. Vegetable gardens will benefit from organic mulch because it will break down and make the soil richer.
In hot weather, mulching can reduce the need for watering by 20 percent!
Not Using Pollinators
About one-third of all fruits and vegetables must have pollinators in order to flower and produce fruit. (Any fruit or vegetables that encase seeds are classified as fruits.) Even those that don’t require them often bear more fruit of a higher quality when using pollinators like butterflies and honey bees.
The good thing about the organic garden is that poisons don’t kill the pollinators. Look for plants that will attract these pollinators such as lavender, marigold, oregano, and zinnia, to name a few.
Finally, realize that all gardeners make mistakes. The key is learning from them. But learning about these popular mistakes beforehand can go a long way in producing a beautiful and healthy organic garden the very first time.