I think we can agree that growing a high yield organic garden is many gardeners main goal! Of course we all want to grow as much as possible with the fewest interventions possible.
This may seem overwhelming at first, but a few key principles will help your organic backyard vegetable garden thrive this year!
ORGANIC GARDENING FOR BEGINNERS
Just like any other skill, gardening is something you have to learn! Often people believe they either have a “green thumb” or they don’t. But that couldn’t be further from the truth!
A few tips when you’re just getting started:
- Start SMALL. Many new gardeners want to jump in and begin with a giant vegetable garden. After a few weeks or months, they get overwhelmed and just leave everything to die. Instead, I recommend starting with just one or two small raised beds.
- Learn from LOCALS. There’s lots you can learn about gardening online, but one of the best resources is talking to neighbours or local farmers. They know your climate better than a stranger on the internet.
- Be willing to FAIL. Chances are not every single crop you plant is going to thrive your first year (or ever!). Weather elements, bugs, droughts and disease are all factors that can affect the health of your garden. Failing is just part of the process.
If you’re brand new to gardening and trying to figure out what to plant, where to plant it, and what will thrive in your climate – check out this post!
WHY ORGANIC GARDENING?
So why is it even important to grow your vegetables organically?
Chemical pesticides + herbicides can be very effective, but they come with risks. Most of them have warnings on the container that state “poison”, “do not ingest”, or even “may cause cancer”.
I don’t know about you, but those aren’t products I want anywhere near the food that I’m growing! Even using these harsh chemicals in your yard + away from any food can be dangerous. We walk on on grass, and so do our pets and children. Anything we spray near our garden can potentially make it’s way into our garden beds (and our neighbour’s gardens! 😭)
Not to mention, we don’t NEED to use these products to have a successful organic vegetable garden in our backyard! There are so many better options.
INVEST IN QUALITY SOIL
The number one things I’ve learned over the years is that soil quality is EVERYTHING and can make or break your vegetable garden harvest.
There are lots of ways you can improve your soil, and this will differ depending on your soil type or if you’re building brand new garden beds to ammending existing beds.
NEW GARDEN BED
When building a brand new garden bed, I love to utilize the “lasagna gardening” technique. This is an inexpensive + effective way to create high quality soil. It’s not an exact science.
The basic premise of lasagna gardening is that you do several different layers while creating the garden bed. This usually looks like some sort of natural, compostable weed barrier (cardboard, newspaper), followed by several inches of green compost materials (dried leaves, untreated lawn clippings, plant waste, partly composted manure), a more typical topsoil layer (Topsoil blend, aged manure), finished with a mulch layer typically added after plants are established.
existing GARDEN BED
If you didn’t know anything about soil quality when you created your garden bed, don’t panic! It’s never too late to make ammendments
Soil quality is something you’ll need to constantly be aware of. For a high yield vegetable garden, it’s ideal to ammend your soil before you plant every year. This can either be done in the fall or the spring.
It’s always a good idea to have soil tested before making amendments to see what nutrients it’s lacking.
I’m a HUGE fan of using aged compost in my garden to improve soil quality. I’ve been able to find free aged horse manure at a local equestrian centre – I just have to shovel + transport it myself!
USE NATURAL FERTILIZERS
Throughout the growing season, you should utilize natural fertilizers in your organic gardens if you want to grow a high yield of vegetables!
This is when it’s particularly important to be aware of the nutrient needs of each specific plant instead of trying to guess what they need.
Every plant has different needs – tomatoes need high nitrogen while they are producing fruit while cucumbers love high potassium. Fertilization isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
There are TONS of natural ways to add minerals to your plants using items you likely already have!
- Epsom salts
- Coffee Grounds
- Banana Peels
- Coffee / Tea
- Manure from chickens, goats, cow, horse
BE PROACTIVE WITH PESTS
If your goal is to have a chemical-free garden bed, it’s very important that you’re being proactive instead of reactive when it comes to pests!
It’s much easier to handle a small bug problem than dealing with an infestation that has gotten out of control!
That being said, do NOT panic if you see a few ants in your soil. Soil is a complex ecosystem and bugs are not inherently bad! They only become a problem when that eco-system is out of balance.
Every few days you should closely look at your plants. Check under the leaves and on the stems to make sure there aren’t signs of infestations or bug problems!
