If spring 2014 marks your first effort at organic vegetable gardening, a little preparation can mean the difference between bounty and wasteland. Many definitions of organic gardening focus on what the organic gardener doesn’t do: use synthetic fertilizers. That definition is a little too simplistic, according to Organic Gardening, which says it’s equally important to “work in harmony with natural systems and to minimize and continually replenish any resources the garden consumes.”
What does that mean, exactly? When planning the garden, take into account the climate and growing conditions. Choose plants that will thrive in the conditions of your garden. This will mean a higher probability of success and less intervention by you.
Mulch and Fertilize
The North Carolina Cooperative Extension notes the importance of continuously improving garden soil by adding compost. This increases the soil’s ability to support beneficial microbes and to retain water.
Never confuse composting and fertilizing. Adding organic fertilizer is essential for plant nutrition. Organic gardeners can make their own organic fertilizers using this formula provided by Mother Earth News: combine seed meal, agricultural lime, gypsum, dolomitic lime (or dolomite), kelp meal and bone meal, rock phosphate or high-phosphate guano. If not inclined to make your own, you can buy pre-packaged organic fertilizer.
Avoid GMO Seed
Take care in choosing seed to avoid introducing genetically-modified varieties into your garden. This is particularly important with respect to plants like corn. By 2012, 88 percent of corn grown in the United States was genetically modified, according to PhysOrg. The Non-GMO Sourcebook is a helpful guide to finding non-GMO seed.
Keep Pests at Bay
Perhaps the trickiest aspect of organic gardening is maintaining a chemical-pesticide-free garden. If your garden plot has had pesticides applied even in the distant past, the residues may find their way into your produce, the National Pesticide Information Center warns. The residues may include non-garden applications such as termite control. If you are using composted manure, make sure the manure hails from pesticide-free farms or you may be unknowingly importing pesticides.
Laboratory testing can be expensive, NPIC says, and it suggests doing homework to identify potential past applications of pesticide and being as specific as possible in searching out results.
Should you use organic pesticides in your organic garden? Lou Homs, a graduate student from the University of California at Berkeley, provides a helpful explanation of the benefits and pitfalls of organic pesticides. These pesticides are made from natural sources and not synthetically manufactured. That does not necessarily make them safe, Homs notes. Recent studies show about half of the natural chemicals used in organic pesticides are carcinogenic, the same fault found with nonorganic pesticides.
Gardening without chemical pesticides is possible, according to Harlequin’s Gardens. Success in pesticide-free gardening requires a knowledgeable gardener. After choosing the right crops for the conditions and upon nurturing the soil appropriately, the likelihood of pests appearing declines. When bugs do appear, take care to distinguish the harmless from the harmful. Nontoxic horticultural oil can be applied directly to harmful bugs.
Other natural pest control techniques include floating row covers (polyester fabric on frames designed to keep insects off plants), pheromone traps, sticky traps, insecticidal soap, sprays containing the bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis, or parasitic nematodes.