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Organic Vegetable Gardening

Updated on April 27, 2011

Organic Gardening

Organic gardening is a concept advanced by one school of gardeners, which believes that greatest quality and healthfulness in vegetables is obtained when these are grown on soils enriched by organic materials without the help of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

If sufficient manures, composts, and other organic materials can be secured, excellent vegetable crops can be grown in this fashion.

Organic gardeners are possibly correct in assuming that the nutritional balance from decomposing organic matter supplies just the right apportionment of nutrients. However, the premise that such plants are so healthy as to require little or no aid from pesticides and that pests and their predators will strike a natural balance is open to question. Seldom can one find vegetables completely free of insect blemishes in an "organic garden" that is not aided with pesticides. But vegetables grown by organic methods are felt by their devotees to be especially tasty and healthful, and organic gardeners avoid whatever dangers may be involved in the handling of poison sprays and dusts or in the consumption of residues of such poisons on harvested fruits and vegetables.

Certainly a garden soil well enriched with organic materials, and typically mulched with organics, should be highly productive and a good reservoir for moisture and nutrients. The chief disadvantage to organic gardening is the extra effort required to secure sufficient organic materials, in contrast to the economical, efficient use of concentrated chemical fertilizers and protective pesticides.

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Planting a Vegetable Garden

An incentive for growing vegetables in the home garden is the difficulty of purchasing distinctive varieties fresh and at the peak of ripeness.

Commercial vegetables increasingly must be mass-produced in distant areas to be economically feasible, and they must be of types selected more for even maturation and shipping qualities than for flavor. In the home garden the gardener can choose his favorite varieties, pick his sweet corn just minutes before cooking, eat tomatoes that are vine-ripened, have peas and beans picked when young and tender. And with the cost of purchased food so much in its marketing, the home garden can be a real economy.

Even a small vegetable garden can supply surprisingly adequate quantities of the more easily grown vegetables. One arbor (supporting latticework) of pole beans taking up just a few square feet can supply a family with about as much beans as they wish to consume through the summer, and two or three vigorous tomato plants will provide enough tomato fruits through late summer. Very small patches of chard or New Zealand spinach supply enough greens, and limited plantings of beets, carrots, onions, okra, and Capsicum peppers contribute sufficient amounts of these items for seasonal use. Potatoes, corn, cabbage, and vines of the squash family (melons, cucumbers, squashes, pumpkins, watermelons) are more extravagant of space. But the U. S. Department of Agriculture believes that a well tended garden 30 feet by 50 feet (9 x 15 meters) can supply an average family with produce for the season. Annual vegetables, such as those mentioned above, can be supplemented with perennials such as everbearing strawberries, rhubarb, and brambles (raspberries, blackberries) without claiming too much space.

Peas are one of the earliest crops for planting outdoors, doing well in cool weather. Root crops (beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, onions) and leafy crops (lettuce, cabbage, spinach) can also be started rather early. But beans, corn, tomatoes, squashes, and eggplants are severely injured by even light frost. The exact selection of vegetables will depend on preferences of the family and the suitability of the climate. Some vegetable plants are quite ornamental and can be planted in the "flower" garden. Parsley, chives, even carrots, make attractive border edgings, and eggplants actually were first grown for their ornamental bold foliage and huge maroon fruits.

Space can be conserved by training plants such as pole beans, pole lima beans, tomatoes, and many vines, to stakes or trellises. Where space is available, labor is saved by simply letting them trail, for improved quality, atop a mulch.

Common sense rather than "rules" should govern layout of the vegetable garden. If the garden slopes, planting rows across the slope rather than up and down will minimize erosion.

When selecting vegetables for adjacent rows, the gardener should try to visualize their seasonal growth and mature size. For example, peas are quite early and will have died down by the time hot-weather crops such as beans, corn, or cucumbers come along, which can then invade or overlap the space where the peas had been. Tomatoes can often be placed advantageously between rows of early corn, the corn being harvested and the stalks cut to give sunlight for the tomatoes as they exp and later in the season.

Bush beans, even though a hot-weather crop, have a limited bearing period-in contrast to continuously bearing pole beans-and can be considered for planting next to crops that will require added space late in the season. Beets, spinach, lettuce, and radishes are all early-season species, and their space may serve other vegetables having vigorous growth later. On the other hand, carrots, onions, chard, Brussels sprouts, and okra occupy their space almost until frost. Where tall vegetables and shorter ones are to be planted side by side, the taller ones should be placed to the north of the shorter so that the latter will not be so severely shaded.

As with flowers, a number of vegetables can be advantageously started indoors, or purchased from a greenhouse, for an advanced start.

Tomatoes, members of the cabbage group (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts), peppers, and eggplants are familiar examples. All of these can be started from seed outdoors, but b earing wi ll be a bit later. Many of the cool-weather crops, such as lettuce, spinach, and turnips, can be planted late in the season for autumn use, as well as very early in spring for late spring use.

In southern climates, greens such as collards continue yielding through winter, and parsnips do not attain their sweet flavor unless left in the ground until after frost.

Harvesting a vegetable when properly ripe will contribute to its flavor. Ripeness is easily determined with something like a tomato, which turns red when ready for eating. A bit of trial and error experience may be needed with sweet corn, generally ready when the silks of the ear have turned a dark brown, and with beans, which are ready when they reach nearly maximum size but are not yet "stringy." Size is a fairly good indicator for root crops such as beets, carrots, and radishes, but it is not good to let them get too old, for then they turn "woody." It is difficult to determine ripeness of melons.

Gradual development of a deeper color, withering and twisting of the fruit stalk, and a "hollow ring" when the melon is thumped are clues. Most greens are best used while young and tender. Lettuce becomes bitter when it gets old, and spinach deteriorates if allowed to grow long enough to bolt (develop flowering shoots).

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    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Oh, that'll be really cool! I hope I can start a garden of my own someday, too. Very cool Hub!

    • Longtail profile imageAUTHOR

      Longtail 

      8 years ago

      Excellent Reynold! You should keep a diary of what you do and share it as a hub. And photos of the progress!

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 

      8 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      I'm going to do this starting next week as soon as the storms blow over. I enjoyed this very much. You have this laid out beautifully and it is easy to understand. Keep up the great HUBS. Up one and Useful. Hey! I'm now your fan! RJ

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