Throw around the phrase “organic gardening” and people used to immediately think of hippies, tree huggers and “health nuts” — but in recent years, it’s come to be closely associated with simply being educated and informed. But what is “organic” gardening, and how is it done?
While an easy answer would be that organic gardening is that which is done without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, the better definition is that it’s an acknowledgement of the garden as a bigger part of a larger system in nature. It pays close attention to the relationship of plants and the garden to wildlife, insects, people and our water source.
There’s a lot of information about how to garden organically, but to get you started if you are new to it, here are the top 3 basics to adhere to:
1. Cultivate healthy soil. Have you ever heard someone say, “Feed the soil, not the plants?” Healthy soil makes plants stronger, which helps them to fend off pests and disease. So add lots of organic matter from your compost pile, turning it into the soil or adding it as a top-dressing like mulch. And don’t forget about cover crops in the veggie garden — plants like red clover, annual ryegrass and buckwheat are used to suppress weeds, and then are tilled into the soil to enrich it.
2. Use plants recommended for your climate. While this usually means using plants that are native to your area, it can also mean to use those plants that are adapted to your area’s climate. These types of plants will typically thrive under your growing conditions without having to be coddled.
3. Be hands-on in your garden. The more you are out in your garden, the more quickly you can identify a potential problem. Familiarize yourself with your plants and their needs, know which bugs are good and which are bad, and only use an organic treatment when it’s really necessary.
Jenny Peterson is an Austin, Texas-based garden designer with her own firm, J. Peterson Garden Design, as well as a writer, author and speaker. She specializes in designing, writing and speaking about gardens that enhance the quality of life, heal from the inside out and help to create balance and wellness.