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Beginner's Guide to Organic Vegetable Gardening

Updated on September 4, 2012
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Good tilling is an important basic step.
Good tilling is an important basic step. | Source

Whether you are considering starting an organic vegetable garden to keep the grocery budget in the black or you just love gardening getting started is the hardest part. The amount of information that a beginning gardener has to sift through can be overwhelming. Here are the basic steps to creating a successful, productive organic vegetable garden.

What Exactly Does Organic Mean?

Organic gardeners grow food and landscaping plants without the use of any of the following chemicals:

  • Fungicide
  • Herbicide
  • Insecticide
  • Pesticide
  • Synthetic fertilizer

This does not mean that you will have to accept small, malnourished produce that is covered in bugs! It just means that you will use alternative, all natural methods of achieving the same beautiful produce that those other gardeners do – and in many cases a much more productive garden.

This is achieved by preparing carefully, using compost and mulch, planting companion plants and encouraging beneficial predators to battle for you in the war against harmful pests.

First Things First – Location

Choose your location carefully. While you can move the garden somewhere else at a later date it is not an easy, nor a fun task. Best to begin carefully considering the optimum (and permanent) location.

Here are some things to consider.


Choose an area that is relatively close to the kitchen door if possible. This makes it easy to run out to snip a few lettuce leaves to add to the salad at dinner time. You also need it to be close to a water supply.


Your garden is going to need plenty of sunlight. Try for at least eight hours per day. If you live in a hot, dry climate then it is best if the garden has some shade in the hottest part of the day.


Do not create your garden on a slope if you can help it. Choose a level place on your property that has good drainage.

Away from Large Trees

You need to keep your garden away from large trees as much as possible. The roots can compete with your vegetables for nutrients and some trees like the Black Walnut secrete a chemical into the soil that can make it difficult for other plants to grow nearby.

Prepare Your Garden Bed

Once you have the area chosen you can begin to prepare your bed. There are two basic options.

Conventional Garden

In this style of gardening you will till the soil and plant your seeds and seedlings right into the garden in rows. You will need to weed, mulch, and make sure that the dirt does not get too packed around the plant. This type of gardening works well for people with larger garden areas and it is less expensive to begin than raised bed gardening.

Raised Bed Gardening

In this model you will create wooden boxes with no bottoms. You will place these in the area that you want to create a garden and then fill the boxes with compost and rich soil. It is best that you till the whole area before you begin so that there isn’t any grass or weeds to interfere with your vegetables.

This is a bit more expensive in the beginning because of the boxes however you will not have to weed much and the dirt will never be packed down. It works well in smaller areas.


Make sure the soil in your garden is crumbly and doesn’t have hard clumps or rocks in it. After you have tilled it up go through and remove the stones, clumps, and stray roots by hand.

Spread the tilled soil with a layer of compost and a layer of well-rotted manure and then mix it into the soil with a rake.

Choosing Your Plants

Choose organic seeds and seedlings for your organic garden. If you are very new to gardening stick with vegetables that are easy to grow. Spend some time talking to your county extension agent or an experience nurseryman about which varieties grow best in your area. Take heed of any suggestions that they may have as far as varieties, pests, and planting times.

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Green Beans

Plant them according to the schedule suggested by your county extension agent.

Spinach is easy to grow and delicious when it is  fresh.
Spinach is easy to grow and delicious when it is fresh. | Source

Mulching Is Important

Once the seeds are planted layer mulch thinly over the bed to keep it moist. Keep this layer thin, no more than an eighth of an inch. If it is too thick the seedlings will not come up. Mulch breaks down over time and will need to be replaced. Keep it on the thin side until your plants are well established and then a thick layer can keep the roots cool and moist.

Try to get organic mulch if possible.


You will want to add a little organic fertilizer about once a month or according to the instructions of the brand you buy. If you choose to make your own organic fertilizers or use manure then add it once a month.


Most vegetable plants need about an inch of water a week. When it is very hot they will need a little more. If you must water it is best to use a soaker hose at the base of the plants. This gives your plants the most useable water slowly so that it doesn’t run off.

Many vegetable plants do not like to have their leaves wet, especially in the evening and early mornings. It can cause rotting, blackspot, and other diseases. For this reason the soaker hose is the best way to water but if you do need to use an overhead sprinkler do it midmorning so that the leaves have a chance to dry throughout the day.

Companion Planting

Companion planting is an important method used by organic gardeners. Some plants repel pests in the garden while others add nutrients to the soil. In any case, the companion plants benefit the other plant.

Companion Plants

Name of Plant
Plant Near
Don't Plant Near
basil, parsley, tomato
beets, celery, chard, onions, spinach
strawberries, tomatoes, dill
lettuce, onion, peas, tomato
cabbage, onion, tomato
green beans, peas, sunflower
Green Beans
carrot, cucumber, radish
grow in a border to protect plants
beets, cabbage, carrots, lettuce
green beans, peas
carrots, cucumber, green beans, radish, turnips
onions, potatoes
beans,, cabbage, marigolds
cucumber, potato, sunflower
favo beans, strawberries
basil, garlic, parsley, onion,
cabbage, fennel, potato

More on Companion Planting

Dealing with Pests and Disease

No matter how careful you are you will more than likely have to deal with some pesky bugs and plant diseases. Rather than choosing a chemical product from your garden center do some research and try organic methods first.

