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Home gardeners who want to try their hand at growing organic vegetables should lower their expectations just a little and be prepared to put in more "sweat equity."

Plan Ahead

Growing organic vegetables takes extra planning. If you use organic fertilizer sources or organic soil amendments, these need to be tilled into the garden well in advance to be effective. (Ideally, this process should begin in the fall prior to spring planting.)

Organic amendments don't provide nutrients as quickly as synthetic fertilizers. So, if you want to gain the benefits of organic fertilizers, give them plenty of time to decompose. Soil microbes have to convert them into a form that plant roots can absorb. An added benefit of organic amendments is that they can act as a slow-release fertilizer throughout the season. This improves soil structure.

Less Pesticides, More Weeding

Growing organic vegetables takes extra work. Since you won't have the option to "shoot first and ask questions later" with herbicides and insecticides, you will need to spend extra time and energy in your garden.

Weeds must be pulled or hoed. Mulch must be applied to prevent weeds. Disease or insect damage must be pruned away from plants.

The key is to catch all of these problems as early as possible to prevent them from becoming bigger problems and spreading throughout the garden

Organic gardening requires homework. You must become familiar with common garden problems and be able to tell the "good bugs" from the "bad bugs." The last thing you want to do is get rid of beneficial bugs like lady beetles that actually help control aphids, mites and other insects.

Veggies Don't Have To Look Beautiful

Growing organic vegetables requires the gardener to lower his expectations. To understand my point, go to the produce section at your local grocery store and watch customers pick through a pile of tomatoes or apples in search of that one spotless specimen.

Unfortunately, I think we are all habitually programmed to do this. When growing organically, you can't be that picky. Small spots and blemishes can be easily cut off of fruits or vegetables. Appearances don't affect taste, especially if the produce is headed for a casserole dish.

Tips To Follow

Here are a few more tips for the novice organic gardener:

• Get your soil tested by taking a sample to the local Extension office. This is the most important thing to do first.

• Start small and increase garden size each year as you become more comfortable with organic techniques.

• Use basic cultural control options like mulching, pruning, proper spacing, crop rotation, using resistant varieties and planting at the proper times.

• Clean equipment periodically. A 10-percent bleach solution used on pruners and other tools after cutting away diseased plant material will minimize the spread of diseases.

• Water plants as needed and only in the early morning. This helps prevent diseases and develops strong, deep root systems.

When you have gardening questions, call your local Extension office and ask to speak to a certified Master Gardener. These volunteers are trained to help you solve gardening problems.

How to Grow an Organic Garden

Scott Meyer, editor of Organic Gardening magazine shows how to plant and nurture an organic vegetable garden

Growing Peanuts Organically

On-farm research in Georgia and the Carolinas has demonstrated that farmers in the Southeast US farmers can grow organic peanuts and yield a respectable 3,000 pounds or more per acre.  But it takes some careful planning and intensive production practices to make it work. Here's how to....

Paul Pugliese, University of Georgia

Plants and Seeds
Plants and Seeds

How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine
How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine

Organic peanuts grown in Georgia
Organic peanuts grown in Georgia

Fertilizers and Compost
Fertilizers and Compost

seed, plant and nursery catalogs
Seed, Plant and Nursery Catalogs

Hand Weeder
Hand Weeder

Organic Gardening

The term organic gardening was first used in the United States by J.I. Rodale about 1940. The foundation of organic gardening is the use of composted organic matter to keep soil healthy and productive.

What is organic matter? When once living material thoroughly decomposes under healthy conditions, it is called compost. Some examples of compost are decomposed grass clippings and cow manure.  Naturally decomposed material like sphagnum peat moss is also organic matter.

Organic matter helps the soil act like a sponge to retain moisture in a way that is usable for plant growth. It also improves drainage, allowing the soil spaces to hold some oxygen for healthy root growth.

Certified Organic is a legal term. The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 governs the use of the term certified organic when the sales of products are involved. Its rules usually exclude the use of synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers, but allow for pesticides and fertilizers derived from naturally occurring materials, with some exceptions to both rules.

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