The top piece of advice organic gardening pros will give to beginners is: Plan First! Jumping into it without giving some thought to the size and purpose of your organic garden isn’t necessarily a mistake – but it will definitely save you frustration.
Many beginners simply start out too ambitiously and end up quitting. It’s much easier to enlarge a garden. First, consider how many people you want your garden to feed, and then multiply that by about 50 square feet. That’s plenty of space, if you use it optimally.
There are two of you. You’ve decided to put six tomato plants in your organic garden. You might want to rethink that, considering that a healthy tomato plant will mostly like fruit with dozens of tomatoes at any given time. So, think about what you would like to eat, how much of the produce you’ll be able to eat – and then select the appropriate amount of plants. Don’t overcrowd your garden. Remember, there’s always next season to go bigger and better.
Prepare the Soil
A popular method for organic gardening is what is known as raised bed gardening. It’s preferred for very good reasons:
- Raising the level of the soil makes it easier on your back.
- Elevated beds allow the soil to quickly drain, so there’s far less likelihood of waterlogging your plants. Too much water can kill them just as easily as not enough.
- The sides of the beds act as a natural edging for your gardens, which aids in weed prevention.
- You’re bringing in soil to make this bed, so it’s going to be easy to add the necessary compost and organic material to create an environment that offers the porous “root zone” plants require.
A good starter size for beginning organic gardeners is a raised bed four feet by eight feet in diameter. It makes the entire garden easily accessible from all angles for planting, weeding and harvesting.
Approximately three weeks before you are ready to start planting either seeds or seedlings, amend the soil with a generous half-inch of organic compost. This is where planning comes in: you may not already have started your compost, and if not, you’ll need to purchase it. Work the compost in to the soil and rake it flat.
There’s not much symmetry in nature, and organic gardening strives to mimic nature. So it’s your choice to dig straight furrows for planting seeds or seedlings – or to simply create a freeform design with holes for each plant. Most gardeners consider at least organizing plantings as a grid; and one main thing to consider is the impact that taller plants will have on shorter ones.
When you’re ready to do the planting, first water the soil lightly. Your objective is to make it moist without soaking it. And if you water prior to planting, you’ll prevent the seedlings from being swamped – or the seeds from being washed right out of the soil.
Whether it’s trenches or freeform, it’s time to get those seeds or seedlings into the ground. If you’re starting with seeds, spread them evenly down your trench – if you’ve decided to forego the trenches, you’ll want to put two to three seeds in each soil hole. When in doubt, read the seed packet for recommendations on spacing, as you don’t want to overcrowd your plants. Most seedlings will come with a plastic insert spike that offers planting and growing suggestions.
If you’re planting seeds, cover them with enough soil as recommended by the packet. Compact the soil only gently. The objective is to bring the seeds into contact with the soil, but not to compress the soil and make it difficult for the seeds to germinate and reach the surface. Seedlings should be planted only as deeply as they were in the container in which they arrived.
Now comes the waiting part. Some seeds will sprout within days, while others may take up to several weeks. In the meantime, water your raised bed whenever the surface of the soil is dry. Take this time to start a new habit of being vigilant for weeds.
It won’t be long before you’ll see the results from your efforts. And speaking of planning ahead, have you thought about whom to invite over for your first dinner featuring the stars of your organic garden?