Strictly speaking all gardens are organic, “if they contain soil well that’s organic enough” you may think. But maintaining an organic garden entails more than just watering or feeding the soil. Organic gardening in fact is the only form of gardening we ever knew until the advent of chemical fertilizers. Flowers and food alike was grown using only natural ingredients because that’s all that there was to work with. As revived today in modern organic cultivation the emphasis was on recycling and making use of what was naturally available. There are various methods within organic cultivation that got to making a fertile and healthy growing environment. These are continued to be practiced on a large scale such as farming or even at home in the kitchen garden or flower beds. Let’s look at some examples…
This involves changing the growing area of different crops over a 4 year cycle. In farming this can be done over fields, or in the smallest of vegetable beds it could simply entail dividing the area into 4 quadrants. The purposes and benefits of crop rotation are numerous. By alternating crops yearly the soil has time to recover from crops that draw much from it in the way of nutrients. Some plants being heavier feeders than others can leave soil depleted of nutrient. Alternating growing space also prevents against pests and diseases particularly crop specific ones as they do not have time to become established. It also ensures that the cultivation area is always in use. Here is an example of crop rotation of vegetable growing, with the vegetables being grown in this sequential order year by year changing to a different area each time.
BED 1. In the first bed we plant Brassicas which cover all members of the cabbage family, Spinach. Brassicas are very heavy feeders and use much of the fertilizer in the soil therefore this bed will contain a lot of well rotted manure and fertilizers ready for their planting out. Other brassicas include Brocollli, Cauliflower and
BED 2. In bed 2 roots crops are planted, this includes carrots and all those that grow below ground. Roots require very little fertilizer. After the brassicas have drawn most of the fertilizers from the soil the root crops are planted one year later. Roots will fork and split if there is too much food in the soil. They also provide the dual purpose of loosening up deeper and previously unused area of soil naturally ploughing the soil, burrowing deep releasing untapped minerals and nutrients at the same time.
BED 3. The third area is given over to plants that are grouped into the category that is called ‘others’, peas and beans other things such as pumpkins and other squashes and also flowers for cutting. This bed will require some fertilization before planting out, bearing in mind that the roots crop previous will have cleaned and made use of all nutrient reserves. Peas and beans have the dual purpose of drawing atmospheric nitrogen from the air into the soil by
means of nodules upon their stems, thereby further enriching the ground.
Lastly potatoes are grown. Potatoes are very heavy feeders and require the addition of manure when planting and also require an extra large dose of added fertilizer during the growing phase. Potatoes also serve to clear the ground and breaks it up on a deep level similar to other root crops whilst leaving an enriched soil for the Brassicas to begin the cycle again.
Another ancient organic cultivation method that can be incorporated into modern day cultivation is the planting and growing of Green Manures. A green or living manure is a plant grown purely for its fertilizer value. These are very use full to grow over winter and many varieties exist for this purpose. They can however be grown in any quadrant of the organic garden during any season to improve fertility and soil structure as and when required. Green manures are grown and looked after like any other crop. However rather than harvesting for use elsewhere they are chopped and dug into the soil. In the case of the legume crops this serves the dual purpose of extracting atmospheric nitrogen like their culinary relations. Green manures are always chopped and dug into the soil before they set seed and begin to develop flowers, this ensures that they do not become wild or take over the garden.
This entails the growing of separate species of plants together. The theory being that some plants will benefit the others by means of sympathetic association such as making conditions more favorable and assisting in the deflection of pests and diseases. Carrots and onions or garlic are the most common companions as the smell of the onions disturbs the carrot fly and as both are root crops they can be grown together. A companion plant that suits most others is Marigolds whose smell deflects insects such as aphids and also stands as a first line of defense against slugs.
So where to begin? From square one so to speak..
A good start for a vegetable patch in its first year is to grow a green manure upon the whole area and dig it back in again as outlined above.
The growth rate of the plants will indicate what kind of nutrient is present in the soil and what types of growing conditions you will come to expect when you are growing your more high value and precious summer crops. Many green manures can be grown over winter, with some able to planted then too. For best results plant them towards the end of summer whilst the soil is still warm to ensure good germination and a good start, in spring chop the plants and dig thoroughly into the soil. Now dived up the area into the 4 quadrants that are to become the rotating growing area.
AREA 1. Brassicas will require the addition of manure or other fertilizer such as Blood fish and Bone, or other organic substances.
AREA 2. Roots will require nothing, although depending on soil type you may wish to add sand.
AREA 3. Will require the addition of small amounts of manure and or a dry base fertilizer.
AREA 4. Potatoes will require large amounts of manure/fertilizer and grown accordingly as potatoes are.
A little on soil types…
This blogpost alone does not have the scope to cover all types in detail but here is to common types of soil found in gardens and what can be done to enhance them.
The soil ball. As a rough guide form a ball of soil in your hand and compress it into a ball.
Outcome 1. Does is stick and become easily rounded into a perfect ball? If so you have a clay soil. Unless composed of solid clay, this is a good soil that holds water and nutrient well, it can be difficult to work however and the addition of bulky organic matter such as animal bedding or discarded greenhouse compost will help to break up the structure and make it more workable
Outcome 2. Does it crumble instantly? Then you have sandy soil. This is very well draining soil which some crops such as carrots and parsnips prefer. However it does not hold water or nutrient too well. You can add organic matter now to bulk the texture of the substrate, to thicken it and make It more malleable.
Outcome 3. If it neither crumbles or sticks like glue you have a balance of loam sand and clay. Sometimes this may lead to one or the other and Is one of the easiest and most balanced soils to work with.
This blogpost is just an outline of what can be done to create your own organic garden whilst incorporating methods that have been used for thousands of years. You can develop or advance upon these methods in whichever direction you wish. With these basic building blocks and methods however, you can be assured that the health and fertility of your growing area is organically maintained and kept pest free.