It’s the start of a new year, and there’s no better time than now to start making healthy choices for your mind and body! A great way to do this is by being mindful of what foods we are putting into our bodies. Eating organically allows you to decrease the amount of harmful toxins consumed that affect the function of your body and mind. That being said, if you have already been buying organic produce, you know how expensive it can get! Fortunately, there is a way for you to grow organic produce and enjoy healthy, fresh veggies from your own garden!
While many assume the “grow your own” wave is just a fad, more people are making the decision to grow organic produce. This trend shows no sign of slowing down, since the benefits are endless. For example, it serves as an incentive to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, helps gauge what kinds of fertilizers and pesticides come in contact with your food and lets you control when to harvest your food. Fun fact: vegetables that ripen in the garden have more nutrients than many vegetables you get from the store, since most of them are usually picked too early. Studies have shown a steady decline of nutritional value in produce by up to 40 percent since the 1940s!
While growing your own organic produce can be daunting, it doesn’t need to be! Here are some things you should know about starting your own organic garden!
The base to every thriving organic garden is the soil. Non-organic, chemical pesticides and fertilizers used on plants can contaminate soil, making it toxic. The toxins within the soil are absorbed through the roots, and have the potential to make people sick if the produce is not washed well. Along with seeping into your food and causing harm to your body, chemical treatments can also harm microbes and worms in soil.
The main component of organic potting soil is organic matter, such as coconut coir, kelp meal and peat moss. Soil that is rich in organic matter is important because it provides food for microorganisms, such as earthworms. The microorganisms in soil decompose nutrients into a form plants can easily absorb.
A soil’s pH level is also very important, as it can affect the productivity of your organic plants. Chemical fertilizers can increase soil’s acidity, making it harder for microorganisms within the soil to decompose nutrients for plants. That’s why it is important to avoid using these chemicals when you grow organic produce. An ideal pH level to look for when growing most produce is between 5.5 to 7.5. The Gardeners Network offers a great chart you can follow to learn more about pH levels for produce!
Tip: Peat moss, coconut coir and kelp meal are just a few of the quality organic ingredients that are used within Spiked Soil’s potting soil, Dirt Martini. Check out a complete list of our ingredients here!
Grow Organic Produce in Raised Beds
Raised beds are great for growing produce in your backyard. Aside from giving your garden a clean organized look, they can also provide good drainage, prevent soil compaction, reduce weed growth and protect your produce from pests!
Raised beds are great for a number of reasons. First of all, they provide an extra barrier to help prevent the spread of unwanted, invasive weeds. They also make it easier to plant your crops closer to each other, shading the soil between plants and preventing sun-seeking weeds from growing. Another great benefit is they prevent pests, such as snails and slugs, from getting to your vegetables.
Raised beds are often confused with garden planters because of their similar characteristics. That being said, raised beds are open from the bottom while garden planters have semi-permeable cloth barriers that prevent soil from getting out. Since raised beds are open to the ground they allow roots to grow deep into the ground and absorb more nutrients! They also promote higher yields because the soil is less compacted and has more aeration, allowing beneficial microorganisms within the soil to thrive.
Crop rotation is when you plant different crops in the same area of land during different seasons. When done properly, this technique can help control common root diseases, increase soil fertility, combat weeds and act as pest control! Planting the same crops in the same location year after year will eventually sap specific nutrients from and damage the soil, causing smaller yields and unhealthy crops. The key to growing organically is to grow without using toxic chemicals. Crop rotation reduces your need for unnatural additives and is one of the most natural and effective ways to maintain and grow organic produce!
Crop rotation requires precise and thorough planning. A simple approach would be to divide your plants into four groups, such as; legumes, root vegetables, fruit baring plants and leafy greens. The idea behind grouping your vegetables is to plant crops that attract the same pests and use the same type of nutrients from the soil, together. Once it is time to harvest, the next crop you plant in that location should be from a different group. One cycle for a crop rotation typically lasts three to four years. For instance, once you harvest tomatoes from one location, it typically takes four years until you can plant tomatoes in that location again. Keeping the vegetables rotating can also prolong the effectiveness of your soil.
Tip: A great free app we found, called Gardenize, helps you determine which crops to group together and keeps track of your crop rotation!
Grow Organic Produce with Fertilizer
During the growing process, organic fertilizer teas are a great way to naturally boost the amount of nutrients plants are getting, making them grow faster! This is because a fertilizer’s liquid form helps enrich the soil and allows plants to absorb nutrients quicker. Fertilizer tea can be used each time you water, or periodically.
Ah, the dreaded weeds! They compete with our plants for water and nutrients and attract harmful garden pests. Keeping weeds under control is important for growing healthy vegetables that are rich in nutrients. Most available products for weed control are packed with toxic chemicals that can harm the microbes within soil that are responsible for plant growth and disease prevention.
A couple of great methods you can try for weed control include; mulching, crowding or weeding by hand. Mulching is great for smothering weeds and preventing new seeds from germinating. You can even find materials from your own backyard to create organic mulch! Veggie Gardener offers a lists of options for mulching depending on the veggies you are growing!
Crowding is when you grow plants at the closest recommended spacing to keep the ground between them shaded. This is a great method for organic gardening, as it prevents sun-seeking weeds from growing in your garden. Be careful to not overcrowd though! As plants grow, they should be just close enough to block any weeds from getting light.
Hand-pulling weeds may seem a little old-fashioned, but this method is still one of the most effective methods for keeping weeds under control. As long as you are consistent, this is a super simple, albeit effective, way to manage weeds. Make sure to pull the weeds from their roots!
Tip: Weed at least once a week and put down shredded leaves, cardboard or newspaper around the plants to keep weeds from growing.
Garden Pest Control
We all know the havoc pests can reap on your garden. However, not all pests are detrimental, and many are necessary for protecting your garden. There are products available to keep pests at bay, but again, many of them are chemical-based. One way to prevent harmful pests from destroying your produce is to attract their natural predators. The best way to do this is to grow plants that draw in natural predators for the pests you see. For example, beneficial insects such as lacewings eat pests like aphids, white-flies and leaf-hoppers. The best way to attract lacewings is to plant dill, angelica and coriander! Morning Chores offers a great list that can help you choose plants that attract beneficial insects.
Growing in a raised bed will help keep pests like slugs, snails and caterpillars out. If you still see these pests, a great hack is to spread crushed eggshells around the plants being targeted. The eggshells will deter them from coming close to the plants as well as provide natural enrichment for your soil!
Tip: If you do choose to use pesticides, Grow Smart Grow Safe offers a list for low risk organic pesticides available on the market.
Don’t forget to harvest as your produce ripens! The more you harvest, the more vegetables plants will produce! Cut produce off with a pair of sharp garden scissors, since ripping it off can cause lasting damage to the plant.
Tip: Don’t worry if there are more vegetables than you can eat; you can always freeze the extra ones or share with friends and family!
While organic gardening can seem like a daunting task, it’s completely worth the time and effort to ensure that you and your family are eating the healthiest food possible! As long as you follow these tips and tricks, you’ll be able to grow organic produce in no time. Plus, if you’re looking to make things even simpler, organic growing can be made significantly easier with our simplified approach to organic gardening.
Good luck with your garden this spring; we’d love to see what you’re growing! Leave a comment below letting us know, or tag us in your photos on social media!