“Organic” is one of the most overused and misused words in gardening. It is interpreted as meaning to garden without using man-made or artificial chemicals and pesticides. In practice, it means complying with a prescribed system leading to certified 100% organic production – not something applicable to home gardeners. “Natural gardening” might be a more appropriate description in the domestic garden.
For growing fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers at home, using certified 100% organic products is not necessary. If you want to garden without chemicals, all you need to do is ensure everything you add or apply comes from natural sources. Always read product labels to check.
Use this guide to help you grow natural produce in your garden, and don't hesitate to ask the community if you need a hand.
Before you start, it is relevant to know how your plot has been used in the past. It takes three or four years to reduce residues in soils where man-made fertilisers and pesticides have been used. If the history is unknown, growing in pots, tubs or raised vegie boxes filled with guaranteed natural or organic potting mix may be the best option during this period. As always, check the labels for ingredients.
Growing in pots may not be practical long term. Get your natural patch going by sowing a green manure crop and then dig it back into the soil before it flowers. Lupins, peas or other legumes and oats are all good options. They take up fertiliser residues from the soil and put back natural nutrients when turned into the soil.
Good soil preparation is the key to successful gardening. Dig the plot over to a depth of at least 300mm. Break up any large clumps, remove rocks and debris and ensure any cover crop is well buried. Rake to even out the surface. Add gypsum to help break up heavy clay and/or lime to sweeten very acidic soils (pH lower than 4.5). Allow watering or rain to wash them into the soil.
Spread a layer of compost or manure and fork it in thoroughly before adding fertiliser and rock minerals. Some of the more complex organic fertilisers include minerals, bio stimulants and seaweed extracts.
Leave the soil to stabilise for a couple of weeks before planting. Remove weeds by hand and water to keep soil moist if it doesn’t rain.
Sow seeds or plant seedlings or young plants. Note that you probably won’t be able to source “organic” seeds, seedlings or plants. It is how that you grow them hat’s important in the natural garden.
Water in with a half strength seaweed solution – one without added wetting agent and starter fertiliser is best.
To keep snails and slugs at bay, spread spent coffee grounds around young plants. Coffee machine rinse water can also be used. Slugs in particular are deterred by caffeinated soil. Crushed egg shells are also effective, as is anything made from copper such as copper nails.
Strong, healthy plants are better able to resist pests. A liquid fertiliser (home-made or off the shelf) applied every two or three weeks will help maintain vigour.
To combat pests, use products such as eco Oil, Neem, pyrethrum, derris dust or a home-made remedy like garlic spray. Yellow sticky traps are also effective. There’s an abundance of information online about natural pest control, although some methods are more reliable than others.
Keep weeds down by hoeing, hand pulling and mulching.
Repeat previous steps! Rotate your crops, allowing one bed to rest, or grow a green manure crop each winter. Maintain fertility with manures, composts, rock minerals and the occasional application of lime between crops.
The following list is of natural components of “organic” gardening:
Green manure crop seeds such as lupins, lucerne, and oats
Compost – can be homemade or bought
Weathered or aged stable, animal and poultry manures (Do not use fresh manures as they contain high urea levels that can burn plants and avoid manures from livestock fed with pellets known to contain veterinary medicines)
Natural fertilisers – blood and bone, bone meal, fish emulsion
Soil tonics – seaweed, bio stimulants (beneficial microflora)