Growing your organic vegetables is a great way to ensure you have access to healthy foods at your convenience. Knowing where and how to start can be a daunting process but it actually is quite simple and straightforward. Here are 10 tips on how to start an organic vegetable garden:-
1) Start small and Be Patient
You eat a lot of veggies and want to grow all of them. Maybe you even want to add in some flowers to give your home garden an appealing look. You want luscious, gigantic, spotless plants that miraculously grow as soon as you plant the seed. Well, this describes the best of us.
Before you buy any seed, plant or tool first set your realistic goals paying critical thought to your overall objectives.
The saying ‘patience is a virtue’ holds when you are gardening. The fact that you started your garden today, or last week will not mean that it will look luscious and instagrammable instantly but in reality, it may just look like a freshly dug plot or empty container. Plants take 20 days and more to mature but the process in between is where the magic happens.
2) Sun and Area Selection
Plants generally require sunlight to photosynthesize and grow, some more than others. Fruiting plants such as tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, zucchini and eggplants need at least 6 – 8 hours of sunlight in a day to thrive. Leafy greens such as spinach, sukuma (Kale), salads and herbs can tolerate and thrive in shady areas getting 3 – 4 hours a day.
So the first thing to consider is how much sunlight the area you have designated to your gardening receives per day.
This principle applies to indoor gardens, but we talk about indoor gardening in another section.
Whether you’re gardening indoors or outdoors a clean environment is critical in plant growth and development. First, is to ensure that the area or container you plan on starting your garden should be cleaned of any items not adding value to your plants. For example, if you’re gardening in a new (virgin) area, clear off all weeds, stones and shrubs that can otherwise infect your plants or affect their growth. The paths between your garden beds should always be clean.
If you’re planting in containers, the containers should always be washed prior to putting soil. When your plants are growing (especially for indoor plants) check the leaves and dust them using a damp cloth.
Always wash your garden tools after use with soap and water and store them in a clean place. DO NOT use tools that have handled infected plants on other plants. Always clean them first. Wash your hands prior handling any plants and after. Clean your garden shoes and clothes regularly.
Often, diseases and pests are spread due to unhygienic growing conditions. So if you have a sudden outbreak of pests and/or diseases the first point of analysis should be the hygiene levels in your gardening space. So it is best to establish a clean environment and cleaning program at the start of your gardening.
4) Essential Garden Tools
Whether your planning for an outdoor kitchen garden, container garden, raised bed or indoor garden there are some essential tools that you will need to be able to carry out your tasks effectively. These tools include:-
A) Garden Gloves
Gloves protect your hands from thorns, sharp items and generally keep your hands clean as you work. Not forgetting that some plants can be poisonous so it is always best to be cautious. When your garden is mature and you know what is planted where, then you can work with bare hands but always make sure to wash them thoroughly before and after doing your gardening.
The gloves should be light enough not to be a hindrance when you are working.
B) Hand Trowel
A hand trowel is one of the most useful tools in any garden. When transplanting, a trowel comes in handy when scooping the seedling with the soil with minimal disturbance to the root system. The trowel is also used for holding potting soil or compost when potting plants in a container. When you need to do some weeding, a trowel is used to lift the weeds without causing much disturbance to useful plants.
This is that tool you can make for yourself. A dibber or dibbler is simply a pointed stick that is used to make holes on the ground or the pot when planting seeds or seedlings.
A wheelbarrow is quite an essential tool if you’re doing outdoor gardening and you have the space for it. Whether it is to ferry compost, soil, bigger tools, use a wheelbarrow. When it gets old, why not make a planter out of it.
E) Watering Can
A watering can is simply the portable container that you will use to water your plants. There are many different kinds and sizes made from various materials as well. The important thing to consider when choosing what you will use to water your plants with is the number of plants (or size of plot), if they’re potted plants, then you may want to consider a watering can with a handle and funnel suitable for getting the water onto the soil. Many plants do not appreciate having their leaves splashed on.
F) Pruning Shears
Sometimes referred to as secateurs or hand pruners this tool is a type of scissors specially designed for trimming branches or even harvesting herbs. This tool comes in handy when your plants are established so it is something to think about when you are planning your gardening but can be procured at a later stage.
Gardening is certainly a tangible way of gaining appreciation for our soils. From seed starting to harvesting, the quality of the soil determines and directly influences the growth and health of your plants.
There are several ways in which you can ensure you have the right soils for the plants that you intend to grow. You can take your soil for comprehensive testing, in Kenya, you can have comprehensive soil tests done at places like KALRO or Cropnuts. This process is highly recommended especially if you are intending to commercialize your gardening. You will get a detailed report on your soil health along with recommendations on how to deal with any deficiencies. Ensure to ask for recommendation suitable for Organic Gardening.
Another way is to use compost (we call this black gold). Compost is the end product of the decomposition of organic matter. Whilst it is not high in the essential nutrients (N-P-K), it is a soil conditioner that makes it easy for nutrients to be accessible to plants. So adding a good amount of compost goes a long way in giving your plants the right environment to grow and thrive. We talk more about soil and compost here and here.
6) Plan your plants
Congratulations !! You have prepared your site or purchased your pots and are now ready to plant. Now planning what to plant is a very important stage. There are so many ways in choosing what to grow. We often choose to grow what we love to eat or what looks good (for non-edible plants), and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but you have to be aware that not all plants react or grow the same. We talk more about planning what to plant here.
As a rule, plants thrive on even watering and you should try as much as possible not to let your plants fully dry out before you water. Another point to note that that plants generally do not appreciate getting their leaves wet. This applies both to the plants in the garden and pots. Often wet leaves become diseased leaves. So the best way to water your plants is by aiming at the roots. For more on the correct way to water plants, please click here.
Mulching is generally the action of using loose coverings such as straw, compost, plastic sheet, horticultural fleece and manure to improve the soil around plants. It also helps in suppressing weeds and retaining moisture. We talk more about Mulch here.
9) Disease and Pest Control
Pests and diseases are a challenge for every gardener. Observing your environment is a critical step towards understanding what precautionary measures you may need to take to mitigate pests and diseases. For example, if your home or area tends to attract ants easily then you will need to first deal with the ants before planting or putting your pots/containers in such an area.
Congratulations !! You have grown your plants to maturity and it is now time to enjoy your hard work. Harvesting is an important stage because it marks the phase when your plants have endured the growing process and are ready to be transitioned into consumption, storage or processing. Different rules that apply to harvest of different plants. Some plants such as herbs which are perennial, the leaves from the same plant are harvested over a period of time; even years. Most vegetables are annuals and are harvested in a single growing season.