With growing concerns about the safety of imported and domestic foods, many homeowners today 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 in order to grow plants, and regular plant rotations help maintain soil health and control pests from one year to the next.
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.
True organic gardens take several years to establish. Certified organic gardens must not be exposed to conventional pesticides (including herbicides and fungicides) or fertilizers for at least three years before the harvest of the organic crops. 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.
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 from the soil the same nutrients, so replant with a different type of vegetable, or even a green manure crop, to achieve a healthy and productive garden.
As long as you don't plan to sell the produce you grow commercially, home gardeners can practice organic production without certification. However, if you would like to try to market your organic produce to local stores and restaurants, they may want you to seek certification.
In the U.S., "Certified Organic" means that an organization accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has verified that your products meet the organic standards as specified by the National Organic Program (NOP). An in-depth review of your records along with annual inspections of your fields will be required as part of the certification process.