More and more of us are choosing the organic way to live – a chemical-free approach to life that respects the planet and us.
Growing food in our own backyards means we can produce fruit and vegies the chemical-free way and save money, too. You’ll have an abundance of seasonal crops, a supply of fresh eggs, and you’ll be able to make pickles and jams for the family or to give away to friends.
On the one hand, organic gardening includes the practical side of growing fruit and vegetables. But on the other hand, it relishes the ethical side of gardening, where people are concerned with global warming, the water crisis, wildlife habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity. The organic garden solves these concerns with practical measures, such as water tanks, utilising grey water, drip irrigation, mulching, recycling of kitchen scraps and providing a suitable habitat for wildlife.
So, if you want to make a difference and you don’t know where to start, why not begin in your own backyard?
Growing Seedlings Can Give You a Head Start on the Season
While you can certainly wait until the danger of spring frost has passed, and then plant your seeds directly in the soil outdoors, you can get a head start by growing seedlings and then transplanting them into your garden. This can be particularly useful in areas where the growing season is short.
Growing seedlings, which can take between four and 12 weeks to sprout, will allow you to harvest your vegetables four to six weeks earlier than had you planted the seeds directly outdoors.
The University of Maine1 has an excellent web site describing how to grow your seedlings, and which ones are best left for direct-seeding due to their rapid maturation:
“Using transplants instead of direct-seeding is especially important for plants that take a long time to mature or are sensitive to frost, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and melons.
Some plants (mostly root crops) do not transplant well, or they mature quickly enough that starting seedlings indoors is not necessary. Vegetables that are typically direct-seeded in the garden include beans, beets, carrots, corn, peas, spinach, turnips, and zucchini.”
To get started on your seedlings, you need just a few supplies:
- Fresh seed, ideally heirloom
- Containers, about 2 to 3 1/2-inch deep with adequate drainage holes
- Growing medium. Use fine-textured soilless mix of equal parts of peat moss and vermiculite or perlite. Do not use conventional fertilizers
Growing food – the organic way
There are numerous delicious fruits and vegetables you can grow at home in the garden, in containers, or in no-dig plots. There are seedlings that are grown in the winter and ones that are grown in the summer. The seedlings available at nurseries will give you the best indication of what to plant at what time of the year, but don’t be afraid to ask for advice. The key to growing healthy plants is sunlight, and plenty of it! Choose a section of your garden that gets six hours of sun a day. The area will also need to be protected from strong winds and frost. To improve the fertility of your soil, you’ll need to add plenty of natural nutrients, which can be found in organic manures. Also, with regards to watering, bear in mind that if you have lots of trees surrounding your vegetable patch, they’ll be competing for the water.
To reduce the risk of soil-borne pests and diseases, it is important to plant similar plants in the one garden bed, then rotate these beds each year.
A rotation system with four garden beds could include the following:
Bed 1: corn, pumpkins, cucumbers.
Bed 2: peas, beans.
Bed 3: onions, beetroot, carrots.
Bed 4: tomatoes, eggplants, capsicums.
The fruit trees that are best to plant depends on your location, so ask your local nursery which ones would be most suitable for your area. Orange, lemon and lime trees will grow almost anywhere, kiwifruit, apple, cherry and peach trees thrive in cooler weather, while fruit varieties, such as mango, avocado and pawpaw prefer warmer, tropical climates. If you have limited space, you can make the most of it by planting multi-grafted, dwarf and espalier fruit trees.
Deterring pests with plants and animals
Instead of spraying with chemicals to rid your garden of pests, you’ll find the organic alternatives a lot more appealing. Interplant your vegetables with an array of flowers and herbs and you’ll have stronger vegetables with more resistance to pests and diseases. Basil, borage, chives, echinacea, garlic, pyrethrum daisy and nasturtium are all effective in deterring pests. Also, if you’re not spraying chemicals around the garden, it’s more likely that your local lizards will enjoy keeping the snail population down and the resident frogs will gladly cull the insects. In my garden, the lizards keep the tadpoles under control and we have reached a lovely sustainable balance when it comes to wildlife, pets and plants.
Beneficial insects will help to create a balanced garden. Ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies will help keep down the population of aphids, scale insects, red spider mites and caterpillars, while the bees, by pollinating the flowers, will increase your fruit yield. Plants to attract insects include marigold, dill, sweet Alice, coriander, echinacea, cosmos and Queen Anne’s lace.
Chooks are great in the organic garden. They’re well behaved, quiet and resourceful. They love to eat bugs and beetles, and will cull grubs, snails and slugs. All they need is fresh water, supplementary grain and a dry place to sleep. An extended run in the fruit orchard means they’ll keep the fruit flies under control and fertilise the soil as well. I recommend ISA Brown hens, which have sweet personalities and usually produce one egg per day each.
Kitchen scraps, grass clippings, shredded paper, leaves and twigs should all go into a compost. This helps to slow landfill and recycles vital resources back into the garden. Whether you choose to build a three-bin system or buy a purpose-built compost bin, it is good to get everyone in the household recycling their scraps and being aware of green waste. Composting works by decomposing layers of material with heat and time. After three months, you should have friable compost that you can work back into the soil, negating the need for store-bought fertilisers.
Drip irrigation cuts down on evaporation and is the most efficient way to irrigate the garden. Grey water recycled from your washing machine, shower and handbasins can be stored and sent out to the garden via underground pipes. Grey-water systems should be installed by enviroplumbers, who specialise in environmentally sensitive methods.
Installing a tank is one of the easiest ways to water the garden guilt-free. Harvesting the water that falls on the roof and directing it into a tank means you can water at any time. Install the largest tank you can fit and add a pump so you can water up slopes. Other ways to save water include laying porous pathways, laying paving to direct water into beds not stormwater pipes, and covering beds with a thick layer of mulch.
Location: White’s Creek Community Garden