Creating Your Own Organic Garden

With growing concerns about the safety of imported and domestic foods, many homeowners are deciding to cultivate their own organic garden.

Organic gardening is a process that involves growing foods without the use of pesticides or conventional chemical fertilizers. Instead, fruits and vegetables are grown using other methods. For example, natural compost and manure are often used to fertilize and enrich the soil, and regular plant rotations help maintain soil health and control pests from one year to the next.

Seed Selection

Organic gardening starts by selecting the right seed. Look for seeds that are free from chemical treatments. While you can look for varieties that have a history of being disease and insect resistant, be sure to avoid seeds that may have been genetically modified if you wish to have a true organic garden. You may also want to look for plants that can be planted early in the season and that mature earlier, as these may have less trouble with disease and insect problems that can get worse as the season progresses.

Garden Preparation

True organic gardens take several years to establish. The use of conventional pesticides (including herbicides and fungicides) or chemical fertilizers should be avoided. Because different crops require different nutrients, soil testing is suggested to determine what nutrients need to be added to the garden. Usually, your local university cooperative extension office can help you with this as well as recommend natural alternatives to conventional fertilizers, such as compost made from kitchen waste, to help enrich soil with nutrients. Another way to improve soil is to plant a “green manure” cover crop (like winter wheat) and till it into the soil before it forms seeds. As the plant decomposes, it releases nutrients into the soil. 

Crop Rotation

Be sure to regularly rotate where each type of crop is grown. When rotating, keep in mind that vegetables from the same plant family usually attract the same type of pest or disease and take the same nutrients from the soil, so replant with a different type of vegetable, or even a green manure crop, to achieve a healthy and productive garden.

Certification

Anyone can practice organic gardening, and you can market produce as organic without being certified as long it was raised and labeled according the National Organic Program standards and annual sales are under $5,000. If your total sales exceed $5,000 annually, your operation must become certified by an accredited certifying agent. Certified organic gardens take a while to establish—the land cannot have been exposed to prohibited pesticides (including insecticides, herbicides and fungicides) or prohibited fertilizers for at least three years before the crops you grow can be labeled organic. Visit the USDA National Organic Program website to learn more about regulations for organic agricultural products.

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