Organic vegetable gardening is a rewarding hobby of planting without the use of chemicals, synthetic fertilisers or pesticides. The idea of doing this at home may seem daunting at first, but its benefits surely outshine the hard work. Read on and follow the basics to start an organic vegetable garden in your large backyard or small balcony.
Benefits of an Organic Vegetable Garden
Based on the Australian Market Organic Report, there has been a significant increase in value for the organic industry, which is currently worth AUD$2.6 billion. This consistent growth is because of the consumers’ interest in healthy food options and these benefits:
- All-natural, healthy food. Organic vegetables may not look as perfect but surely taste better than commercially produced ones.
- Improved well-being. Planting seeds, watering plants and harvesting promote fitness and good health.
- Savings. Growing your food cuts down expenses and reduces the trips you make to the store when buying perishables.
- Water efficiency. Improving your soil quality for organic gardening improves its moisture retention to lessen watering needs.
- Environmental protection. Pesticide-free gardening prevents chemicals from contaminating the water supply. Animals like bees, birds and other pollinators stay safe as well. Also, using kitchen scraps for compost promotes soil restoration and waste reduction.
Steps to Start an Organic Vegetable Garden
If you’re a first-time gardener, I suggest starting small and choosing plants that are easy to grow. This strategy lets you learn the process and focus on a few crops first. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you get started.
1. Choose the perfect location.
You can use these four factors to assess whether a location is ideal for organic vegetable gardening:
- Ample sunlight. Your garden needs to have access to direct sunlight for 6 to 8 hours daily. Observe your yard in the morning and afternoon to identify your garden’s sunny spots.
- Proper drainage. When your plot takes a long time to dry out, plant roots may rot, so make sure to test your soil first. Do this by hosing down the area for 5 minutes and see if water pools or not.
- Wind protection. High winds and frost can easily damage your crops. So, choose a planting spot near a structure, wall or hedge. You may also build durable and weather-resistant trellises to block the wind.
- Accessibility. Create a storage area for gardening tools near your plot to make it easier for you to tend and water your garden regularly.
2. Test soil quality.
Your soil should have the right components and nutrients for planting. Use one of these methods to determine if it’s of high quality:
- Send test samples of your soil to a garden centre to know what type of soil you have and how to improve it.
- Purchase pH testing strips online or from gardening stores. Follow the instructions from the kit to test the pH of your soil. Vegetables thrive in soil with pH levels from 5.5 to 7. Add organic matter to your soil to adjust its pH.
If in case your soil is of poor quality, here are your alternatives to start an organic vegetable garden:
- Plant in containers or pots. Use medium to large pots that are 25 to 30cm deep to give your plants enough room to grow. Their base should have holes for drainage.
- Use a raised garden or wicking bed. You can build these box-shaped containers or use store-bought kits. If you plan to go DIY, choose wooden boards that are durable with natural insect-repellent properties like cedar. You can also use bricks or concrete blocks instead of wood.
3. Prepare the soil for planting.
If you’re planting directly to the ground, start clearing your plot from grass and weeds. Then, depending on your soil’s quality, enrich it with the right amount of organic matter, like manure, peat moss and compost. And if you intend to continue gardening for a long time, it’s best to allocate an area for making your homemade fertiliser using dried leaves and food scraps.
4. Select the right vegetable to plant.
Time for the most exciting part – planting! However, before you start shopping for seeds, make sure to do some research about their nutrient and water needs. For beginners, here are some easy-to-grow vegetables in Australia that you can start with:
- Beans like warmer months, grow well in pots and are ready for harvesting within weeks.
- Capsicums love the sun but not the cold weather. They also grow great in deep containers.
- Cherry tomatoes need ample sunlight, produce a lot of fruit and are resilient to pests.
- Lettuce and salad greens love lots of water and grow fast, especially during spring and autumn. Harvest them immediately during the warm months to avoid damaging the leaves.
- Swiss chard or silver beet is a low-maintenance vegetable that does not require much sunlight and can still grow well if you forget to water it.
5. Water wisely.
Water the seeds or seedlings immediately after planting. I suggest watering your plants in the morning to let excess water evaporate and avoid flooding. If you’re using liquid fertiliser, you can use this in place of regular watering.
Also, consider applying ways to improve your soil’s moisture retention. Regularly adding compost to your plants is one option. You can also use mulch to insulate the soil. These organic gardening tips are useful for hotter locations and summer months.
6. Find ways to attract beneficial insects.
The next steps will help you maintain your organic vegetable garden and troubleshoot common problems like damaging pests. Solve this through companion planting. Plants like coriander, cosmos, daisies, lemon balm, sunflowers and zinnia can attract bees, ladybirds and lacewings to your garden.
7. Keep your garden clean.
Weeds are another common enemy of your garden. They attract pests, spread diseases and compete with nutrient and water supplies. So, make sure to remove them once a week and pull out their roots to prevent them from regrowing. It’s best to weed your plot after watering. For big gardens, carefully use a hoe to scrape the weeds.
8. Observe crop rotation.
Lastly, similar plants are affected by the same pests. So, make sure to allocate a garden bed for one plant family then rotate it after a year. For example, group tomatoes and capsicums in one bed, then use another bed for beans and peas. Rotate the crops or plant a different set after that. This way, you are lessening the chances of disease development and protecting the soil from nutrient depletion.