As most of you already know, organic gardening is gardening without the use of any chemical fertilizers, pesticides, weed killers or fungicides.

As an organic gardener you will use only compost produced from garden or household waste along with organic fertilizers and sprays (made from animal or vegetable matter). In order to produce healthy plants you will need a healthy, crumbly and nutritious soil. The soil needs to be rich in humus, decaying vegetable and animal matter, and highly populated with living organisms such as worms or bacteria to break down the humus into nutrients for the plants.

As organic gardening starts with the soil it is vital that you add organic matter to the soil regularly to keep the soil productive. The compost you produce is essential for the health and well being of the plants you are growing organically. Compost can be made from leaves, dead flowers, vegetable scraps, fruit rinds, grass clippings, manure, and many other things. You can also add wood ash, an excellent source of potash, from indoor fires (make sure it is only wood ash and dry {if it is left to get wet the potash will be washed out} when you add it to your compost).

You need to be aware of the pH balance of your soil before planting as the degree of acidity or alkalinity which plants can tolerate comfortably is quite narrow. Most garden centres will have pH testing kits available which will show the acid or alkaline level of the soil as well as the plant food levels i.e. nitrogen, phosphate and potash. This will give you an indication of what you need to add to the soil to make sure that your plants grow healthily. Generally the ideal soil has a dark color, sweet smell, and is full of earthworms. Of course there are always exceptions and some soil may need more natural additives than regular compost can give, such as bonemeal, rock phosphates, or greensand.

One of the biggest issues for organic gardeners is keeping pests and disease away without resorting to chemical invasion into their gardens. The important thing is to provide the best possible growing conditions for your plants so that they are healthy and resistant to disorders. In fact if possible choose plants that are either immune or resistant to common pests and diseases. Nowadays there are more and more varieties being bred that are resistant. Another area where you will need to be very attentive is when plants have become diseased or pest infested that you make sure that no leaves are left lying around on the ground or left on the plants. Generally infected plant remains can go on the compost heap but if they are infected with soil-borne diseases such as club root or white rot then they will need to be burned as the compost heap may not generate the necessary heat to kill the disease organisms.

There are many different homemade sprays that can be used against pests, they may or may not be effective, but just the force of the spray can be very effective against aphids.

Personally I think one of the best ways to combat these pests is to introduce a water feature, we actually had two large ponds in our organic garden which encouraged a wide variety of natural predators for these tiny insects, such as ladybirds (ladybugs), birds, frogs and newts. We also planted many beautiful flowers which attracted insects who feed on nectar. Other ideas are sticky traps, barriers, and plant collars. There are some household items that prevent against insects too, like insecticidal soaps, garlic, and hot pepper.

Weeds can be an annoying and frustrating part of organic gardening. Organic mulch can act as a weed barrier, but for even better protection put a layer of newspaper, construction paper, or cardboard under the mulch. Corn meal gluten will slow the growth of weeds if spread early in the season before planting. There is also the old-fashioned art of hoeing and hand pulling that always works. Your best bet in weed prevention is persistence. Mulch well and pull and hoe what you can; after a few seasons you will find that you have beaten the weeds for good.

Organic gardening may take a little more time and care than regular gardening, but after you get the hang of it and figure out all the quirks of your garden, it is definitely worth the extra time.

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