Getting Started: Five Organic Garden Tips for Beginners

If you're just getting started in organic gardening, it's easy to get overwhelmed with information. They key to success is KISS—keep it slow and simple. Like all living processes, there is a rhythm to organic gardening. You don't do everything at once. Start out slow and learn as you go, and you will be successful. These five simple organic garden tips will help you get started.

Tip #1: Start with the Soil.

The soil is the source of life for an organic gardener. Indeed, one of the problems with chemical gardening is that it sterilizes the soil, stealing the life from it. Organic soil is living, and has lots of living matter in it. Here's an organic garden tip specific to soil: The most important word in organic gardening is compost. Buy it until you can make it.

Compost is created out of living vegetable matter. You just save all your vegetable scraps, lawn clippings and other fresh vegetable matter (green material) and mix it with dead grass and leaves (brown material) and let it decompose. You want a compost heap to generate heat, because it decomposes faster that way. It needs to be at least 3'x 3'x 3' to get good and hot. A hot compost heap that is turned frequently (so that it gets air into it) will make compost in a matter of weeks. If your compost pile isn't that big or doesn't get very warm, it will still create good compost; it'll just take longer.

Add compost to the soil at least twice a year and dig it into the top six inches of soil, and you'll have rich, dark, productive soil within a couple of years—even if you started out with sterile, gray, chemically treated dirt.

Tip #2: Biodiversity

When you grow the same crop in the same soil over and over again, it depletes the soil of specific nutrients. Monoculture farming has caused serious damage to the soil over much of America's farmland. Monoculture farming also tends to gather the bugs and weeds that prey on that particular crop.

Biodiversity, on the other hand, means growing lots of different things. This protects the soil and the crops. Companion plants provide nutrients and pest protection for each other. Crop rotation keeps the soil rich, you don't attract as many insects and you have a greater variety of produce for your table or for sale.

Tip #3: Water Carefully

Indiscriminate watering practices waste water and wash soil components into the water supply. Using water carefully prevents waste and discourages weeds. Water early in the morning and use a soaker hose to keep water on the plants and nowhere else.

Tip #4: Control Weeds

Controlling weeds with organic gardening is easy if you follow a few simple practices. It is important to mulch around your plants to keep weeds out and water in and to give them extra nutrients. Compost is great mulch. Use plastic barriers during growing season to keep weeds out of your crops. Cover the entire area with plastic during the winter season to kill off weed seeds. Weed often so that the weeds don't develop root systems or go to seed.

Tip #5: Control Pests

Pest control in organic gardens is a step-wise process. You start with the least toxic intervention and proceed from there.

The first step is to plant wisely; use companion planting and crop rotation to discourage pests before they arrive. The next step is to remove the pests by hand, if possible. Tomato hornworms, potato bugs and other larger insects can be controlled by hand.

Use barriers, like diatomaceous earth, coffee cans or netting. Use insect controls and then release ladybugs, lacewings or praying mantises into your garden. If all else fails, use an organic insecticide, such as soap.

If you start out with these five simple organic garden tips, you will have a successful first year of organic gardening. Next year, you'll be an experienced organic gardener, and you can try some different approaches. These organic garden tips will, however, get you started and ensure that your first organic garden is productive.