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Growing Organic Vegetables and Herbs

Updated on February 24, 2014
LongTimeMother profile image

LTM's extensive organic gardens feature fruit trees, vegetables, culinary and medicinal herbs, grapes, and berries.

One day's harvest. Ripe tomatoes and green tomatoes for bottling and making sauces. The bigger pumpkins are a 'blue' skinned variety. The smaller ones are a novel heritage type.
One day's harvest. Ripe tomatoes and green tomatoes for bottling and making sauces. The bigger pumpkins are a 'blue' skinned variety. The smaller ones are a novel heritage type. | Source

Treat yourself

Fresh corn on the cob grown organically
Fresh corn on the cob grown organically | Source
Garlic is easy to grow.
Garlic is easy to grow. | Source

Organic beauty

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, their intended texture and a taste rarely found in supermarkets.

Tomatoes explode with rich full flavour unadulterated by the processes of early picking, storing, travelling and ripening to coincide with reaching shelves in stores across the country.

Celery is crisp and crunchy, so too are the stalks of asparagus shooting from the ground.

Pumpkins swell while their vines still wander. Onions meet the challenge as thread-like stems grow big enough and strong enough to hold their heads up proudly.

Corn picked fresh begs you to sink your teeth into the cob before the natural sugar converts to starch and transforms from alkaline to acid-forming in your body. Even the soft, fine threads of corn silk can be used to make tea or stock for a soup.


Organic vegetables fresh from the garden

I grow a diverse range of organic vegetables.
I grow a diverse range of organic vegetables. | Source
All organic, fresh from my garden.
All organic, fresh from my garden. | Source

Occasional imperfections

Sometimes there's a blemish on organic produce just as there will be occasional blemishes on commercially farmed crops but because I grow my own foods I know precisely what caused every tiny mark so there's no waste due to fear or fussiness.

Growing your own organic foods you quickly learn to connect the clue with the culprit. A crowded spot in your garden will result in at least a few rubs and impressions and as you pick, pluck or pull the treats from that section you make note to leave a little more space next time. Or maybe not, because an abundance of fresh fruit, herbs and vegetables makes you more forgiving of the occasional imperfection.

In the kitchen you can slice away the offending portion knowing full well that the rest of the product is as close to perfect as nature allows. If you have poultry or any of many farm animals it may be destined for the bucket of treats to be shared with your farmyard friends.

Equally as important if you are growing organic vegetables and herbs in a small backyard or on a sunny deck, any foods with slight blemishes can be added to your worm farm or compost heap. The nutrients ultimately are returned to your soil.

The only exception to the composting option is if the clue indicates a culprit that's likely to thrive in the compost. Some bugs that invade organic vegetables can't be reliably killed in the warmth of your compost heap.

Bugs are best fed to the chickens if you know they will eat them, or tied in a bag and put out with your rubbish if you have no other option.


Blanket of organic mulch

Source

Sheltered from the sun

Organic pumpkin grows beneath the shelter of the vines large leaves.
Organic pumpkin grows beneath the shelter of the vines large leaves. | Source
Organic rhubarb
Organic rhubarb | Source

Small investments can reap large rewards in your organic garden

Understand your organic garden

Think of your organic garden as a living entity. It needs plenty to eat and drink, warmth in the winter and protection from hot sun in the summer - just like you do. Every now and then it needs a rest. If you apply the same logic to your organic garden that you apply when caring for yourself, the task becomes much easier.

Feed your organic herbs and vegetables with lots of compost. Compost most manures before you add them to the soil around your herbs and vegetables in the same way that you cook your own meals. Composted manure is easier for the plants to access nutrients and eliminates the risk of burning the roots of your plants.


Manure in an organic garden

Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are the major plant nutrients.

  • Nitrogen stimulates leaf growth so all plants need nitrogen.
  • Phosphorus encourages fruit development and benefits seed fertility.
  • Potassium is the major contributor to root growth and strengthening stems. It also helps set fruit.

Chicken manure has a good balance of these three nutrients but ammonia is released when it is fresh which is why you should either add it to your compost to decompose before spreading it around your plants, or add it directly to an area of your garden that is not yet planted so it has time to break down.

Cow manure is great for the organic compost pile but horse manure is a little slower to compost. Often I've found weed seeds eaten by wandering horses are too resilient to be damaged in the compost, so horse manure is my least favorite.

I use pigs to weed my vegetable gardens and I also feed the pigs lots of excess fruit and vegetables. In return, they give me a ploughed garden ready for springtime, complete with the addition of manure.

The best manure, of course, has no drugs or chemicals so you need to obtain manure from a reliable source. We use natural, organic, medicinal herbs to prevent intestinal worms and other ailments in our farm animals.


