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How to Start a Truly Organic Garden

Why to consider growing organic, and where to begin.

Written by Elizabeth Millard

 Photo Credit: Alexander Raths / Adobe Stock


Many people gravitate toward certified-organic fruits, vegetables, herbs, and grains as a way to reduce their exposure to pesticide residue, and often to support more sustainability-centered farming practices. Bringing that practice to your cabin landscape can yield even more benefits, including:

  • Improved water quality since pesticides won't be leaching into the ground
  • More abundant pollinators, which are often killed or reduced by pesticides
  • Potentially more nutritious produce since plants are grown in soil with more minerals and beneficial bacteria

Begin with a small area of the garden, maybe even a few containers, to kick off your organic efforts.


Soil and Seed Selection

Although there's a perception that you'll have to do much more weeding with organic gardening, that's usually only true if you're switching from conventional growing that's relied on pesticides and herbicides. In a truly organic system, healthy soils will reduce weed growth and make plants stronger and more able to repel insects.

All of that begins with organic soil. The easiest method is buying certified organic soil that's enriched with some type of natural fertilizer like compost or mushrooms. If you're making a transition, you may need only the fertilizer component, and mix it into your existing soil—but keep in mind it may take a few seasons for the pesticides to be completely gone. 

With seeds and transplants, look for those marked as certified organic. This means they haven't been treated with chemicals and are cultivated to be more naturally resistant to pests.


Insect Control

Although good soil health can reduce the presence of hungry insects, it doesn't eliminate them — and you may be struggling with just as many deer and bunnies as you did before.

There are several organic-friendly alternatives to commercial insecticides, and these include making a homemade spray out of chili pepper, garlic or neem oil. Another top choice is using diatomaceous earth, a type of crumbled sediment made from fossilized algae. Safe for pets and pollinators, the earthy blend is a standout for warding off ants, beetles, silverfish, and other common pests. It's so effective that it's often used in horse stalls and chicken coops as a way to control crawling insects without affecting animal health. 

Unfortunately, it doesn't keep larger critters out of your space. For problems like moles, rabbits and deer, it's better to construct physical defenses such as mesh barriers beneath the beds and high, deer-proof fencing – though there are lovely companion plantings that naturally repel deer, such as chives, oregano, marigolds and irises.


Like all other gardening projects, transitioning to organic growing involves a good deal of trial and error, so be sure to keep a log of what works (like one brand of seeds seems to germinate better than a competing brand) and what doesn't. The best approach is to start small and expanding and experiment with each growing season.


Make Your Own Environmentally Friendly Pesticide

To ward off pests but keep your crops safe, the recipe is easy: Mix 2 tablespoons of chili powder and a peeled and crushed garlic bulb (to release the oils) with 1.5 quarts of water and a smattering of dish soap (for adhesion) in a spray bottle.


See Also:

The Essential Homesteader's Garden

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