For example, rather than spraying for tomato hornworms you can merely pick them off your tomato plants. Added bonus? They make great fishing bait for later in the afternoon. Aphids can often be washed off a plant by using a spray nozzle on the hose. Think of simple things first and then get more creative if you have to.

This is also when beneficial predators are helpful. Birds, praying mantis, ladybugs, and other predators will be glad to eat the pests on your prize vegetable plants. You may lose a tomato or two to a bird but the pests that they consume will more than make up for it.

By not spraying beneficial predators will flourish in your garden. Keep in mind that even when you spray with organic and natural pesticides all insects will be harmed. Use even the organic stuff only when you absolutely have to.


Plan on spending a little time weeding your garden each day. Early in the morning or late in the evening is usually the most pleasant time. Do not throw weeds in the compost pile – you will just be reseeding them next time you mulch.


Harvest early and often to encourage more production. Don’t let the green beans get too big or let the tomatoes stay on the vine longer than they have to. Frequent picking can increase yields significantly.

Even though you are using organic methods you should always wash your produce carefully before eating it.

Helpful Websites and Chat Groups

It is always a good idea to form relationships with more experienced organic gardeners. By sharing what they know they can save you a lot of heartache and time. Some of the best websites to network with other organic gardeners are:

Stay with It

Organic gardening is a skill that can be learned just like any other skill but you won’t learn it overnight. Give yourself time to learn the methods and allow yourself the freedom to fail. Not everything is going to work the way you want it to.

Understand that it takes several years to get an organic garden to its optimum health and productivity. Be willing to put in the time now so that you have a productive garden later.

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    • workwithnature profile image

      workwithnature 6 years ago from Ireland

      Wow a very good and interesting hub. Thanks. How is your garden coming along :)

    • stars439 profile image

      stars439 6 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      I have been wanting to raise a beautiful garden. GBY

    • agreenworld profile image

      Dawn A. Harden 6 years ago from CT-USA

      Enjoyed the article and especially liked the points you mentioned on using organic mulch how it breaks down over time and really should be replaced. Many do not do the work and just turn mulch over. Thanks again for he great read.

    • vasmenon profile image

      vasmenon 6 years ago from India

      Gr8 hub have made me take that one step towards my garden that I had been refusing to take....

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 6 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      Thank you, all of you. I love gardening and I love the benefits to both health and budget.

    • aboutaustralia profile image

      aboutaustralia 6 years ago from Newcastle, New South Wales

      Loved your hub, very thorough for the newbie like me, and very inspirational, thank you. Voted up, useful!

    • USAPoolToy profile image

      USAPoolToy 6 years ago from Florida

      Fantastic advice. I've always had trouble with planting an organic garden but I keep trying every year.

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando FI Chor 6 years ago from Andalusia

      Thanks Marye, just when I'm about to start my new raised veg. garden. Yes, early but I live in Southern Spain. Love the companion chart. I bookmarked the page and will faithfully follow your instructions and good motivation.

    • scottwkelley profile image

      scottwkelley 6 years ago from Petoskey, Michigan

      I enjoyed all the tips. About neighboring plants, I am growing soil less in an aeroponic environment system. I have some green peppers going and they were doing very well, they have peppers but stopped producing flowers. I don't know if I am messing up but i took a red skin potato and put into growth. It is doing very well. The roots are not touching the pepper plant roots. This is the first time my pepper quit flowering. Everything is nice and green. Are the peppers and potato okay to be together? you can see my peppers at, my blog

    • profile image

      jenubouka 6 years ago

      This is a great article, I have the perfect spot for gardening and out of procrastinated ambition I have started a compost pile with all my leaves.

      I particularly love the chart this will help my planting scheme. I did not get around to planting last year just working the compost pile. If you have any compost hubs I will take a look at those too. Awesome, now I really can't wait for spring!

    • MM Del Rosario profile image

      MM Del Rosario 6 years ago from NSW, Australia

      I live in a townhouse but I still manage to use the limited space, I have some organic tomatoes in large pots, I just harvested some last really taste good and yummy.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 6 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Marye ~ This article is packed full of helpful information for the beginner of organic gardening. I am absolutely passionate about gardening, especially organic. Every year I make mistakes of one kind or another. Your outstanding and complete hub has helped me and I can't wait for spring and Mr. Sunshine. Bookmarking and sending to friends. Up and away!!


    • LoriSoard profile image

      LoriSoard 6 years ago from Henryville, Indiana

      Great advice. I started an organic raised bed garden two years ago. So far, I've had no problems keeping pests and disease away. It's a lot easier with a small contained space. Voted you up :)

    • Mikalyn profile image

      Mikalyn 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I love the companion plant chart. Thanks.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I wish I had these tips when I tried organic gardening. My herbs kept getting holes and I didn't know why. Couldn't see any insects and didn't want to spray pesticides on them. Voting this Up and Interesting.


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