Water and warmth

Plants drink water and enjoy an occasional drink of herbal tea. Try to avoid town water with chlorine and fluoride and any other additives. Keep watch for a water tank for collecting rainwater. It doesn't have to be huge if you can't afford it or have limited space in your garden. A few hundred litres is an easy size for setting up when the tank is empty - and remember to raise it onto blocks so you can fit a bucket or watering can under the tap. There is no point wasting good water through a hose when you are simply watering the top layer of soil containing new seeds or small seedlings.

Mulch provides the blanket of warmth over the roots of your organic herbs and vegetables during cold weather, and it protects the roots from being quickly dried and baked during harsh summer sun.

The best mulch to use is a thick layer of well composted material because it feeds the plants while protecting them but any organic mulch is better than no mulch at all. When you mow the lawn in your yard, rake the grass clippings into small piles, turn them after a few days and, when they are dry, pile them around the base of your plants.


Bees love bright organic pumpkin flowers.
Bees love bright organic pumpkin flowers. | Source

My top tips for plants to attract bees to your garden

  • Melissa officinalis, also known as Lemon Balm, Bee Balm, Sweet Balm, Melissa and Cure-All. When it bursts into flower, lemon balm attracts countless bees.
  • Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, also known as Sweet Fennel, Wild Fennel, Carosella, Marathon, Meeting Seeds, Funcho, and Fenkel has multiple yellow flowers that act as a magnet for bees.
  • Globe artichoke, Cynara scolymus. The purple spikes of a flowering globe artichoke come alive with bees.

Make every effort to attract bees to your organic garden. Once they arrive they will get to work fertilizing your vegetables and herbs. A source of water is also helpful for bees.

Fennel repels many pests but attracts bees.
Fennel repels many pests but attracts bees. | Source

Meeting your garden's needs

You understand your organic herbs and vegetables need food, drink, warmth and protection but there's one more major ingredient in a successful organic garden.

Thinking again of your garden as a living entity and comparing the life of your garden to your own life, what is the missing ingredient in meeting your daily needs? Of course, an active sex life.

The single most useful visitor to any garden is the bee. Bees do more good in a garden than anything else. To compete with a bee you'd have to spend countless hours with a paintbrush and a toothpick delicately reaching into each and every flower on each and every plant and executing the fertilization process that nature provides courtesy of busy buzzing bees.

Because your garden is organic, you'll need to spend time in the garden checking for caterpillars and aphids and other intruders.

You'll remove pests by hand or spray them with a garlic or chilli spray or some other organic deterrent, so you're bound to encounter a lot of bees during the growing season. When you do, you'll want your bees to be mellow and happy so plant some lemon balm.


The essential herb for every organic garden

Lemon Balm. Bees love it.
Lemon Balm. Bees love it. | Source

Lemon Balm

Every organic garden benefits greatly from lemon balm. Plant lemon balm in strategic points around your garden. Lemon balm attracts bees and, most importantly, bees that visit lemon balm seem far less aggressive than bees in other gardens.

Look for 'Melissa officinalis' in your local plant nursery. If it's not called Lemon Balm it might be called Bee Balm, Melissa, Sweet Balm or in some places, Cure-all. 'Melissa' is Latin for bee. It is a medicinal herb traditionally used as an anti-depressant to calm, relax and refresh. Lemon Balm tea was used to soothe crying babies and calm the nerves of adults. Seems it also works on bees.

Don't spend a fortune buying many plants. Just start with one or two small punnets and tend them carefully. Lemon balm grows in sun or shade and is easily propagated by cuttings, root division or seed. With time you can create as many plants as your garden needs.


Healing herbs

Aloe barbadensis, also known as aloe vera.
Aloe barbadensis, also known as aloe vera. | Source

Helpful herbs for you and your garden

Comfrey grows deep in the ground but equally well in pots. Use it as mulch or liquid fertilizer.
Comfrey grows deep in the ground but equally well in pots. Use it as mulch or liquid fertilizer. | Source

Appreciate nature's efforts

Growing organic vegetables and herbs gives you a chance to see nature in all its glory

Some plants grow slow and steady, others seem to burst from the ground and throw themselves into their life cycle. The space you allocated suddenly seems way too small and you are forced to tread lightly over tentacles you never expected. That's the fun of organic gardening.

Nature requires the organic gardener to be bold and brave when pests appear and wreak havoc.

You may have to net your tomatoes to keep the birds away, place an old lace tablecloth over a frame to protect cabbages from cabbage moth because you know that caterpillars will follow, and decide whether to take a torch and a bucket into the garden during evening rain to collect the snails as they reveal themselves or whether you'd rather create a concealed trap for them filled with beer.

Creative problem solving is a necessary skill for every organic gardener.

