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6 Steps to an Organic Garden

6 Steps to an Organic Garden

One of the greatest benefits of having a garden is controlling how your food is grown. Growing organically ensures your food is free of commercial pesticides--pollutants that can transfer into the soil, water, and atmosphere. Starting an organic garden is the perfect way to provide clean, healthful food to your family, and help protect the earth.

1. Right plant in right place. Don't fight your site, rather, embrace your sunlight levels, climate, and soil type by choosing varieties that will naturally thrive in your gardens' conditions, reducing the need for excess water or amendment.

2. Know your soil. Submit a soil test for analysis. By understanding your unique garden site, you can know exactly what amendments are needed, reducing and possibly eliminating pests, diseases, and pollution, which can be caused by over-fertilizing. Improving soil by reaching the ideal 5–6% organic matter also helps conserve water and prevent run-off.

3. Water wisely. Conserve water by watering deeply and less frequently, encouraging plants to build deep, water-mining roots. Make sure you are watering with just the right amount; under- or over-watering can cause plant stress, which acts like an open invitation to pest and disease. To slow water evaporation from your soil, water in the evening/morning and/or mulch to insulate and protect soil. You can also improve your soil's ability to hold water by adding organic material (see compost below).

4. Prevention is key to a healthy garden. Rotate plants in the same families (for example, brassicas) annually, so they are not grown in the same space for at least three years. Rotating reduces the potential for disease and depletion of the same nutrients year after year. You can also diversify your planting area so it isn't all one crop. Having different crops mingled together confuses pests and looks less like an all-you-can-eat buffet for them. Scout for pests, diseases, and natural predators weekly so you can identify problems early, and decide if action is needed.

If you find a problem, first choose physical controls (e.g., row cover, plant removal, or trap crops) or biological controls (e.g., inviting beneficial insects or insect-eating birds). Invite beneficial insects to the garden by sowing flowering varieties that they are attracted to (e.g., borage, alyssum, and dill). This way, when pests arrive, you already have a hungry, resident army "waiting in the wings". Use organic pesticide (e.g., soaps or neem) as a last option, spraying in the early morning or evening when most bees are less active and avoiding spraying flowers to protect pollinators.

5. Sow a cover crop! Cover crops enrich the soil, fight weeds, and break up compacted soil naturally. Cover crops can also be used to create an insectory (a dedicated area that provides habitat for beneficial insects).

6. Compost. Reduce landfill waste by composting yard scraps and food waste. Plant-based food scraps and yard waste create methane in a landfill environment which, unharnessed, is a pollutant. However, in your garden, this material can be converted into organic compost, which is a great soil amendment. Avoid composting any disease or pest-infested material.

See your garden as a living system and over time you'll learn patterns in your garden habitat. For instance, it is common to see predatory insects like ladybugs quickly follow an influx of pests like aphids. Gardening the organic way has us look for a balance rather than striving for a pristine and lifeless space. Let's embrace the Japanese principle of simplicity and the perfectly imperfect, called wabi-sabi, in the garden and enjoy the beautiful journey!

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