The Ultimate Guide to Organic Gardening for Beginners

Organic Gardening for Beginners

Organic gardening can feel intimidating for newbies. There are so many parts; you don’t know where to start! Luckily, we created an easy guide to organic gardening for beginners that covers all of the basic topics you should know.

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This guide is a great place to start your learning process! From here, start diving into the topics that interest you most. You might be ready to buy your first seeds, or you might want to start your very first compost bin. Remember that organic gardening is a learning process for all even experienced gardeners. There is no need to wait to start because you feel inexperienced. Dive right in!

What is Organic Gardening

Before you can start organic gardening, you have to understand what it is. The short answer would be that organic gardening involves no synthetic products. Gardeners won’t use pesticides, fertilizers or anything chemical on their plants. You would use natural items to help replenish nutrients in the soil and control pests.

That answer doesn’t encompass all that organic gardening is. When you embark on this journey, you are working to embrace nature, working together to aid the natural system. You will learn to understand your soil and use what you have with you to create organic matter for your garden.

Interested? Let’s dive into the details of organic gardening for beginners.

Why You Should Use Heirloom Seeds

Before you can start gardening, you need plants. Yes, you can purchase seedlings from nurseries, but that can get pricey fast. We start all of our plants from heirloom seeds. Heirloom is the way to go for organic gardeners.

The plants and seeds you might purchase at large stores, such as Wal-Mart, are hybrid and typically contain GMOs. Heirloom seeds come from real plants, some dating over a century back! There are several benefits to using heirloom seeds.

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They taste so much better. The flavor you will find in heirloom plants exceeds that of hybrid plants every single time.

Basic Tools You Might Need

You need tools! There is no way to garden just with bare hands, even though those will get a work out as well. Organic gardening doesn’t require any different tools than traditional gardening.

Wheelbarrow: No need to get anything fancy! A wheelbarrow will save your arms and back some trouble each year.

Shovel: You might want a round point or spade enough. Either way, shovels are essential for digging holes to plant all of those seedlings you grow!

Trowel: A trowel is essentially a handheld shovel.

 Hoe: I prefer a long-handled hoe because they are easier to use to break up weeds. You will find that you use it frequently to keep them at bay. Some people prefer a hand-held hoe!

Garden Fork: A garden fork helps to break up clumps and loosen the soil. You can use them to mix materials or harvest root crops!

Hoses: Plants need water. You might decide to lay soaker hoses or create irrigation lines, or just simply use a handheld hose. Either way, hoses are essential if you want plants to stay alive.

Garden Gloves: Ok, these may not be necessary, but I won’t garden without them. One time accidentally picking some stinging nettle while clearing weeds will make you want a good pair!

Pruning Shears: Shears are great for clipping plants during harvest time or when you need to clear some weeds.

Simple Tips for Starting Seeds at Home

If you want to save some money, starting seeds at home is the way to go. A newbie can feel intimidated by seed starting. There can be a high failure rate for certain plants. I was afraid my first year starting seeds, but I didn’t stay afraid for long! Learn some basic tips to increase your success rate.

  •  Use high-quality seeds from a reputable, heirloom seed company.
  • Determine your last frost date and plan when you should start the seeds. Each packet should tell you the best time to start your seeds, typically six to eight weeks before the last frost date.
  • Don’t use cheap or bad seed starting mix. That is the food for your seeds, and it should be top quality! You can even learn how to make your own mix.
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    Seeds need warmth to germinate. Use a warming pad or keep the seeds in a warm area, such as inside of your oven, to encourage germination.
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    Wrap the pots in plastic wrap to encourage germination. Doing so keeps up the moisture content and humidity level.
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    Keep the seedlings under a light, moving it up slowly as the plants grow.
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     Use an organic fertilizer a few weeks after germination.
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      Thin out the seeds, leaving only the strongest. Then, transplant to a larger pot before putting outside.

Organic Mulching

Mulching is great for all plants, but organic mulching means that you don’t rely on thing such as black plastic to suppress weeds. 

Organic mulch differs because it will slowly decompose, putting more nutrients into your soil. Most of the time, you can get mulch for free from your property! Mulch helps to retain moisture, suppress weeds, regulate soil temperature, and add nutrients to your soil.

           Chances are you have great choices on your property! Grass clippings are free and provide high levels of nitrogen into your soil. Shredded leaves may not be beautiful, but they are free and add nutrients. Pine straw may not decompose quickly, but they can add acid to your soil and kill all the weeds. Other popular options include newspaper, old hay, straw, and compost.

Avoiding Pests and Diseases Naturally

            When you don’t turn to chemical pesticides, your plants may not look HGTV worthy. However, it doesn’t mean that your plants have to succumb to the torture of pests and diseases. There are going to be pests; that is just a fact of nature. Avoiding pests naturally involves your diligence and vigilance. Here are some basic things to keep in mind.

