Basic Organic Gardening Skills for Beginners

Follow this guide to learn how to start a healthy garden.
Improve Raised Bed Soil by Adding Organic Matter

Improve Raised Bed Soil by Adding Organic Matter

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Organic Gardening begins and ends with the soil.

If you love the idea of having your own organic garden but have yet to give it a try, or if you are a gardener just trying to figure out what the organic hype is all about, following is a list of basic skills for the new organic gardener to learn and why they are important.

Making Compost

In organic gardening, the process begins and ends with the soil. Instead of relying on synthetic fertilizers to provide nutrient releases for crops, organic gardeners continually work to build the fertility of the soil through additions of organic matter.  Making compost out of vegetable scraps, crop residue, weeds, manure and other sources ensures the formation of humus, a long-term builder of soil fertility, much better than just tilling these things directly into the soil.

Starting Plants From Seeds

To stay completely away from the use and residues of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, as well as to open up the full choice of crop varietal options, the ability to start plants from seeds is essential.  This skill gives gardeners the option to choose organic certified seed, to choose or make an organic seed starting mix, and control all fertilizer and pest control inputs related to the crop.

Proper Planting Techniques

The techniques related to planting will differ for each crop, and whether the crop is sown directly into the garden or started indoors and transplanted to the garden.  Planting depth, spacing and all requirements for temperature, soil, sun, water and nutrients are all basic factors for the survival and success of the crop.  Most crops will have some margin for error, but too many stress factors can lead to crop failure.  The best way to minimize problems here is to start small.  Get comfortable with a few crops at first, and then expand as you learn more.

Proper Irrigation Techniques

If you can’t water it, don’t bother planting it.  An inch of precipitation (or irrigation) per week is the standard for summer vegetable gardens.  Newly seeded areas may need a little water every day, while established plants will perform better with more water each time but less frequently.  Some crops will require more water as the fruit develops.  Drip irrigation, overhead irrigation and watering by hand all offer their unique attributes for the gardener to make a choice. Again, get comfortable with a few crops’ needs before expanding too much.

Planning a Crop Rotation

Crop rotation goes hand-in-hand with both soil fertility and pest management.  A good crop rotation will have crops with differing nutrient needs and pest threats succeeding one another on particular garden rows/beds.  For instance, beans-corn-potatoes would be a good succession of crops because these are three unrelated crops that take different nutrients from the soil.  Crop rotation should be practiced each time a new crop is planted whether in successive years or within the same growing season.

Pest Management

All of the above information will go far in preventing insect and disease problems.  A well-chosen, planted, and maintained plant will have minimal stress factors allowing infestation to occur.  However, there are times when insect populations or fungal spores are more robust than the garden.  Knowing the differences between signs and symptoms of insect damage and disease damage is critical in determining an effective course of action.  Also, understanding the biology of the more common damaging insects, and who their predators are, can be very helpful.  Over time, you will become more familiar with the threats to particular crops and these decisions will become second nature.

Post-Harvest Plan

As the season comes into full swing, the final skill to acquire is that of using up the harvest.  Most new gardeners are pleasantly surprised at the sudden deluge of produce that seems to appear all at once. Share with neighbors and friends.  Learn to can, freeze or dry your own veggies for storage. Donate to a food bank or soup kitchen.  You can feel the pride of self-sufficiency while sharing your abundance with others.

These are skills that all organic growers will continually improve upon.  Jump in with both feet, start small and keep your eyes open. You will learn a lot and you will be amazed at your progress from year to year.  Most of all, have fun!

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