With the high cost of organics at the supermarket, you might assume that gardening organically is expensive and difficult. The fact is that it doesn’t have to be. You can start an organic garden quite cheaply, using basic supplies and techniques as old as time. Here are seven ways to go organic in the garden without spending a fortune.
The best organic gardeners will tell you that the lion’s share of success in an organic garden comes from the soil. If your soil is nutritious, pH-balanced and full of healthy microorganisms, your plants will thrive. While there are plenty of expensive soil products, one of the cheapest is compost, which you can make yourself.
Yes, compost turners can get pricey. But you can build a compost bin for a few bucks, or start a pile in the backyard. The one problem here is that composting can take time – up to a year. At this point in the season, you may want to find a local gardening supply store to pick up some affordable compost for your beds. But go ahead and start a compost bin, so you’ll have nutrient-rich compost ready to go for next year.
2. Mulch with leftover leaves.
Mulch is important for garden health. It helps hold in moisture, reducing the amount of water your garden needs. But you don’t have to go out and spend a fortune on dyed wood mulch. In fact, that’s not the best option for your vegetable garden. Natural, repurposed mulches are much better for the garden.
One of the best options is nature’s own mulch – fallen leaves. Shred them with a mower or weed eater, and then spread the leaf pieces around your plants. Newspaper, leftover straw and even grass clippings all work nicely, too.
3. Choose the right plants.
Picking the perfect plants is essential to gardening organically. You just can’t grow plants that aren’t suited to your native climate and soil without tons of chemical support. Not sure what to plant in your area? Ask an expert at your local nursery. They’ll tell you not only what types of plants grow in your zone, but also which varieties may be most resistant to common pests and diseases in your area.
4. Practice co-planting.
Co-planting is a great practice to try when gardening vegetables organically. Basically, it’s the practice of planting veggies, herbs and fruits together in ways that benefit each other.
The traditional Three Sisters planting method is one example that involves corn, beans and winter squash. The beans use the corn’s sturdy stalks for support, while naturally fertilizing the soil. The wide leaves of the squash plants provide shade that prevents weeds around the corn’s fragile roots. It’s a tiny ecosystem in which each part benefits the whole.
5. Start from seeds.
This is a tip that comes with caution: Don’t try to start everything from seed. Raising seeds indoors or in a greenhouse can be difficult and is likely to cost you more money than it’s worth. However, depending on your local zone, many plants may grow well from seed directly sown into the ground.
Some examples of easy-sow plants include corn, beans, squash, zucchini, carrots, potatoes, radishes, spinach and other leafy greens. You can buy organic seeds for a couple bucks a packet, so there’s not much financial risk in planting a few rows of direct-seeded veggies. If they don’t sprout properly, you can always use that space later to plant starts bought from your local nursery.
6. Learn to prune.
Pruning is essential to good organic gardening, as proper pruning can ward off disease and pests. Molds and other diseases thrive in densely-packed leaves; pruning lets more air flow through the plant’s stalks and leaves, warding off disease. Plus, the right kind of pruning can encourage juicier, healthier fruit from your plants.
7. Encourage natural pest control.
One of the best ways to keep pests away from the garden is to simply attract pest eaters. Planting colorful flowers around your garden can attract pest eaters and pollinators. You can attract toads, which are great for eating slugs, to the garden with small bowls of water near toad houses. For a cheap toad house, turn a small terra cotta pot on its side, and bury it partially into the dirt.
Co-planting is another great way to control pests. Certain types of plants, particularly garlic and strong-smelling herbs, will deter certain pests. This is yet another reason to carefully choose co-plants for your garden!
Whether you decide to start small with a patio container garden or go big with a whole raised bed system, these seven tips can help you go organic without spending a fortune in the process.