How to Start A Food Forest Garden! Organic Gardening

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How to Start an Organic Garden

Three Parts:

Organic gardeners grow healthy, high-quality foods and flowers without using any synthetic chemicals. Organic methods are healthier, better for the environment and wildlife, and are less expensive because there are no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides to buy. Additionally, one of the best ways to avoid chemical residues, like glyphosate residue, on your home-grown crops is to avoid using these chemicals in your garden. All of this is accomplished by working with nature, instead of against it. Best of all, you can be an organic gardener with only a few square feet of sunny space for your garden. Done right, established organic gardens can be easy to maintain.


Creating Your Garden Site

  1. Choose a small site for your organic garden.Think small, especially at first. Find a spot in your yard that gets at least 6 hours of sun a day.A well-maintained 4 ft × 4 ft (1.2 m × 1.2 m) garden can furnish all of the fresh vegetables that one person will eat.
    • Even a window box or a few containers can be a starter garden.
  2. Think about using your lawn as a garden.A pristine lawn is a lot of work and, depending on your climate, may require a lot of fertilizer and water to keep green. It's also a mono-culture that is difficult to maintain. At the very least, consider letting clover and other plants in, and don't panic if a few weeds spring up. Consider planting something besides lawn or making your lawn smaller, especially in arid climates.
  3. Consider a container garden.Try growing in pots, boxes, or buckets on a patio. Even growing herbs in one of your south-facing windows to garnish your favorite dishes and soups is great fun.
    • Even if you don’t have a sunny backyard or patio, you may be able to grow parsley, mints, garlic/green onions, chives, or even small tomatoes this way.
    • 5 US gal (19 l) buckets can be easily converted to gardening containers by adding a layer of pebbles to the bottom and drilling 3 or 4  in (13 mm) holes on the bottom for drainage.

Making Organic Soil

  1. Make a compost pile.Compost is the main ingredient for developing rich organic soil. You can use almost any kind of organic material to make compost that will enrich your soil, but the best things to start with are usually right there in your garden:
    • Fallen leaves
    • Weeds (preferably before they go to seed)
    • Grass clippings
    • Old fruit and vegetable trimmings
    • Don't use anything containing oil, fat, meat, grease, feces, dairy, or wood chips.
  2. Test the pH of your soil.Test the pH of your soil by buying pH test strips from a garden store. Stir a handful of soil with lukewarm distilled water until it's the consistency of a milkshake, then dip the pH test strip in. Hold it there for 20-30 seconds, then compare the strip to the test kit's key.
    • The pH (acidity versus alkalinity) of your soil should be somewhere between 5.5 to 7.0 for plants to thrive.
    • If your soil is too acidic (below 5.5), buy dolomite or quick lime to add to the soil, then retest.
    • If your soil is too alkaline (above 7.0), add more organic matter, like peat moss or compost, then test the soil again.
  3. Measure your soil's drainage.Dig a hole in your garden or container 1 ft × 1 ft (0.30 m × 0.30 m) wide. Fill the hole with water and wait 24 hours. Then, fill the hole with water again and measure how fast the water drops with a tape measure. The ideal rate is 2 in (5.1 cm) per hour.
    • Adding a few cups of compost or peat moss will help soil that drains too fast and soil that drains too slow.
    • For a less scientific test, moisten your soil and grab a handful of it. The soil should hold together, but fall apart when you poke it with a finger. If your soil holds its shape or falls apart without a poke, add more organic matter (compost or peat moss) to improve its drainage.
  4. Add organic soil from your compost heap.The key to organic agriculture is great soil. Add as much organic material to your soil as you can, preferably from your compost heap. Soil that has been built up with plenty of organic matter is good for your garden for a lot of reasons:
    • It will nourish your plants without chemical fertilizers.
    • It is easier to get shovels into—and weeds out of—enriched soil that isn't packed hard.
    • It is softer, so plant roots can penetrate more easily and deeply.
    • It will help water and air spend the right amount of time in contact with roots. Clay soils can be heavy and will stay wet for a long time. Sandy soils can drain water too quickly. Compost mitigates both conditions.

