Organic Gardening Tips | How to Grow Vegetables at Home
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Organic gardening - Get started now!
Are you one of those people who spends a lifetime dreaming about becoming an organic gardener, but never actually doing it? Do you worry about how you will cope with the pests before you even have any vegetables in the ground? Does the fear of having to spend a fortune stop you from organic gardening before you get started?
If you are paying for water, as residents in many places do, perhaps you worry about receiving a bigger water bill, putting even more pressure on your family's finances. How much water does it take to care for an organic garden?
I live off the grid. Not only do I generate my own power, but I also collect my own water. I don't pay for my water, so when my tanks are full I have no water restrictions. However I do have to cope with droughts and gamble on when the next rains will come, so I am very conscious of using the least amount of water to maximum effect.
The good news is, if you approach organic gardening with all your financial limitations in mind before you begin, there are lots of ways to reduce the need for spending money as you grow your own vegetables at home.
Useful products if you are buying seeds ...
Step One for organic gardening
Plant the first seed. That's right. Pick a seed, any seed, and plant it. Once you begin planting, you are on your way.
If you wait five years until your soil is tested and balanced and certified organic before you start planting, it will be a long time before you can enjoy your own homegrown produce.
If you wait until you get a job promotion or win the lottery, you'll miss out on the advantages of enjoying your own home-grown produce before that happy day.
Stop procrastinating and just get started. Begin small and the rest will follow.
Here are some cheap organic gardening tips you can start implementing in your own backyard today.
No space for a garden?
Take a walk up and down the streets where you live. How many homes do you see with wasted garden space? The world is filled with neglected gardens.
Think of a friend within walking distance of your home who has a yard big enough for a garden. Look for a familiar face next time you are in the local store, and ask yourself if you think they'd appreciate help in a garden they may not have time to tend.
If you have the will and the skill to grow fresh organic produce, team up with someone who has space in their yard. Grow more plants and split the rewards. Just be conscious of the fact that you are entering their private space.
Don't expect your garden host to feed you lunch or bring you cups of tea or coffee; don't waste their water turning on the hose when it is not needed; and don't even ask to use their toilet. If someone allows you to access their yard and grow fresh, organic food cheaply, it should be cheap for them as well.
It is your responsibility to protect their property and their privacy. Make it work the first year, and you may find the relationship continues for years to come.
Establishing your organic garden
The cheapest way of establishing any garden is to work with the tools, soils and seeds that you already have available.
If you have been spraying your yard with chemical pesticides, weed killers and fertilizers then you'll have to build raised garden beds or begin planting in tubs and pots until you build new uncontaminated garden areas - but for most people the soil in the yard is not the problem when deciding to become an organic gardener. The concept and processes of organic gardening just seem a little overwhelming.
Bravely step out into your garden with whatever tools you have available. If you don't have a shovel or a little garden spade, use a spoon from your cutlery drawer. There's bound to be a garage sale or a car boot sale nearby at some time. Look for cheap tools to use in your garden then.
In the meantime you can use a spoon to dig holes to plant potatoes, an old rusty chisel to drag a line through the soil for sprinkling seeds in rows, or even a broken broom handle to dislodge a stubborn weed . Your ancestors were gardening long before the invention of plastic rakes, and managed to dig holes without needing expensive spade blades.
Many people seem to think that organic gardening is some new philosophy that makes gardening difficult. Not true. Organic gardening is simply returning to the way gardens were established and maintained in the countless years before chemical companies and big business took ownership of what should ultimately be a natural process.
Organic gardeners work with nature
If you work with nature, you can reap nature's rewards. With the right attitude and acceptance of the fact that you might need to start small, anyone can begin organic gardening cheaply and easily.
The first thing you'll need will be a source of seeds or cuttings. Even before you begin weeding your garden, you should have clear in your mind the types of plants you intend growing.There's no point clearing a space larger than you need.
If you're just starting out, or if you're a victim of the global financial crisis, finding the money to spend in a store buying plants to establish an organic garden is a waste of what little cash you have in your pocket. You don't have to buy plants.
Ignore anyone who tells you that you can't afford to start an organic garden. I will show you how you can establish your garden without waste. In our current economic climate, no matter where you live, I respectfully suggest that everyone should make the effort to grow what they can in the space available.
Nature grows plants in the tiniest and most unlikely places.
