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Organic Gardening - Beginners Guide

Contribution by Urban Gardener
Australia's online hydroponics supplies & indoor grow shop

Gardening seems quite simple for an experienced grower. However, it may also be pretty easy for a beginner too, provided that he armed himself with at least basic knowledge about gardening, problems associated with it, and the most commonly used terminology. Here is a guide that will, hopefully, lead you to the success in organic gardening that will help you gather rich and tasty crops, that will teach you to grow wonderful flowers, and that it will lead you the way practically free of problems, failures, and disappointment.

 
Annual:A plant, which life cycle lasts for only one season. See also: Perennial.

Direct sowing: A process of planting seeds directly into the garden medium, not in the pots first.

Full shade: A place in the garden, which has not more than three hours of direct sunlight each day. The majority of plants do not tolerate full shade.

Full sun: More than six hours of direct sunlight each day. The majority of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers thrive in the full sun.

Heirloom: Plants species, which have been carefully grown by the gardeners for decades.

Hybrid: Species cultivated using a process of cross-breeding to improve some of the features and qualities of a plant.

Perennial: A plant, which life cycle takes more than two years. It grows season after season, and even if the aerial parts die in winter, new shoots sprout again in spring form the same root without replanting.

Soil pH: The level of the alkalinity or acidity of the soil. The majority of plants need soil pH level between 6.0 -7.0. If it is more alkaline or acidic, plants may not grow well, or even die.

Hardiness Zones: Regions, where a particular perennial plant can survive winter, taking into account average minimum temperature and other climatic conditions. For example, the territories of the USA and Canada are divided by the USDA into 11 areas based on average minimum temperature. 

Care & Feeding

Bolting: The process in green leafy vegetables when they produce a flower stalk and then seeds. Bolting makes the leaves of the greens rough and bitter.

Compost: An organic fertilizer, made of the decomposed mixture of kitchen scraps, yard waste, animal manure, etc. Gardeners call it “black gold”, because it is very beneficial for the plants: it fertilizes and nourishes them, reduces the risk of plant diseases, improves soil quality, and manages moisture.

Deadheading: The process of a removal of faded flowers by a gardener in order to enhance the growth of the new shoots in the plants. 

N-P-K: Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium – these are the chemical symbols of the three macronutrients that are vitally important for the plants. N-P-K ratio is usually specified on fertilizers’ packages.

Getting Started

No. 1 Plant Seeds
1. Make your bed. Start preparing your grow bed when the soil is dry enough and not clumpy. Plan the process of seeds planting not sooner than 3 weeks after that. Loosen the soil with a fork 12 inches down into the ground, add half an inch layer of compost, and rake the grow bed to remove stones, weeds, or dirt clumps. During those three weeks before planting regularly remove all the weeds that start to grow.

2. Dig a furrow-or not. You can use any style to make your organic garden beautiful and unique. The plants can grow in rows or circles if you like symmetry. You can also make an asymmetrical design. Anyway, carve out shallow trenches on the soil surface where the plants should grow. Remember: no matter what arrangement you choose, do not forget to dig shallow holes for the planted seeds. 

3. Water lightly. Pour some water into the holes for the seeds. Moist ground will enhance the seeds sprouting. Watering the soil surface will not produce the similar effect: the moisture may not reach the seeds, or on the contrary, they can be swamped and even washed out of the soil.

4. Sow the seeds. The seeds should be distributed evenly throughout the trenches, or several (2-3) seeds may be put into one hole. Read the instructions on the seeds packaging not to plant them too close to each other, because in this case the stems of the plants will grow too thin, long, and week.

5. Cover with soil. Cover the seeds with soil, press it gently, and moisten lightly its surface. Some seeds (as dill or lettuce) need light to shoot (this information can usually be found on the seeds packaging); thus, only the thinnest layer of soil should cover them. 

6. Keep moist. As soon as the grow bed becomes dry, moisten it immediately. Repeat the process till the seeds have sprouted.

Key to success: Adding some compost directly into the planting holes makes seeds sprouting more successful, as compost provides nutrients, improves structure of the soil, and provokes the multiplying of the beneficial microbes. 

