Organic gardening is the practice of gardening using only fertilizers and pesticides that are plant or animal based. For example, compost, which is decayed plant matter, is added to the garden to enrich the soil and is used as a fertilizer that slowly releases nutrients into the soil. The best way to avoid using chemical pesticides on vegetable crops is to plant vegetables that are adapted to your area and plant them at the right time of the year. The main reason some vegetables are better suited for an organic garden than others is that they grow and produce vegetables quickly, so insects do not have time to damage them.
Lettuce is easy to grow and can be eaten in as little as 45 days from sprouting. Lettuce grows best when daytime temperatures stay below 75 degrees and nighttime temperatures remain at or above freezing. Several crops can be grown before the weather gets too warm in most parts of the U.S. When the weather begins to warm, lettuce will send up a flower spike through the middle of the plant to produce seed. This process is called "bolting" and makes the lettuce taste bitter. Lettuce can also be grown on a sunny windowsill. Types of lettuce that are often grown in an organic garden include oak leaf, red sails and black-seeded Simpson. Lettuce is one of the best vegetables for an organic garden because it has a short window to maturity and grows in cool weather when the insect populations are low.
Carrots are grown during the early spring or late fall in the southern U.S. and in the summer in the northern U.S. where daytime temperatures remain below 80 degrees. Although it takes up to 30 days for carrot seed to sprout, it is a dependable producer if seed is planted in soil that is loosened to a depth of two feet. Carrots can be eaten small, only 3 or 4 inches long, or mature at 6 inches or longer. Carrots are tolerant of light freezes as long as the the temperature gets above freezing during the day. Popular varieties of carrots include nantes, gold pak and little finger. Carrots have few pest problems and are a good choice for an organic garden. Some people think that carrots grown in the home garden have a sweeter taste than carrots purchased in the grocery store.
Zucchini, or summer squash, grows quickly in warm weather and cannot tolerate freezing temperatures like some cool weather vegetables. However, it is a heavy producer of a versatile vegetable that can be eaten fresh or cooked. More than one zucchini plant is needed for good cross-pollination but only about ten plants are needed to produce lots of zucchini. Popular varieties of zucchini are multipik, yellow straight neck and Dixie. Zucchini is a good choice when compared to other vegetables that can be grown organically because it is a prolific producer and is easy to grow.
Okra is a good vegetable to grow for the hottest part of the season. It takes about 60 days to produce the delicious seed pods that follow the hibiscus-like flowers. Okra is not frost tolerant, but grows well in the southern U.S. when the temperatures get so hot most other vegetable plants stop producing. There are dwarf types of okra available that are easier to pick than the older standard types that get up to 8 feet tall and may be difficult to harvest. Varieties of okra to look for are Clemson spineless, Louisiana green velvet and burgundy. Okra can only be harvested by hand, so it is handled often during the harvesting process. When you grow your own okra, you'll know exactly who touched it and what pesticides, if any, may have been used on the okra pod.