Calendulas - useful when organic gardening
Make sure you remember exactly where in your garden you are planting inedible flowers. If you are new to growing fruit and vegetables, you MUST avoid accidentally making yourself ill.
If times are tough and you need to make a meal before harvest time, you could pick broccoli leaves or cabbage leaves (as opposed to the actual cabbage) to steam or stir fry. If you cannot tell the difference between immature plant types, it is important to remember where each variety is placed.
Tomato leaves are poisonous. Don't eat them yourself, and don't feed them to your animals.
Want to grow flowers?
I like to think that anyone interested in organic gardening is mainly interested in growing their own fresh food. But flowers can brighten up the dullest day, so they are certainly worth including in your garden.
Again, there's no need to waste money buying plants. Most flowers are easily established with seeds or cuttings. Cuttings are often the easiest and best option. If you speak to the owner of a garden you admire, there's a very good chance they will agree to give you a few cuttings or a handful of seeds from their plants. Gardeners generally like to share. There's no need to steal!
If you are taking a cutting from a bush or flower, please resist the temptation to take the most prominent and most beautiful part of the plant. Select a piece from an inconspicuous spot close to the ground, or look for a runner that may be spreading from its base.
The same rules apply when taking a cutting from a public garden or the side of the road. Don't ruin the beauty of the plant. Treat it, and its owner, with respect. :)
How to Grow Potatoes
Take a close look at your potatoes. Are any of the little 'eyes' starting to shoot? Leave your potatoes in a dark cupboard long enough and you'll be rewarded with signs of new life. Cut each potato into chunks featuring one new shoot and plant them in your garden. The growth is a shoot, not a root, so cover it with earth but aim it for the sky.
Leave enough space between each one for an entire crop of potatoes to grow, but not so much that you are wasting space. How far apart? Take one step. A big step if you're only short, but not a leap.
Mark the spot you plant each piece of potato with a rock, or a stick, alongside the piece of potato - not on top of it. Why? Because it will be a while before the leaves break the surface of the earth. You have to water the fledgling potato crop, but that can be achieved with as little as one glass of water each day if your aim is good enough. Don't waste water hosing the entire area.
Now, you are going to grow these potatoes organically so you start by weeding the area between and around your chosen place for the new plantings, and you will keep the area weeded until such time as the potato plant grows tall, looks healthy, then dies down.
Be happy when a few weeds and a bit of grass starts growing in the cleared area during the process, because the weeds and grass that you pull out during the coming months will be used as mulch for your potato plants. Pull out the weeds and grass, and toss them around your plants.
It helps to build dry mulch (like straw) up as high as the potato plant grows, leaving just a few leaves poking from the top of your mulch. You'll get more potatoes this way. (When you mow the grass, wait for a few days for the clippings to dry out and go brown, then sprinkle the dry grass clippings around your potato plants and up to the top leaves.)
Do not put lots of green mulch over your growing potato plants. Pull the weeds and toss them on the ground to dry for a while if you have an excess of weeds.
Add your mulch regularly. Don't wait until the plant has a clear 12 inches or more of growth above the last lot of mulch. By then it will probably be too late to try getting your bonus harvest, and all your potatoes will be harvested from beneath the ground.
How to Grow Garlic in your Organic Garden
Garlic is surprisingly easy to grow if you put it in the right place at the right time. Buy some cloves of garlic from your local supermarket. Use the smallest cloves in your cooking and keep the larger ones for planting. Garlic is best planted just after summer as the weather begins to cool.
You need to weed the area and plant each portion just under the surface, pointy end up. Then cover the ground lightly with mulch. Make sure you mark the area where your garlic is planted because you won't see life in the garlic plants until after winter.
Garlic needs the cold weather to help it prepare for spring growth. (If you live in a hot climate, store your garlic in the fridge for a few weeks to get cold before you plant it.)
Every few weeks during the growing season (spring and summer) you should pull any weeds that try to invade your garlic patch. Once the garlic plants grow tall enough, surround them with thick mulch (even if your mulch is just dry grass after you mow the lawn) and the mulch should effectively inhibit any weeds.
When is garlic ready to harvest? When the garlic has grown very tall, flowered, and begun to die down. When the leaves of the plants are turning brown and drooping, I pull the whole plant from the ground, then plait them for storage.
Each year save your biggest and best cloves to plant again for the next year's harvest.
How to grow peanuts in the right climate
How to Grow Pumpkins
The next time you make pumpkin soup, keep the seeds and dry them ready for planting in springtime. If it is already springtime when you are using the pumpkin, just place a few of the seeds with the debris from the pumpkin in a suitable place in the garden.
