Organic gardening can be described as the original way to farm. Not so long ago – before the end of WWII, when corporations began introducing chemicals to promote increased crop production – humans everywhere had no other option except to grow their fruits, vegetables, and grains. We grew our food without fertilizers, pest controls, and with very little interference from man. We certainly never “genetically modified” our crops, and we always knew where our food came from – and that it was safe and sustainable.
The primary component of organic gardening is knowing where all of your garden’s ingredients come from. You wouldn’t want to build an ideal soil and then introduce a genetically-modified seed by accident – or conversely, you wouldn’t want to waste money on organic, non-GMO seeds, just to plant them in a generic soil, which could be tainted with disease or mystery seed remnants.
Secondly, organic gardens should have a variety of crops which are known to thrive in your specific climate. Organic gardens never contain all of one type of crop, as this is harmful to the soil over time. In addition, organic gardeners’ known best practices include “cover cropping” in the offseasons. After harvesting your main or cash crops for the growing season, we recommend planting a non-cash crop such as cereal, barley or clover. This will help regenerate the soil in the offseason, as well as provide cover from the elements.
In the interest of returning fully to the principles of sustainable organic gardening, we follow no-till practices on our farm, as this method has been shown to protect the internal structure of the soil, allowing it to thrive and even improve season after season. Soil erosion and nutrient deficiency is one of the primary disadvantages of modern farming methods. No-till means that once our soil is “built” or created, the layers are never disturbed again. This more closely resembles the way in which soil develops in nature (undisturbed) and allows for maximum root growth throughout.
Occasionally a gardener will run into a patch of hard soil. There are a few options to break up this soil safely. We recommend planting a crop with hearty roots that will “dig” through the soil as the plant takes hold. Another option is to introduce earthworms – a gardener’s best friend and natural digger! Finally, a layer of quality top dressing and mulch will add moisture to improve any soil, and especially help to soften up an especially rough patch.
Many people consider beginning an organic garden in their own backyard but feel intimidated by the challenge. This needn’t be so! Much like anything in life, this challenge is best taken one small step at a time – and it is incredibly worth the investment!
Critical to this process is the planning of your garden space. We promote the practice of permaculture, which means planting your crops mindfully, with the intention of continuous development of the space so that it will eventually meet the needs of all of its inhabitants. Crops are generally planted in layers, similarly to how they’d be found in nature, and are allowed to go to seed after flowering. Ideally, in a permaculture environment, the different crops create symbiosis, balancing one another’s pH, nutrient needs, and preventing weeds, pests, and other unwanted maladies.
If you are wanting to start small, we recommend container gardens, which can be made to literally any size. In addition, since these gardens are created inside a container, they can exist above ground level – making this an excellent option to avoid compaction caused by stepping on your garden beds, for those with problems bending, or for indoor gardening situations. The height and size of the garden’s container is entirely up to you! Once you have built your container, fill it with your favorite soil mix, and start planting! Water (with plain water or a tea) at the roots only when the soil is dry. You can check this by putting your index finger a couple of inches into the soil – if it still feels moist down by the roots, wait to water. If it is dry, it’s time to water again.
For many people just like you, organic gardening has become a fun and relaxing hobby to share with their loved ones – knowing that it helps reduce stress while allowing families to consume healthier, quality food, all while making a positive impact on the Earth.