 

Six Essential Tools

  • Spade
  • Fork
  • Trowel
  • Hoe
  • Hand-weeding tool
  • Pruners 

 

 

 

No. 2 Transplant

These are the notes you may refer to while transplanting vegetables available at the garden centers, or annual and perennial flowers.

1. Dig a hole. A planting hole should be as deep as the plant’s pot and twice as wide.

2. Water the plant. It is necessary to water a plant prior to its transplanting, since it will not be able to absorb water till its roots start growing in the new environment. 

3. Remove the plant from the pot. To safely remove a plant from the pot, you should put your hand on top of the container, gently holding the plant’s stem with your fingers. Then turn the pot upside down and, squeezing the pot or slightly slapping it at the bottom, take the plant out. If you have to pull it a bit, do it rather on the leaves than on the stem, because harm to the stem may result in the death of the plant, while no significant damage will be done if a leaf comes off.

4. Check the roots. If the roots are in the tight knot, it is recommended to loosen them a bit.

5. Place it in the hole. The majority of the plants are transplanted into their new organic gardening home at the same depth as they were in the pots. However, some need to be planted deeper, as, for example, tomatoes.

6. Replace soil and then water. When the plant is in the hole, use the soil that you have dug out to fill in the remaining space. It is necessary to press the plant’s roots firmly into the ground. Solid contact with soil will help the plant start growing sooner. Keep the plant always moist till it starts to grow.

Key to success: It is better to transplant on a dull day, when the sun does not shine brightly. This will help the plants get accommodated to the new environment better. 

No. 3 Manage Weeds
Weeds are a common problem in organic gardening. Many growers have hard times trying to get rid of them. No wonder: weeds not only spoil the looks and the beauty of the grow bed - they may also interfere with the normal growth of the plants. Here is a short description of the most common and the easiest methods of your garden protection from the invasive species. Note that some of the techniques have several benefits for the garden besides the deliverance from the weeds. And their biggest advantage is that they are absolutely organic!

Mulch. The easiest way to get rid of the weeds is to give them no chance to grow. Many gardeners practice covering the ground between the rows or plants with a thick layer of organic mulch (it can be straw, shredded leaves, dried grass clippings, etc.). Always keep it 2 inches deep and replenish it if necessary during the growing season. The additional benefit of mulch is its slow permanent decomposition, which results in the formation of the organic beneficial compost. It is also possible to place cardboard, kraft paper, or newspapers under the mulch to even increase the protective shield against weeds.

Hand-pull. This may seem to be a time-consuming work, but it also has its advantages. First of all, it gives a chance to keep the weeds under the constant control. Moreover, it also offers a perfect opportunity to regularly check your plants for pests and diseases and prevent their spreading. Finally, keeping the pulled weeds in the dried form, you will be able to get your own mulch.

Hoe. A swan-neck or a stirrup-shaped oscillating hoe is best for severing the weeds below the soil surface. It is recommended to use a hoe for managing weeds with thick and rough stems and large roots.

Spread corn. One of the effective methods to prevent weeds from growing and spreading is to use corn-gluten meal. It is a by-product of corn processing. Being safe for people, animals, and insects, it prevents seeds from germination. Be sure to spread corn-gluten meal over the established grow beds before the weeds have sprouted. Once they are in their active stage of growth, this method will no longer be effective. The most important thing is to use corn-gluten meal before you plant your seeds. The matter is that this substance will inhibit the shooting of all the seeds, including beneficial ones.

Solarize. The method of using the power of sunlight is very helpful if it is necessary to fight weeds on the future grow bed. You can first eliminate as many weeds as possible by hand-pulling or raking the lawn. Then cover the ground with clear plastic fixing the edges, and leave it that way for about 6 weeks. This period is enough for the remaining weeds and their seeds to get “cooked” or burnt by the sun. 

Be persistent. Patience is the most important thing a gardener should provide himself with while getting rid of the weeds. Hand-pulling, raking, using mulch – everything is effective, but none of the methods gives permanent results. Therefore, get ready to repeat these rituals regularly – only this promotes best results and significant success.  

Key to success: It is easier to pull the weeds out if the soil is moist (after the rain). 