You'll need plenty of room for the pumpkin vine to spread out while it grows but you don't even need to dig a hole. There's no need to break your back clearing space for the vine to grow. That's one of the benefits of organic gardening.
The pumpkin plant will happily spread over the surrounding lawn and even climb up or through a nearby fence. Once it has spread as far as you are prepared to let it grow, start picking off the end of each runner. It won't just grow in one direction, so space is the key.
Pull a few handfuls of grass out of your lawn and pile the grass in the clearing. If you have compost available, add a handful to the pile. Put your pumpkin seeds on top and water the pile occasionally. The grass will disintegrate and provide food for worms before the pumpkin seeds take hold.
Take a moment to congratulate yourself because you've just begun growing something organically. If all the pumpkin seeds sprout successfully, dig up the extra plants carefully and transplant them to their own patch of land.
If you get lucky and have the chance to pick up a pumpkin that is beyond being attractive as food (okay, so it's a little rotten), chop the entire pumpkin into pieces and just lay the pieces seed-side down in your chosen spot. A rotting pumpkin is the perfect environment for pumpkin seeds to grow.
See how easy organic gardening can be? lol.
Growing pumpkins in my organic garden
Organic Gardening and Weeds
Weeds are your friends when you are an organic gardener. That doesn't mean you have to cultivate them, it just means you have to change your attitude towards them.
As an organic gardener, I view weeds as potential food for other plants. They have taken nutrients from the earth, and I get excited about returning that goodness so my preferred plants can grow. "Oh, great! Weeds!" They won't be weeds for long, they're about to become organic mulch.
Have you ever noticed where weeds are most likely to grow? In the middle of your garden, perhaps? In that nice patch of soil you spent ages preparing to plant up with your favourite seeds? If your lawn is patchy and less than healthy, you probably have weeds growing there as well.
Yep. Weeds grow wherever there's space. They don't like competition from healthy plants. Give weeds an open space, and they'll take advantage of the opportunity you grant them.
As soon as you give weeds competition, they shrink back and become far more submissive. View weeds as bullies, and treat them accordingly. Strengthen your plants, and the weeds will no longer be a problem.
Here's the best advice I can give a new organic gardener about weeds.
Don't dig deep in your garden to turn your topsoil over unless you absolutely have to. So many people get busy with the garden spade, digging and weeding, and turning over the soil to aerate it, confident that they are doing the garden a favour. After hours of back-breaking work, they plant their tiny seeds and rejoice at the thought that they've done the right thing.
Within weeks, however, the entire clean space is covered with weeds. There's more new weeds than seedlings. Heart-broken gardeners are back with the hoe or the spade trying desperately to extract the new generation of weeds without disturbing the seeds they planted. It seems like a futile exercise and they wish they'd sprayed poison over the soil before planting.
Organic gardeners like me just shake our heads. We've seen it happen a hundred times. Would-be organic gardeners quickly become discouraged. They want to be organic, but they insist on trying to work against nature, instead of working with nature.
Here's the all-important clue when it comes to creating a new garden. Don't clear existing weeds until you are ready to fill the space. And when you clear the existing weeds, don't dig up all the topsoil and expose a whole new lot of weed seeds.
When they are buried deep beneath the surface of the soil, the weed seeds won't germinate. As soon as you lift them and water them and give them everything they need to thrive, they'll respond with vigour. Leave them buried. Plant your new seeds in the freshly cleared space without inviting unnecessary competition from deeper weed seeds.
Add mulch and compost and anything you like to make your garden healthier, but put it on top of the soil and let it feed your soil from above. There are very few gardens that benefit from being dug over. If you think yours is one of them, go ahead. But don't be surprised and don't be disgruntled when weed seeds emerge and burst into new life.
Consider them to be future food for your fabulous organic garden. And don't spray them with poison.
Do I need a compost bin?
Composting can be a science experiment of mammoth proportions.
There are issues of heat and contents and how often you stir it and what you cover your compost pile with and how damp you should keep it and what minerals and nutrients you should add and how to attract worms to it and what's the right mix of green and dry materials and what happens if you let your compost heap dry out. Hold on, I have to draw breath.
We have had many different types of compost bins over the years, and my lovely husband would enjoy creating a magnificent frame from recycled pallets at our current home. Every now and then he suggests another convenient spot for a proper compost heap, and I keep reassuring him I'll let him know when I need one.
