What Exactly Does Organic Mean?
There are many different descriptions and elements that go into organic gardening.
According to the Missouri University Extension Service:
In agriculture, the word organic has come to mean "foodstuff grown or raised without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides or hormones."
According to the USDA National Organic Standard Board:
- is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity;
- is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain or enhance ecological harmony;
- has a primary goal of optimizing the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people.
There is no question that organic gardening does indeed promote and enhance biodiversity as well as offer the benefits of growing healthy, tasty plants. Organic gardening isn't hard. To be a successful organic gardener, there are a few simple principles to follow:
Plan your garden
- Have your soil tested for nutrients and pH levels. This is very important for growing vegetables. Most vegetables prefer a soil pH that is a bit more acidic (5.5 to 6.5). Our soil here in the St. Louis area tends to be more alkaline (7.0 and up). Plants also need a fair amount of nitrogen as well as other levels of nutrients.
- Determine how much space you have and how much sun you have. This gives you an idea of how to layout your garden design.
- Decide what you want to grow. Choose plant that are well adapted to the soil, temperature and how much available sun you have. Most vegetables need at least six hours of sunlight.
- Do some research on Companion Planting. Companion planting helps bring a balanced eco-system to your garden. Every garden is different with different problems. All problems will not be eliminated, but it is definitely worth experimenting. Some plants do better when in the company of other plants for a variety of reasons:
- to repel harmful insects
- to attract useful or "beneficial" insects
- or to enhance the growth rate and flavor of other plants.
For example: plant Marigolds among your tomatoes to ward off nematodes; plant basil with tomatoes to enhance flavor; plant garlic with your roses as it repels aphids. There are many resources on the web with lists that describe the relationships of companion plants. The most famous companion planting known, is "The Three Sisters Garden." It is a great Iroquois gardening lesson that works!
- Prepare your soil. This is one of, if not the most important step in organic vegetable gardening. Consider creating your own compost. Composting keeps vegetables, egg shells, leaves and grass clippings out of the trash and landfills, but it provides great organic matter for the soil. If home composting isn't an option, purchase good bagged organic matter such as worm castings, cotton burr or composted leaves. All of these will help to loosen the soil and add nutrients. When you say you have a black thumb, that's a good thing!
- Once your soil is properly prepared, it is time to plant! We have three gardening seasons here in the St. Louis area: Early spring; summer and fall. The Missouri University Extension service offers a wealth of information on gardening. Here is a link their Vegetable Planting Calendar.
- Plant a variety of vegetables as this invites insects. Only 2 percent of the insects in the world are harmful. This means the rest are beneficial. Some examples of these include ladybugs, fireflies, green lacewings, praying mantis, spiders and wasps since they eat insects that try to eat your vegetables. Another thing they do is pollinate the plants and decompose organic matter.
- Remove weeds that come up in your garden. You can pull these out by hand or spot spray it with a full strength of household vinegar. Best of all, it is safe for the environment.
- Practice crop rotation. This will make sure that the soil is always fertile.
If you can practice these few things, the probability for success at organic gardening is great! Remember, gardeners love to talk about gardening. Your local garden centers have experienced horticulturists and gardeners that are happy to answer any questions you may have. Search the web for credible sources.