Garden Tips

How to start and maintain
an organic vegetable garden



Organic food production is having more and more shelf space devoted to it in our supermarkets. They have spotted a growing market trend and have reacted to it. All over the world people have become aware of pesticides and the dangers they cause to one's health and are starting to demand foods which have been grown without them.

In the UK 30% of fruit and vegetables produced contain traces of pesticides and foods imported from other parts of the world still today contain traces of the banned substance DDT.



Its not only fruit and veggies that are tainted by pesticides but livestock as well. Animals that are raised non organically are often fed genetically modified Soya as a supplement causing a rise in Soya related allergies. Chickens and cattle are fed various anti-biotics, anti-parasitics and growth hormones to speed up growth. The residues of these chemicals are then passed on to consumers via meat and dairy products.

Questions being asked by many consumers are:
Is the food we buy fresh?
Why does it go bad so quickly?
Is it providing us with all the required vitamins and enzymes that we need for a healthy body or have they been killed off by storage or transporting of the goods?

Nobody is going to give you the answers you are looking for so the way out is to eat organic foods that you have grown yourself. They taste much better having fuller flavours than those that you will find on supermarket shelves.

How to start your garden.

A garden is a unit and you cannot be organic in one part and non organic in another so you have to decide which option you are going to follow.

An organic garden starts with the soil. It is essential to have a good organic soil and to obtain that you feed the soil which in turn feeds the plant which will then feed you. The ultimate goal of an organic gardener is to have a healthy, fertile, soil with good structure and lots of nutrients in it.

Where and how are you going to get this type of soil in a new garden filled with weeds and grasses. You cannot use pesticides or chemical weedkillers to clear your garden patch so what are you going to do.

There are two methods.

Mark out a garden patch and then clear it of all the weeds by digging it over. Dig deep enough to get out the roots and break up the soil in the process. This will allow better drainage. Once the patch is weed and root free dig in as much organic compost and manure as you can.

The second method is to cover the area you want to make your garden in with a thick layer of newspaper, old carpet or any heavy material which will exclude the light. Leave the patch untouched for a period 6-12 months after which time all the grasses and weeds should have died. Any weeds left over can be pulled or dug out. Dig in as much organic compost or manure as you can. Diarise to do this chore annually to keep your soil healthy and strong.

Soil Types

To get the best results in your organic garden it is necessary to know what type of soil you have in your garden.

Clay based soils

Pick up a handful of damp soil, give it a good squeeze and the gently open your hand to see the shape produced. If the squeezed soil looks like a tight ball and slides in your hand when you try to break it up you have a clay soil. It is normally quite fertile but is quite hard work when starting your garden as it can get waterlogged or become quite hard if allowed to dry out. To sort out the problem just add fine grit or course sand together with your organic compost, rotted manure or straw.

Sandy soils

When performing the hand test above soil that does not form a ball and breaks up quickly is mainly a sandy soil. It does not retain water and because of this the nutrients in it are lost when the water washes through it. To sort out the problem of water retention add lots of organic compost as well as well-rotted horse or farmyard manure. Don't use new manure as it will burn the plants. Mushroom compost can also be used on sandy soils .

Loamy soils

If the soil forms a loose clump when doing the hand test above and holds together after being squeezed but then breaks apart fairly easily when rubbed you have a loamy soil. This is the type of soil you are looking for in your garden. A good organic soil will have worms, the lack of which means the soil is waterlogged. Sandy soil has fewer worms which tend to be small and wiry while lots of fat worms show that the soil is healthy and loamy. To maintain this type of soil just add organic matter by digging it in and top dressing it. Now step back and watch the worms come marching down the garden path to help you with your organic gardening.

Things to do in your organic garden.

Use only organically grown seeds and plants.
Encourage natural predators of the pests you find in your garden.
If you garden is big enough get a duck to keep down the snail population for you.
Set up rainwater tanks to collect rainwater to use on your organic garden. It is purer and softer than mains water and costs nothing.

Things not to do.

Do not use herbicides and pesticides to control weeds and pests.
Do not use snail and slug pellets. By using them you poison the natural enemies of the snails.
The best way to eliminate snails is to wait for a rainy day and go out with a bucket and collect as many of them as you can find. If you don't want to kill them dump them in the veld away from your home, otherwise put them in a packet and into your bin.
Do not use wooden fences treated with pesticides.

In this article I am only scratching the surface of organic gardening.

Happy gardening!

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How to plant an organic garden

General Tips

African violet tips
Amaryllis care
Autumn veggie garden
Avocados from pips
Care for Bulbs
Compost making
Contend with snails
Dealing with snails
Ecological gardens
Fitting a garden tap
Fixing a green pool
Flower gardens
Grow onions
Grow spanspek
Growing artichokes
Growing Bottle brush trees
Identify tomato pests
Irrigating plants properly
March planting guide
Organic gardens
Pepper planting
Plant a Buffalo lawn
Planting a potato patch
Preparing for a new garden
Pumpkin plantcare
Rotate crops
Spinach planting
Steps to plant tomatoes
Stop dogs digging
Sweet Peas
Using Grey Water

Gardens to visit

Spring wildflowers
Kirstenbosch Gardens

Monthly Planting Guides