Planting and Maintaining Your Garden

  1. Choose plants for your organic garden.Think about what you like to eat and how often you want to eat it. Plants like tomatoes, peppers, and squash will keep producing all year long, while vegetables like carrots and corn will only produce once. Buy seedlings from a garden store or farmer's market.
    • Be sure to buy seedlings that haven't bloomed yet, and make sure to ask if they've been treated with chemicals. To be a true organic garden, your plants should be completely free of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
  2. Plant your seedlings in full sun after the last frost.Plant seedlings into your organic, compost-rich soil and set them in areas where they'll receive full sun: at least 6 hours a day.
    • Plant thickly to prevent weed growth. Companion plantings can fill in spaces in vegetable gardens, too, and will help you make the most of a small space. Spaces that are planted thickly enough will discourage weeds from growing between plants that you want.
  3. Mulch areas around plants 2 in (5.1 cm) deep.Organic mulches, including bark, wood chips, and grass clippings, gradually break down and enrich the soil.
    • In the meantime, they control weeds, help to moderate soil temperatures, and slow evaporation, meaning that you can water less.
  4. Water your garden in the morning.Water in the morning, when the temperature is cool and there's less risk of evaporation, which will deprive your plants of water.
    • Watering in the evening isn't ideal, as it keeps your plants wet overnight and encourages mildew. It's still preferable to watering in the middle of the day, though.
  5. Weed your garden every few weeks.Regularly taking off the green portions of weeds will deprive them of the nourishment they need to continue growing. Weeds are any plant you don't want growing in an area, and may include invasive ornamental or productive plants, such as ivy and mint.
    • Use a hoe and keep it sharp. Try a Dutch hoe or scuffle hoe instead of a conventional gooseneck style hoe. Hoe each area frequently enough to keep green weeds down.
    • Hand weed to remove the roots of perennial weeds that grow back. Also hand weed carefully around established plants, to avoid uprooting the plants you want.
    • Try heat to control weeds in cracks, in the form of steam, a heat gun, boiling water, or even a small blowtorch, carefully applied.
  6. Attract helpful creatures by adding seeds, compost, or flowers.Many creatures can help your garden. Arrange the conditions of your garden to encourage them by:
    • Putting out seed for birds
    • Adding compost to your soil to attract worms
    • Planting alyssum, sunflowers, lemon balm, and parsley to invite beneficial insects

Community Q&A

  • Question
    How can I keep out weeds without pulling them all out as they come up?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    I live in Florida and have been using Red Lava Rock in any sunny space where I don't want growth. The sun heats the rocks and weeds are just a memory. They look nice, do a wonderful job, and I am not overheated trying to keep up with weed-pulling. You can buy them at gardening or hardware stores. You could also look up recipes for homemade weed killers that won't damage your garden.
  • Question
    What vegetables can I plant this time of year?
    Top Answerer
    Read the back of seed packets. They'll tell you when to plant.
  • Question
    Do I have to start with organic seeds to have organic plants?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
  • Question
    How do I make a landscape barrier to keep weeds out?
    Top Answerer
    There are many plastic or fabric ground covers available. Some people use newspaper or cardboard. A thick, organic mulch can be effective. However, wind-blown seeds can defeat almost any barrier (except a cloche).
Unanswered Questions
  • How much investment is required to start up organic farming in a garden?
  • What do I do if my organic seedlings are willowy? What is the best planting method for an organic garden?
  • Are plastic, fabric and wood containers considered organic for growing food? I am concerned that they might give off toxins. Do the wood framed boxes need bottoms to keep out toxins from the ground
  • What are some good ways to keep my soil fertile?
  • What should be the material of the container?
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What does it mean to grow vegetables organically? Scott Meyer, editor of Organic Gardening magazine shows how to plant and nurture an organic vegetable garden.

Quick Summary

If you want to start an organic garden, begin by making a compost pile. You can compost leaves, fruit and vegetable scraps, weeds, and grass clippings to make a nutrient-rich soil for your garden. Once you have enough soil, choose a site in your yard that receives full sun or plant in containers and place them in a sunny spot. Then, get organic seedlings from your local nursery and plant them after the last frost. Add about 2 inches of mulch around your plants to help prevent weeds and water in your new plants.

Did this summary help you?
  • You don't really need compost bins or tumblers; just pile up your material and wait for it to decompose. If you want to speed things up, "turn" the pile every once in a while to mix it up and incorporate air.
  • You can also add leaves and grass clippings directly to your garden as a weed-suppressing mulch, which will enrich the soil.
  • Aphids (tiny soft-bodied crawling insects that multiply in the spring and early summer) can be removed from your plants with a strong stream of water.
  • Make your planting beds small enough that you can reach the whole thing without stepping on your plants.
  • Organic gardening differs from conventional gardening because it does not rely on synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Instead, it relies on healthy soil, careful variety selection, and physical barriers (such as mulch and hand-removal of insects.)
  • If insects attack your plants, the best way to control them is to pick them off by hand. Practice crop rotation, permaculture methods and companion planting. These systems can greatly reduce pests, and in some cases render them non-existent.
  • The key to pest and weed control is to act early and often and keep them from becoming a problem.
  • You can use almost any kind of organic material to make compost that will enrich your soil, but try to avoid materials that have been treated with chemicals, like grass clippings which have been sprayed with herbicides and pesticides.
  • Try the square foot gardening method! You can grow more with less space, you don't need to worry very much about soil, and it reduces weeds.
  • Try IPM (Integrated Pest Management); it's an effective way of handling pests.


  • Don't ever use bark mulch. It might look good, but it robs nitrogen from the soil as it rots, and will keep almost anything from growing well. It also attracts termites.
  • Don't use the following for your compost pile, even if it's organic:
    • No meat, flesh, bones or fat of any kind.
    • No oil or grease.
    • Avoid large amounts of watery fruits or vegetables such as tomatoes, oranges, cucumbers, melons, prepared foods, etc. (press, drain, to dry them some if you want to use them).
    • No feces (poop) from any animal that eats meat, especially from dogs or cats (people too).
  • If your house ever had lead paint, lead might be in the soil. Lead leaches out of weathered paint for many years and remains in the soil.Neverplant fruit, veggies, herbs, or fruit-bearing trees in the soil next to your house if you know—or suspect—that it was painted with lead-based paint.

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