Some herbs are best grown under shelter or in pots that can be taken indoors before the arrival of frosts. Some vegetables demand to be in the ground from the moment the earth warms. Your organic garden is a living entity and can be just as idiosyncratic and temperamental as any member of your family.

Love it, accept it, tend it, and appreciate nature's efforts.


I love the look of sage in the night.
I love the look of sage in the night. | Source
Wormwood is just one of the herbs that grows huge in my organic garden.
Wormwood is just one of the herbs that grows huge in my organic garden. | Source

Learn from your mistakes

Don't be too quick to rip what seems like a dead stick from the ground. There will be times, even during the active growing season when you fear failure. Seeds you plant take longer than you'd hoped to germinate. Leaves turn yellow or brown and fall to the ground. Plants go to seed before you've harvested the leaves for your herbal tea or great green leaves suddenly wilt in the heat and seem beyond salvation. Don't panic. Just wait. Use the internet or your library of gardening books to look for the problem and find an organic solution. Continue to water and tend the plant and more often than not you'll find a new burst of energy results in a bigger, better result next season or sometimes even within weeks.

Let some of your plants self-seed because the strongest plants adapt to your climate and environment and will cope much better with each new generation. Don't dig the ground needlessly and expose hidden weed seeds every year. Feed the ground and wait for new growth, planting winter and summer crops alternately but leaving sufficient debris from the previous crop to establish itself when the conditions are right.

Learn from your mistakes. If you suspect that you planted a shade loving plant in a spot that's too hot, try again in another place in your garden. If your hose won't reach the tomatoes or pumpkins, buy a longer hose or carefully transplant them to a more accessible position.

Be brave enough to experiment with techniques and with plants themselves. Choose the vegetables you like to eat, and the vegetables that are easy to grow. That way at least you'll always have something on the table.

Include useful herbs in your garden. Research the culinary and medicinal uses of herbs available in your local nursery. Choose a few herbs that help repel pests like wormwood but make sure you mark them so you're not tempted to chop them up and toss them in a salad by mistake.

Everything in an organic garden has a role and understanding those roles will determine the success of your garden. Study developments in your garden and take notes. It may take a few years but with time you will anticipate and prevent problems, and anticipate and take full advantage of opportunities.


Organic gardening is just one part of our off-grid lifestyle.

When you harvest your organic vegetables during summer, it is easy to cook them in a solar oven.
When you harvest your organic vegetables during summer, it is easy to cook them in a solar oven. | Source
Organic chia. Grow your own and harvest it fresh from your garden. :)
Organic chia. Grow your own and harvest it fresh from your garden. :) | Source

© 2013 LongTimeMother

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm just waiting on the weather. I am so ready for spring and gardening, and it has been a fairly mild winter here, but I'm still ready to get dirty. :)

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      Winter is the gardener's rest time which is nice, but like you billybuc I get eager to spend more time in the garden. When you start getting busy over there, I'll be starting to put my feed up. Been a crazy summer in Australia.

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 4 years ago from Los Angeles

      I have never read such a deliciously inviting introduction to an article on gardening! You've covered so much information with easy steps, and your passion for organic gardening shines through. (Beautiful photos too.) Inspiring! Thank you!

      My best to you,

      Cat :)

    • CarNoobz profile image

      CarNoobz 4 years ago from USA

      My grandfather grew organic veggies and fruits in his backyard garden for DECADES! That's the way to go. I love those memories of walking through the back with a box and harvesting cucumbers, snow peas, strawberries, figs, apples. Of course, we'd eat every other piece as we went LOL

      There's nothing like eating fresh veggies straight off the plant!

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      Thanks, cat. I am happy to share my thoughts and photos in the hope that more people will grow their own fresh vegetables. I am harvesting an abundance of fresh foods here at the moment despite the extreme heatwave and flooding rains just weeks apart this summer. I try to keep a camera in my pocket so readers can see the kinds of rewards you get from organic gardening. Thanks again.

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      CarNoobz, my family munches our way through the garden too. Raspberries never make it back to the kitchen. They are planted too far from the house. Gooseberries seem to vanish as quickly as they ripen also. My husband and I are just as likely as the kids are to snack while we are harvesting. Corn, peas, apples, peaches, plums, berries, nothing is safe. lol.

    • Anna Evanswood profile image

      Anna Evanswood 4 years ago from Malaysia

      I am an expat Aussie living in Malaysia, its very different gardening here! There are new bugs like the white ash fly that I had never seen before in Western Australia. Gardening is good for the soul and you have written a great hub on the joys and trials of organic gardening. Thanks:)

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      Thanks, Anna. I've never heard of a white ash fly either. I do however have experience gardening in the sand in Western Australia. When I first arrived there I couldn't believe that roses could grow in sand. Of course I soon discovered that with a bit of love and attention, WA soil can successfully grow anything!

