5 Steps to Creating an Organic Vegetable Garden – A Beginners Guide
Growing your own organic vegetable garden can be a rewarding experience. No matter what you decide to grow, whether it be flowers, succulents, fruit, vegetables, or a little of everything; growing your own food is empowering. There’s a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that is felt when your garden is in full swing, and producing a beautiful, natural landscape. To me, the ultimate reward is the bite out of the first tomato of the season, or enjoying the first home-grown salad of the season, that was just harvested 15 minutes earlier from the backyard garden.
I believe everyone should know how to grow their own food, if they so desire. That being said, I would like to share with you 6 steps to a successful organic vegetable garden . Following these 6 steps, will get you well on your way to growing your own vegetables and fruit at home organically. Growing organic is my personal choice, and is not required for good results. However, using chemical fertilizers and pesticides often do more harm than good in the long run, so I will always recommend taking the organic route, especially when it comes to growing plants that you are planning to consume.
Step 1 – Chose a Location:
Location, location, location… This is definitely one of the most important decisions you need to make when starting your own garden. Most plants prefer full sunlight, which is at least 6-8hrs per day. Therefore, selecting an area that faces south (for those of us in the northern hemisphere), and is away from overhanging trees, large barricade fences, or buildings is important. Tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, cucumber, corn, all require full sunlight to grow to their full potential. If you don’t have a space that receives full sunlight, it’s not the end of the road for you. Most leafy greens like lettuce, kale, or spinach, can tolerate some shade, so they should be planted along the portion of your garden that doesn’t get as much sunlight as preferred.
Step 2 – Determine Your Soil Type:
Now that you have a location in mind, you need to check what type of soil you have. There are three basic types of soil: sand, silt, and clay. However, most soils are a combination of all three. Sandy soil has very quick draining qualities because of its large particles. Soil that contains a high sand content is not ideal to grow in, because it doesn’t hold much nutrients that are vital for plant growth. Silt has smaller particles than sand, and also will hold more water and nutrients, but again not great for sustaining plants and their required nutrient needs. The third type is clay. Clay soil has very small particles at stick together, so it does have poor draining qualities and is dense. That being the case, it holds the nutrients plants need to grow very well. However, since it is so dense plants have a difficult time growing in heavy clay soil because their roots have trouble penetrating it and have less access to oxygen.
Now that you know the 3 basic types of soil, you may have guessed that most soils are comprised of all 3 types. This composition is ideal. The best soil is made of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter. Without organic matter, your lacking the nutrients that your soil is there to hold. Organic matter can come from compost, grass clippings, wood chips, manure, etc… basically, organic matter is biodegraded plant based materials. This is very important for the organic garden, because you are not feeding your plants with harmful chemicals. Your plants are being sustained by nature.
A good indication that your soil has organic matter in it, is to check for earthworms. After you choose your location, dig out a shovel-full of soil. Are there earthworms within that chunk of earth? If there are, you have organic matter. If there is already grass growing in your chosen location, you’re very likely to have earthworms in the soil, because they’re breaking down the dead grass and plant matter from your lawn. If you dig out your soil sample and there are no worms in it, you might be lacking organic matter. Before starting your garden, you need to amend your soil with lots of organic compost to introduce organic matter, and in turn food for your plants.
Step 3 – Prepare Your Garden Bed:
If you have decent soil, you’re in luck. Go ahead and layout your garden bed(s) with some garden hose, rope, string, or by eye, and start cutting into your soil with a straight edge shovel, or edging spade. You can make your bed whatever shape you want, but most gardens are square or rectangular shaped, to make layout of crops easier. The size of your garden bed is also important. Try to stick with a width no greater than 4 feet, and allow space on both sides, so you can reach into the bed easily.
Once you cut the shape, you now need to cut the sod away from the soil. This can be done by renting a sod cutter, or by using a sod cutting shovel with a straight edge. That’s the way I prepared my beds, and it’s tough work, but good exercise nonetheless. If you are doing this in fall or late winter, just turn-over the sod sections grass-side down, and let it breakdown naturally into the soil. This method not only saves you from getting rid of the sections, but it also adds organic matter to the soil.