A formal compost bin or compost heap or compost pile where you cart all your greens and chicken manure is not necessary if you have limited greens and manure. Nor is it vital for someone like me who produces lots of organic produce in large gardens but prefers to feed extra fruit and vegetables to animals than the compost bin.
Most people have been taught the value of compost bins and feel compelled to have one. If you are looking for cheap organic gardening methods, however, this is one place to save money.
Here's what I do. If you want to save time and money, I suggest you follow my lead.
Why I weed after rain
In my experience, the very best time to weed a garden is after rain. No question in my mind. Wet earth is weeding time. I should point out that I've read warnings over the years that one should never walk in one's garden after rain because diseases are easily spread on wet shoes. The only garden I stomp through in wet weather is my own, so I have no fear that I'll be importing diseases from elsewhere.
I weed promptly after rain for two reasons. Firstly, I live in Australia and occasionally I come across snakes in my garden. Steve Irwin introduced the world to Australia's venomous snakes on his television documentaries, so I trust you understand why I have no interest in getting to know the snakes that slither across my property. In very hot weather I only walk on clear paths among the vegetables and pick produce within easy reach.
Any serious harvesting during summer waits for my husband to join me. We wear boots and gloves and take long sticks to rustle at the base of plants, plus bring the dog into the vegetable gardens to warn us of any unexpected wildlife. It is one aspect of living in the UK that I really miss; being able to reach deep into undergrowth and lift up logs in the middle of summer without worrying about snake bites. After decent rain, snakes are more likely to be out of my garden and taking refuge somewhere dry. So I get out quickly to weed problem areas.
The second and most important and relevant reason for anyone who doesn't have a local snake population, is this. In wet weather the weeds easily slide from the earth, roots and all without a fight.
I don't need to worry about the top of the plant breaking off at ground level and I rarely need to use a spade. I just gather all the stems or off-shoots of a single weed together, and pull. Up the unwanted plant comes, sometimes with a bit of earth trapped within the roots, but that's no problem. If I'm concerned, I shake the plant or tap the roots on the ground to free the soil. But if I am tossing the weed back onto the garden to act as mulch, the soil will fall back into my garden anyway.
If your climate is dry and you don't want to wait for rain, water your garden before you weed it. Don't waste water hosing the entire area, only to have it dry out before you progress very far. Use a watering can or even a bucket of water, and tip just enough to soften the earth and loosen the roots of the specific weeds you wish to remove. Some soils will release their grip on roots without needing water, but most soils benefit from being wet.
I offer this advice and all these tips freely to help other organic gardeners.
Spread the word, by all means, but please do not plagiarise my work.
Provide a link to my page, paste a copy of this Hub, but please give credit where it is due.
Any reader who spots a duplicate copy of my original thoughts is encouraged to let me know about it.
Thank you, and happy gardening.
Cheap, organic, and better than compost bins
When you weed your garden, take an empty plastic garbage bin with you. If you only have a small garden, just take a bucket. Tuck a plastic bag in your pocket, just in case you need it. Put the empty bin within reach, but not too close because you're not going to use it all the time.
Here are your options when you pull the weeds from your garden.
Option 1) Throw the weeds back onto the garden at the base of your valuable plants. They will break down and return goodness to the earth. They act as a mulch and help reduce evaporation from the wet soil around your plants. Try to make sure their roots are either facing the sky (even if you have to snap the plant a little) or clean enough of soil for the weed to die.
It doesn't take long for most weeds to become unrecognisable once you've uprooted them. They take on their new role as food for other plants, just as they would if you composted them first. The process is just faster. For most weeds, the general rule is to pull and drop.
If you have a huge number of weeds, as might be the case when establishing a new garden, mulch the cleared earth with a thin layer of the weeds you pull, then make knee-high piles of discarded weeds around your garden, and wait. The piles will reduce in size as they age and weaken, and can be tossed back onto the actual garden as the first layer of mulch decays.
Option 2) Weeds with seeds, and weeds that you fear will spread if they manage to get as much as a toe-hold back in the earth go in your bucket or your bin. Put as many weeds in that bin as you like, but don't neglect the base of your plants. Most weeds in your garden should be pull and drop weeds.
