‘Organic’ is a word that is constantly thrown about when people talk about eco-friendly and sustainable food production. Commercially grown organic produce needs to meet certain standards and has limitations in how organic they can really be due to the scale of production needed to be profitable.
When it comes to practicing organic gardening at home for yourself, you can completely eliminate the use of any harsh chemicals due to the smaller scale needed.
Organic vegetable gardening isn’t just about growing vegetables without adding synthetic chemicals to your garden. The main objective of organic gardening is to grow plants that are as healthy as possible so that they can naturally withstand pest infestations and diseases, weather-related changes, and anything else that can negatively affect the production ability of the plant.
Given below are some of the main strategies that must be used in an organic vegetable garden to grow healthy vegetable plants that produce a bountiful harvest without using harsh chemicals.
Building healthy garden soil
Since plants have to get all the nutrients that they need from the soil or substrate that they are in, it is very important that the soil or substrate contains all nutrients that the plants would need and in the right quantity.
One of the best ways to add organic nutrients to the soil is by adding compost. Compost contains a high amount of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and lesser amounts of other micronutrients, depending on what was added into it. In addition, nutrients in compost are not easily washed away as they are stored in forms that can’t be easily dissolved in water. These nutrients are then slowly transformed into a form that plants can take up directly, making each nutrient continuously available to the plant in a quantity that does not harm the plant.
Since the plant will be able to slowly use each nutrient in full, nutrients don’t run off with rainwater, which is the main cause of environmental pollution due to the use of chemical fertilizers.
In addition, the organic matter added will not only feed the plant but will also feed other organisms found in the soil. A healthy balance of soil organisms ensures that nutrients are continuously recycled and made available to the plant while increasing the flow of oxygen and water through the soil.
Apart from compost, other organic sources of nutrients, such as gypsum, rock phosphate, and magnesium rock, can also be added to supplement plant nutrition.
Adding organic mulch
Another important aspect of an organic vegetable garden is the use of organic mulch. Mulch provides many functions, of which soil protection and weed control are the most important.
Mulch can increase soil health by protecting the soil from running-off due to heavy rain and also by creating a protected environment in which soil organisms can thrive.
Weeds easily grow on exposed soil surfaces, which does help protect the soil from run-off, but these weeds can steal nutrients, space, and sunlight away from vegetable plants when they grow near them and must be removed. When mulch is added onto the surface, sunlight doesn’t reach the surface of the soil and makes it very difficult for any weeds to grow, and can save a lot of time and effort.
Chemical pesticides control pests by killing them using poisonous substances. Unfortunately, these poisonous residues may remain on food grown using chemical pesticides and in the soil bringing harm to both humans and the environment. In addition, these poisons kill all life found on and around the plant, which includes beneficial insects and soil organisms.
The plants must also be monitored frequently and action should be taken as and when pests are first seen on the plant. The first line of action when pests are observed is to mechanically remove them from the plant by hand or use a high-speed stream of water to remove them. This alone is enough for pest control in most home organic vegetable gardens, as long as it’s done early enough.
In organic vegetable gardening, harsh chemicals are not used. Instead, plant health is maintained at an optimum by providing it with a constant supply of nutrients, enough but not too much water, and ideal growing conditions, while maintaining populations of beneficial insects and soil organisms.
Providing enough but not too much water
Watering your vegetable plants correctly is very important to maintain healthy plants. The first step in providing your plants with the right amount of water is not actually watering them but by providing them with the best growing conditions (see below). Once the plant has the best growing conditions, the next step is to correctly water the plants.
Plants grown directly in the ground or in raised beds connected to the ground need to be deeply watered. This means that enough water should be added so that it reaches soil layers below the layer in which the plant roots are found. This creates a reservoir of water in the soil that allows the plant to draw up as much water as it needs and as it needs it. When watered deeply, your plants will need to be watered just once or twice a week under normal weather conditions. Adding organic mulch will protect the water reservoir by preventing or limiting evaporation.
This approach doesn’t work for vegetable plants grown in containers because each plant has access to a limited amount of soil or substrate. This limited amount of soil or substrate can only keep in it enough water for one or two days and container vegetable plants will need to be watered either every day or every other day.
Just as much as it’s important that your vegetable plants have access to enough water, they shouldn’t be in stagnant water. Your plants need to have enough drainage so that their roots are constantly wet and so that extra salts can be carried away.
Striking a balance between providing enough water and drainage will ensure that you are able to grow healthy vegetable plants, which in turn is enough to naturally fight pest infestations and tolerate minor weather changes.
Providing the correct growing conditions
The type of soil that each type of vegetable plant can tolerate is different. Almost all vegetable plants are healthiest when grown in loamy soil but some can tolerate either sandy or clay soil or both, while others cannot tolerate either.
Most vegetable plants need at least 6 hours of sun but some can manage or prefer just 2-4 hours of the sun while some must have the minimum 6 hours but grow best when they receive at least 8 hours of sun.
The best way to provide your plants with the correct soil type and amount of sunlight are to first know the conditions in your garden and then find the correct types of vegetable plants that are suitable to be grown under those conditions.
Using beneficial companion plant pairings
Another natural way of increasing plant health without the use of chemicals is to use beneficial companion plant pairings when planning your organic vegetable garden layout. Companion plants can help create ideal growing conditions, encourage beneficial insects, act as traps for pests, attract pollinators, and discourage disease-causing pathogens. Companion plants of vegetable plants are not limited to other vegetable plants and also include herbs and flower plants.
As you may have noticed, each of these strategies goes hand in hand and have to be used together to create a healthy organic vegetable garden. The first step in implementing these strategies is to properly plan your vegetable garden even before you start growing anything. A plan will help you identify the best location for your garden, what you should grow in it this season, how many of each type of vegetable plant you will need to grow, and an ideal layout for your vegetable garden.