AVOID CHEMICAL PESTICIDES
Avoiding chemical pesticides seems obvious when an organic backyard vegetable garden is your goal, but it’s surprising how many people will panic at the sight of unwanted bugs and purchase a chemical pesticide “just this one time”.
No judgement if you’ve turned to synthetic pesticides in the past, but I’d highly consider trying natural options first!
The problem is that chemical pesticides tend to wipe out the good bug population in your soil also. Every time you use these you are interferring with the natural eco-system or circle of life which will most likely cause more problems in the future!
Chemical pesticide use also creates nutrient deficiencies. It’s not a coincidence that the same companies selling weed killers or bug repellants are the companies selling fertilizers! Using these products puts you in a never-ending product cycle. It’s a great marketing strategy.
NATURAL PEST CONTROL
- Boiling Water: This is one of the easiest ways to deal with unwanted bugs or weeds. Plus it’s FREE! Boiling water will kill off grass or weeds. It’s also effective at killing bugs (though may wipe out the good bugs as well). This is my go-to for ants – find the ant hill and pour boiling water on it several times.
- Soapy water: Put in a spray bottle and spray the stems or leaves of plants if you see bugs or eggs on your plants.
- Diatemaceous earth: Sprinkle on dry soil (has to be reapplied after rain). DE is non-toxic to humans and dogs. It’s essentially just finely crushed rock sediment. To us it just feels like sand, but the particles are very sharp and can kill bugs.
- Eggshells + straw: Sprinkle around the base of plants to deter slugs and snails from slithering along the soil.
- Neem Oil: An approved pesticide for organic gardening use. This is one I would utilize if I was struggling with a more severe bug problem.
- Beer: Obviously beer itself isn’t an organic or natural substance, but it doesn’t actually mix with the soil. This is what I use when I have a slug problem. Pour a few inches of beer into an open container in the evening. This attracts the slugs and then they end up drowning in the beer!
- Sacrificial Plants: This is a less common method you may not have heard of. Basically you dedicate an entire plant to be sacrificed to the bugs in an effort to save the rest of your garden.
- Companion Planting: It’s important to be strategic about your garden planning! Planting certain herbs or flowers in your vegetable garden can help repel insects. Plant onions or garlic throughout your garden to help ward off unwanted pests.
UTILIZE WEED BARRIERS
Utilizing weed barriers in a new garden bed can help eliminate the need for chemical herbicides!
My favourite weed barrier is cardboard or thick layers of newspaper under the soil. Eventually this breaks down, but by then the grass underneath is usually dead.
Personally I don’t utilize plastic weed barriers mainly because I prefer natural materials.
Another way to keep weeds away is to utilize raised beds. While raised beds aren’t 100% weed free, they do significantly elimainte the amount of weeds + grass!
When it comes to preventing weeds, one of the best things you can do is be consistent. Pull up a few weeds every few days in an effort to keep them under control.
This is especially important early in the season. You don’t want to let weeds become too established or go to seed because then you’ll end up with even more!
Mulching your garden is a great way to retain moisture, and minimize pests + weeds.
I always choose mulch that will naturally break down into my garden and actually become soil “food”. This does mean it needs to be reapplied every year or every few years, but that’s my preference!
I always wait until my seedling have all come through to mulch the garden.
There are lots of ways you can mulch for free:
- Grass Clippings. Just ensure it’s untreated grass and that your grass hadn’t gone to seed (happens when it gets really long)
- Mulched + dried leaves. I always save my fall leaves to add to the garden!
- Mulched trees. Often your city will have a few mulch program
- Compost or Manure: Ask a local farmer or equestrian centre if they have any extra manure! Aged manure is preferable. If it’s fresh, you’ll have to let it age for at least one season before adding it to your bed.
DON’T TILL THE SOIL
This is my most controversial tip, but personally I do not till my soil!
As I mentioned above, soil is a complex, living eco-system. When we till it we interfere with the natural eco-system that has been created – killing worms and other beneficial bugs.
Instead of tilling, I like to add a few inches of compost or aged manure to the top of the soil each year. This adds nutrients and helps loosen up compact soil.
You can look up “No-till gardening” or “Back to Eden gardening” if you want to learn more about these methods!
TRUST THE PROCESS + DON’T STRESS
The thing about organic gardening is that you might not see results as quick as you would when you use chemical products + sprays. But the long term benefit is SO much greater.
When dealing with a problem in the garden organically, give it time.
Trust that nature knows what it’s doing without constant interference from you!