Growing Organic Gardens
Going organic can begin with some simple steps. Regardless of the garden size, the first and most important step is to establish the physical parameters and fill the area with clean, chemical-free soil. Using a proper compost base layer will lead to healthier vegetable growth by loosening the soil and filling it with nutrients. Composting takes a long time to do at home, so initially it may be necessary to utilize commercial compost. Over time, however, it pays off to create a personal compost reserve suited to the size of an established garden.
One of the primary tenets of an organic home garden is to avoid the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. While these are readily available and highly effective, there is much research to show that these chemicals may be absorbed into the body and that they may cause lasting damage to the environment. Natural alternatives frequently do not work as advertised, which causes many would-be organic farmers endless frustration. Yet there are simple physical options that can inexpensively solve many of the more common problems.
Netting and PottingMuch of organic farming involves control of the environment. In the case of a home garden, this is a relatively small space. Whether it is a full acre plot or a back patio, there are advantages to creating raised and contained micro-environments for various types of produce. These may include large boxes that are custom built for larger areas, simple mounds that are contained by a small ridge or fence, half-barrels or even any sized pot. Where available, used or surplus railroad ties can be used to create large garden frames. Conversely a two-inch pot or even an extra coffee mug makes a perfect space for growing organic herbs in a window-box.
Once the space has been defined, the single most important thing to do is design a way to net the garden. While there are many pests that can destroy your garden from within, particularly slugs or insects that live within the soil, the most common pests will be thwarted by a proper net. As a garden forms, the first sprouts are always in danger from animals and insects, so providing a barrier is essential. This barrier must let sunlight and water through, however, while remaining sturdy enough to prevent beaks, claws and tiny fingers from easily tearing through. Most birds and rodents are actually quite easily deterred, as long as the netting is staked fairly well and "tented" high enough to allow the plants beneath to mature without becoming entangled. More nefarious are the pretty moths which seek to lay eggs on the vegetable or fruit plants in the garden, allowing their young to feed on what would otherwise become a productive plant. Keeping these bugs at bay is about 75% of the hard work and a secure net will easily do the trick.
Proper potting also has the advantage of assisting with water and fertilizer control. By containing runoff, much less water is wasted. And by utilizing an appropriate mix of compost, peat moss and healthy soil, the roots are able to flourish in a well aerated environment that can remain moist without flooding the plant. Because the nutrients are not drained off and the top-soil is not washed away, there is less need for "over feeding" through artificial fertilizer. A home's own kitchen waste will generally provide plenty of nutrients after a year or so of composting, and commercial organic fertilizers used in container gardens are quite effective even at lower doses because the roots have access to everything they are given.
Organic Livestock for the Home FarmerWith the rise of urban farming, there has been a shift in the perception of using livestock within residential areas. Most cities have regulations that govern which types of animals are allowed to be raised on residential properties. Generally speaking, a home farmer will do better to gear toward smaller animals. Cows tend to require much more work and greater expense than would be practical to begin with, although when space allows a cow may well be a lasting source of milk with plenty to spare. Some home farmers choose goats for milk because they are comparatively easy to care for, but both goats and cows create issues for home farmers who have to find creative ways to deal with the animals' waste.
More commonly, urban farmers, family gardeners and many households that simply have the space are turning toward raising chickens as a means to supplement food sources. Homegrown eggs are typically healthier than commercial eggs when the laying hens are raised on an organic diet in a proper coop with plenty of room and open air. Hens can be remarkably productive when they are healthy and safe, and their waste can be used as fertilizer in conjunction with household compost, becoming a symbiotic component to many home gardens.
Resources for Chicken CoopsHere are two guides for building chicken coops.
Build a Chicken Coop
Build a Chicken Coop
Here is a link to my favorite chicken coop so far, as seen in the Westphoria blog for Sunset Magazine. Very stylish.
Free Organic Gardening Course. When space allows, interspersing a few fruit trees is a great idea because the mature trees will offer shade to vegetables that thrive best in partial sun and also help prevent the quick evaporation of water from the topsoil. Small fruit bushes, such as blueberry or raspberry plants, also do well along the edge of a vegetable garden where they will get plenty of run-off water and also form a natural barrier to keep small animals from the vegetables. Low plants, like strawberries, need to be tended with care as their fruit lies on the ground and as such is easy for slugs to eat.
Keeping the soil around the plants covered with a water-permeable barrier is a great way to both cut the cost of watering and also prevent both weed and insect infestation. Subterranean bugs or slugs will have a harder time coming out to feed on your produce with a barrier in place and weeds will be unable to take root. Greenhouses, of course, also act as a physical barrier to weeds and bugs. Build a Greenhouse. Not everyone has the room to build their own greenhouse, but if space allows there are also solutions such as Aquaponics that offer very innovative use of water and fish to control weeds and pests while potentially offering dramatic increases in garden output.
Regardless of the area available for a garden, it is possible to create a Natural Habitat Garden as taught by an environmental scientist and horticulturist based on an easy to follow, solutions-oriented approach. This unique Food Growing Method can be applied at a variety of scales and allows for a wide variety of healthy foods to be grown simultaneously.
There is also a free eBook and newsletter on High Density Gardening that is worth checking out. While many people simply pack their seeds as close together as possible and hope for the best, this practice will actually prevent plants from achieving their potential because it forces them to fight it out for nutrients and water. Learning what kinds of plants thrive in close quarters is essential, as is determining the best ways to keep them well-fed and watered without drowning them.
Other ResourcesIllustrated Guide to a Family Organic Garden
Beginners Manual to Organic Gardening
Help Families Feed Themselves at the Food For Everyone Foundation. This foundation offers a wide range of educational materials, as well as information on their world-wide efforts. Check it out and be a part of the solution.