  • You must stay vigilant. Check your plants regularly for any signs of issues so that you can take action quickly.
  • Improve your soil. Healthy soil makes healthy plants that are strong enough to withstand pests and diseases. Ensure all of your plants have the water and nutrients required for optimal growth.
  • Don’t leave old plants in your garden. Every year, you want to remove the debris from your garden because it creates a breeding zone for pests and pathogens.
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    Remove diseased or infected plants. Yes, it may hurt, but the best route is to remove any majorly damaged plants to stop them from contaminating others nearby.
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     Rotate crops. Rotating your crops is an ancient practice. Many pests can overwinter and will start munching on your innocent seedlings as soon as you plant. Rotating the crops stops this from happening!
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     Encourage natural pest predators. Insects such as ladybugs, birds, and lacewings are pest predators. Encourage them to visit your garden!
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     Use barriers. Sometimes, you may need to add a barrier, such as netting, on top of your plants. Don’t feel discouraged! This step is helpful and typically reduces the issue if it keeps persisting.

Learn the Basic Requirements of Your Soil

One of the main requirements of organic gardening is learning how to feed the soil so that the soil can feed. Plants need the correct amount of nutrients in the soil. You want to eat the plants, but first, the plants have to “eat” The soil. Chemical fertilizers can seep into your food, as well as cause damage to helpful bacteria and microbes in the soil.

 All plants need six things to grow properly. The first three – carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen – are received from air and water. The next three come from the soil – nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Each nutrient plays a vital role.

 Nitrogen helps plants make proteins, ensuring the plants grow properly. However, an abundance of nitrogen can cause too much foliage without any fruits or flowers. Phosphorous stimulates root growth and helps the plants set buds and fruits. Potassium helps the overall vigor of the plant and helps the plant make carbohydrates.  

 Clearly, there are more than three nutrients in the soil. Other important ones are calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. All of these nutrients can only be absorbed in the soil pH level is too high or too low. Most plants prefer a pH level between 6.0 to 7.0. You can purchase a test online to determine your levels and adjust from there!

Natural Fertilizers You Have Available On Hand

 Some of the best fertilizers you can use are in your house already. Many of them you add to your compost, but you can also add them directly to your garden to increase nutrients. Making your own fertilizers helps to save costs and replenishes the nutrients in the soil as they are used throughout the year.

  • Banana peels add potassium to the soil.
  • Coffee grounds and tea bags can be sprinkled around your plants.
  • Eggshells, dried and crushed, increase calcium levels in the soil. Add some to the hole before planting tomatoes.
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    Fish scraps can be mixed with water or milk and sprayed over your plants. There are tons of nutrients!
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    Wood ash, so long as you know what is in the ash, may increase the acid in your soil. However, it is a great source of carbon.

This list is far from exhaustive. There are dozens of things around your house that can be added to your garden! Don’t spend money on store-bought fertilizer when everything you need is around you.

Composting

All gardens benefit from compost, and you can create it on your property. There is no need to pay astronomical prices! Compost, in general, is free to create. You add things to the bin that you readily have on your property such as grass clippings, shredded leaves, vegetable and fruit scraps, cardboard, wood chips, and more.

  • Composting comes with several benefits for gardeners. Trust me; you want to compost!
  • Compost increases the amount of moisture that the soil retains, allowing you to water less frequent.
  • Compost adds nutrients back into the depleted soil, preparing it for the next round of plants.
  • It can repair soil damaged by pesticide use or other types of chemical use.
  • Compost improves the structure of your soil, from helping sandy soil retain moisture to breaking up clay soil.
  • Best of all, compost is the best, free, organic fertilizer you can create for your garden! It is natural and slow-releasing.

You can use compost in several ways. You can mix it in with potting soil or your garden soil before planting your seedlings. Another choice is to add inches of compost on top of your soil, acting as a form of organic mulch. You could also sprinkle compost around the base of your plants and work it in with your hands as a fertilizer.

Cover Crops

Once you’ve mastered all of the above parts of organic gardening, it is time to embrace cover crops. Cover crops are hard-working plants that help to suppress weeds and replenish your soil. They also work to help control destructive pests and diseases. Best of all, you just need to plant them and allow them to grow without major maintenance required!

 There are even more benefits to using cover crops, even for small-scale growers. Some people tend to think they are just for farmers or those with large-scale gardens, but they would be wrong!

  •  Facilitates healthy growth and production of plants.
  •  Improves soil structure and fertility.
  • Reduces soil erosion.
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     Helps soil retain moisture.
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    Provides cover for beneficial insects.

There are several choices for the home gardener when it comes to cover crops. When you plant the cover crops will vary as well, from late summer to late fall. If you plant a cover crop in the spring or summer, they are called warm season cover crops, so pay attention when selecting. Here are some good choices!

 It is planted as a winter cover crop that germinates quickly, ideal for controlling weeds and trapping nutrients in the soil.

 Known as a smother crop for those who want to control weeds. It is sensitive to cold, so ideal for summer planting, planted between late May and late August.

 A legume plant that adds nitrogen and biomass to your garden soil. It can be planted anytime from spring to early fall.

It is ideal for overwintering because it is hardy and resilient. It grows fast and will continue to grow in the spring.

 A legume plant that is very winter hardy. It will contribute nitrogen and fertility to the soil.

Getting Started Organic Gardening

           Now is the time for you to dive in! Don’t wait because you are worried that you don’t know what you are doing. The best way to learn is to gain experience by doing. Pests may seem scary, but you learn how to handle them over time. You might kill half of your seedlings, but you will learn how to decrease the failure rate.

           Organic gardening for beginners is learning how to make nature and the world around you work together to create a successful garden. We hope that this guide is helpful for you. What part of organic gardening do you think is most complicated? Let us know in the comments! 

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