Weeds in the bucket, seeds and all, are carried to a source of water. Cover the weeds if they're thick in the bucket, or use less water if there's plenty of air around your weeds and seeds and water is scarce. The weeds will weaken and collapse in time, making a perfect organic soup for your garden. You can put a lid on the bin if you like, or leave it exposed to sunshine. You won't want the bin to fill during rain, however, in case the seeds flood from the bin before they have time to become weak and impotent, so keep it under cover if there's no lid on it.
The water will change colour as the nutrients and goodness leach out, becoming a great organic 'soup' for your plants. Add more water if its needed, and stir it occasionally. Dilute the soup if it appears too strong before spreading the goodness around. You can spray it directly onto the leaves of your plants, or apply it with a watering can. Leave the dregs in the bottom of the bin and add more weeds. Once everything seems to be completely broken down, you can pour the remnants directly onto the garden and start again. Keep an eye on that spot in case any seeds manage to survive and sprout.
Comfrey and wormwood are good additions to your bucket mix, if you have any. Mind you, they're both good to add directly as mulch as well. Just don't pull and drop them. You want to leave their roots in the garden for future growth, so helpful mulch plants like these are a 'break off a few leaves and drop' type.
Option 3) The plastic bag in your pocket is for any weeds that you really feel reluctant about putting in your bucket. Most weeds, including those with berries, will be okay in your bucket. But if you're really not sure, then bag and bin them.
Scraps from your kitchen
So what do you do with fruit and vegetable scraps from your kitchen if you don't have a compost bin? Feed them to your hens. And if you don't have hens? Feed them to your worms.
No, you don't have to invest in a worm farm. You simply have to dig a hole at the end of your garden bed. Make it a decent depth because you're not going to want to dig holes every week. Into that hole you toss your kitchen scraps, then cover them with a little earth. Keep doing that until the hole is almost full to the top, and then either plant something over or it or just fill it in. The worms in your garden will converge on their new dining room, feast until they swell, then go forth and multiply.
The worms will aerate your soil on their way to the food source, and improve your garden with their castings.
What about grass clippings?
Cut, let dry, then rake. This is what you do with your lawn clippings.
Forget about the grass catcher. It's really only useful for people who are a little OCD. Let your lawn clippings dry where they fall. Returning the nutrients from your grass back into the soil will strengthen your lawn and feed your worms.
If you are growing potatoes or have a tomato patch or, for that matter, have too few weeds to be creating a healthy mulch around your plants, you can rake your grass clippings when they've had time to dry and distribute them as a mulch across your garden. Your potato and tomato plants will appreciate a pile of dry grass clippings at their base, but don't pile them up while they are wet.
Note: If you have grass seeds in your grass clippings, don't use them in your garden. Just let them stay where they fall this time around, and move the next lot of seedless clippings to your garden.
Can you see now how easy it is to create organic food for your garden ... and why a compost bin is not an essential element in successful organic gardening? If you want one, buy one. There are certainly advantages to an effective compost pile. But your cheapest option, and the quickest way to put your green waste to good use, is to garden without it.
Organic garden vs grasshopper
What about bugs and pests?
I am including here a photo of a grasshopper on one of my organic pumpkin leaves. I laughed when I saw it, and wished it well. Grow a healthy garden and you won't be intimidated by the occasional bug or pest.
Weak plants are more susceptible to attack than strong, healthy plants. I suspect this little critter was separated from a bigger pack busy devouring someone else's garden. Of course all organic gardens have an occasional invasion, but I can honestly say that despite the myriad of potential pests that make life miserable for gardeners in Australia, my organic garden rarely sees any of them.
Pests that try to set up home in my garden don't last long. There are many organic options for dealing with pests and bugs in your garden. But those tips will wait for another day.
Right now, I hope you are eager to get out and plant that first seed.
Happy organic gardening!
Perhaps some of my other hubs might also be helpful ...
- Growing Organic Vegetables and Herbs
Bees love bright organic pumpkin flowers. Not only can you see the difference, you can taste the difference between fresh organic produce and store bought foods. Vegetables and herbs from my organic garden have authentic colour, authentic aroma,...
- How I grow and harvest organic Chia seeds
I have been growing chia organically for the past ten years, and in that time I have fine-tuned my growing and harvesting techniques. Chia is easy to grow, and has lots of nutritional value.
- Successfully living off the grid
Taking yourself off the grid can begin with careful choices in solar powered lights and appliances while still living in your existing home. Tips to save money on power bills and begin the transition to a self sufficient lifestyle today.
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