Next, lightly till the soil to loosen it up for planting. Now’s also a good time to add compost and other organic amendments that might be needed. DO NOT tear through your new bed with a power tiller! Power tillers destroy the soil life web and kill the beneficial microorganisms, mycorrhizal fungi, and earthworms.
If your soil is poor quality, you’re probably better off building (or buying) a raised bed for your organic garden. Raised beds should be constructed from untreated 2×4’s, 2×6’s, 2×8’s, 2×10’s, or 2×12’s, depending on how high you want to build your bed and how much carpentry you want to perform. Your raised bed should be constructed from a rot & bug resistant wood like cedar or redwood. However, you can build it from untreated pine, but it wont last many years.
All you really need for depth in a raised bed is 6-7 inches for most vegetables (except carrots). Therefore, don’t go crazy with height, unless you’re going tall because you have a bad back.
Most raised beds are 4ft x 4ft, or 4ft x 8ft, but you can go any size you want. However, I really wouldn’t recommend making the width greater than 4 feet, because it will be really tough reaching into the middle.
The raised bed should be constructed using butt joints with stainless steel or galvanized steel wood screws.
After construction, fill the bed with a mix of quality organic potting soil. A good mix to use is Mel Bartholomew’s mix, who is the founder of the square foot gardening method. Mel’s Mix is 1/3 Organic Compost, 1/3 Vermiculite, 1/3 Peat Moss.
Soil depth should be at least 6 inches.
Step 4 – Planting Your Garden:
Now that your garden is ready, you need some plants. Some easy vegetables & fruit to grow are Tomatoes, Peppers, Cucumbers, Radish, Beans (pole and bush varieties), and the list goes on. I would definitely suggest those few I named though.
Planting from transplants:
NOTE: This is by far the easiest way to supply your garden with new plants. However, keep in mind that they probably weren’t raised organically before you purchased them. I’m not claiming that these plants are no good or evil, I just want you to keep in-mind that they are likely not organic plants, and were fed chemical fertilizers so they grew fast and look really green and pretty.
Transplanting is really easy:
Dig a hole in your garden at the recommended depth and width of the plant you’re transplanting (there should be instructions on the card that came with the plant).
Add some organic compost to the bottom of the hole.
Gently push up on the bottom of the pot the plant is in, turn it to its side.
Gently coax the plant into sliding out of its pot, taking care not to break any roots.
Some plants specify to loosen the root ball, others don’t. Therefore, only break the root ball if the directions say to. Otherwise place the root ball into the hole and backfill with your soil.
Water your newly transplanted plant.
Pay close attention to recommended plant spacing. The plants are small at this point, so they’ll look like they’re far apart; but trust me, they will grow big and lush. Therefore, if they’re not spaced properly, you will have what looks like a jungle of plants. They will lack air flow, and will be more susceptible to disease and pests. Spacing is very important.
Step 5 – Maintaining Your Garden:
Now that all your plants are in the ground, you just need to keep them happy. Since, we’re not relying on chemical fertilizers to make your plants grow, you should feed them once a week with liquid seaweed or organic fish fertilizer. This will ensure they are getting the nutrients they need to produce quality fruit.
In addition, once your plants begin to flower, and again when they begin to fruit, you should side dress them with more organic compost. These activities stress the plants, so the compost will give them a boost.
Harvest your fruit when it’s ready. Most plants keep producing throughout the season, so keep harvesting, so the plant doesn’t think its time to stop and go to seed.
Step 6 – Enjoy Your Fresh Organic Fruit and Vegetables!
Fresh, organic vegetables have an abundance of health benefits, and taste awesome! You will appreciate your hard work and efforts tremendously!
I hope you enjoyed reading this, and it helped you to make a great organic garden.
I will continue to add more gardening tips and insight, so subscribe to our newsletter and check back often.