      I'm sure you must be noticing the humidity in Malaysia. WA has such a lovely dry heat by comparison. Tropical garden with exotic fruits in your backyard yet?

    • Anna Evanswood profile image

      Anna Evanswood 4 years ago from Malaysia

      Yes I have 2 papaya trees, 2 guavas, a grapevine lots of citrus... Some veges as well... It's very exciting growing things here. Seeds germinate very quickly.

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      Oh, lucky you! Guava and papaya. I'm in peaches and plums territory here. Way colder.

    • richaloe profile image

      richaloe 4 years ago from Oxford UK

      I like what you say about 'taste' .I have lost all my veg this winter because the river Thames is in flood and so I have had to buy from the shop. As you say there is world of differencts

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      All your veg, richaloe? That's dreadful! Once we get used to the taste of real food it is so hard to go back to shop produce. I feel for you.

    • Gail Meyers profile image

      Gail Meyers 4 years ago from United States

      These are some great tips! I grew up in the country. I love organic gardening, as well as reading and writing about it. The other thing is when there are no pesticides, the natural balance often returns so the natural enemies of the pests return when you provide them with a suitable environment (plants they like, etc). Voted up and useful.

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      I have seen some of your gardening hubs, Gail, and will link to a couple of them in future hubs. I see no reason to reinvent the wheel. When I spot a good explanation, I'm more than happy to link to it. Spread the word, I say. We need more healthy vegetable gardens in the world!

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      What a great hub - we are just talking about and planning our first ever vegie garden. Better late than never! Looking at the pics of your produce is a great incentive. Thanks for this...

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      Hi travmaj. It's never too late to create a vegetable garden!

      Okay, so you've missed the peak harvest season this time around in Australia, but you'll have lots of time to get your garden ready and grow some winter veg before next spring. By then you'll be an expert!!

      If you're north of Byron Bay you could still successfully grow many of the warm weather crops, but if you're in a cooler region like I am it is time to plant broccoli, cauliflower, peas and beans, brown onions, some winter lettuce. There's lots to do at this time of year.

      Oh, and don't forget to clear some space to plant some garlic. Just grab some cloves from the garden and plant each one pointy end up. Autumn (fall) is the best time to plant garlic.

      You'll still be visiting the stores for food supplies for a while yet, but by this time next year you could be in a very good place with your own fresh produce.

      Heck, why not try planting some potatoes as well and see if you can nurture them through the winter (depending on where you are). Just cut some portions with eyes from the tatties you're planning on having for dinner, and pop in the ground. You'll find more hints in one of my other organic gardening hubs. Can't remember which, sorry. Perhaps the one with cheap tips ??

      A trip to your local Bunnings store or garden nursery should show you what people are growing locally. Good luck with your garden. :)

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Thank you so much for all this invaluable information - taking it all on board - very much appreciate all your comments - . Best regards...

    • Novel Treasure profile image

      Novel Treasure 4 years ago from US

      I really enjoyed your article. The intro reads much like vegetable poetry. We just bought 3 acres and I can't wait to harvest our organic fruits and vegetables!

    • liesl5858 profile image

      Linda Bryen 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hello! LongTime Mother, thank you for such a wonderful hub and beautiful photos of your vegies about organic vegetables. It reminded me for when I was a child, my parents used to grow all vegetables for us to eat and the real taste of food is very good. Well done and thanks for reading my hubs, I saw your comment.

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      Hey Novel Treasure. Vegetable poetry. lol. It is wonderful to actually taste real food. I am excited about your new three acres. Lots to do.

      I think I answered a question from you about where to plant your first vege garden and fruit trees, did I? Thanks for visiting me here. :)

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      Hi liesl5858. You're welcome! I wish all children could grow up tasting real food. Thanks for commenting.

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Thank you so much for your time and all the valuable information re vege gardens - I really appreciate it.

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      I look forward to hearing your success stories, travmaj!

    • richaloe profile image

      richaloe 4 years ago from Oxford UK

      You lucky people being able to grow Aloe Vera. Such a useful plant.

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      You can grow it indoors in the UK, richaloe. I did.

      The main mistake people make with aloe vera in a pot is they overwater it. It needs to have dry feet most of the time, with a decent watering once a fortnight in summer to encourage the leaves to swell. Then throughout winter you practically ignore it.

      Treat it mean, keep it keen! :)

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      I enjoyed reading this article it was so descriptive and so well written with lots of great and useful information within it. I just started to get my garden in shape so i can grow Tomatoes, it is the only thing i grow now.

      Vote up and more !!! Sharing !

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      Thanks kashmir56. If you have room in your garden, maybe try planting some lemon balm and some sweet basil this year. They're both nice herbs you can use in your kitchen and they'll enhance your tomato growing. :)

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