No. 4 Control Pests
Insects are an integral part of any garden. There are millions of them everywhere. However, their number should not frighten you, as the majority of them are, actually, harmless and pose no danger to your plants. It is reasonable to sound the alarm only if you are positive that harmful insects prevail in the garden, or if their existence becomes obvious. Surely, beautiful flourishing plants are good targets for the pests. However, it is always better to avoid the use of the toxic herbicides, which are harmful to the good insects, plants, and their owner as well. Therefore, the first thing to do is to evaluate the available options. These days organic techniques are listed among the most popular, frequently used, safe, and effective ways of eliminating pests in the garden. The notes below will help you get acquainted with them and learn how to use them with the highest effectiveness. 

Grow healthy plants. The golden rule with insects in the garden is: “It is better to avoid the problem than to solve it”. Indeed, it is much easier and more effective to use preventive measures and not let the pests in. And the first step in the direction of saving your garden from harmful invaders is growing strong and healthy plants. Give them enough water, nutrients, and sunlight; do not keep them too wet or dry, do not let them lack space and sun.

Integrate, don't segregate. Growing many different plants on the same grow bed allows to make your garden specific, unique, and inimitable. That is, however, not the complete list of benefits: such arrangement also helps protect plants from pests. Insects will not concentrate on a single variety; besides, some plants are pests-repellant, thus they will protect the surrounding species.

Encourage Pests' Predators. Gardeners believe fighting pests with the predator insects is the most effective, reliable, and convenient method of rescuing any garden. It is also a natural way, in which a grower uses the food chain to reach his aim: good and safe guys kill bad and harmful ones. Encourage green lacewings and ladybirds in your garden. Besides, garter snakes and toads are capable of eliminating pests too, but take into account that toads may be unsafe for people.

Build Barriers. You may use a row cover, made of woven fabric, as the means to stop pests. These are available in the online stores and garden centers. Row covers do not prevent light, air, and water from reaching the plants, but they are effective against many types of invaders. 

Target The Treatment. If preventive measures have failed and the pests have already harmed your plants, the best thing to do is to get ready for the real battle. First of all, define the type of the enemy in the garden and evaluate the harm done. If you need support, you can consult your local Cooperative Extension office (csrees.usda.gov). If you can solve the situation yourself, use such organic means as hot-pepper sprays, soap, or horticultural oil to defeat pests. There is also a naturally occurring bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis that kills many leaf-eaters (for example, caterpillars). 

Surrender. Finally, sometimes it is too late to rescue a plant. In this case just replace the targeted plant with a healthy one. 

Key To Success: Regularly check the plants, underneath the leaves especially, to timely notice pests attack and their wicked activity. 

No. 5 Water Wisely
Watering plants is not actually a sophisticated science; it will be even easier if you stick to these simple rules.

Pick your plants. It is necessary to think about water needs of a plant at the moment you choose garden seeds to grow. It should be tolerant to the environment (soil, temperature, sunlight) you offer. If you plant a species that prefers shade on a sunny place, it will require more moisture. It is also recommended to group plants according to their preferences: those varieties that need much water should be growing close together to be efficiently irrigated.

Putting down roots. Be especially attentive to the just-transplanted crops – they need extra moisture to ecize.

Try early or late. It is best to water the plants either early in the morning or in the evening, when the sun is not yet hot and bright. This will allow more water to be absorbed by the plants, rather than evaporate due to the heat of the sun.

Take the two-knuckle test. Always check the soil with your index finger prior to watering it. Postpone watering if it is moist deep down. However, keep in mind that newly transplanted specimen and seeds need a bit more moisture, while trees, bushes and perennial plants may reach water deeper in the ground.

Dig the drip. Using a soaker hose or a drip-irrigation system helps deliver constant supply of water to where it is especially needed, allowing, at the same time, to minimize its consumption.

Weed and mulch. Note that weeds steal moisture from the beneficial crops; thus, they should be timely eliminated. If there are mulch shields on the ground, they protect water from fast evaporation under the sun.

Key to success: One of the basic rules of organic gardening says that about an inch of water per week is necessary for the plants to thrive.

 

 

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