Organic gardening is gardening without using synthetic fertilizers. The base for successful organic gardening is a healthy soil, meaning one that allows for good air circulation, retains moisture and has nutrients that feed the plant as it grows. The principles of organic gardening aim to copy what nature does as closely as possible. Start first by building good soil before planting vegetables. You can do this by feeding the soil with compost, animal manures, leaves or other organic matter that will add natural nutrients.
Till the garden area with a tiller, and remove large rocks and stumps.
Test the soil's pH level using a soil testing kit. Most vegetables grow well in soils with a pH range of 6.0 to 6.9. Levels below that mean your soil is too acidic. Higher levels mean your soil is too alkaline. Add a 1-inch layer of lime to your soil if levels are low. Add a 1-inch layer of sulfur if pH levels are high.
To maintain pH levels after planting, add earthworms to your garden. As earthworms feed off organic matter, they produce waste with a nearly neutral pH, which helps stabilize the pH of your garden soil.
Mix manure or other organic matter into the soil. Organic gardening principles emphasize considering the ecological production of food and promoting the natural biological cycles within farming systems. Using your leaf pile, compost that you have created in your own compost pile or animal manure maintains ecological balance, promotes long-term soil fertility and minimizes pollution. Spread a 2-inch layer of the organic matter on your garden soil and rake it to it turn into the soil.
Creating an organic garden
Sow onion seedlings, beets and early lettuce in mid-spring, about four weeks before the last frost. Plant the lettuce in a separate bed along with herbs such as dill, cilantro and chard. Water well (about 15 minutes if hand-watering.) If you're not sure if you've watered enough, stick you finger into the soil about 1 inch. If it feels moist, your plants have enough water.
Plant potatoes in another bed, along with snow peas. Plant potatoes 2 inches deep and 12 inches apart to allow for growth.
Set pots of perennial herbs like oregano, rosemary and basil outside in mid-spring.
Thin seedlings about three weeks after planting, and mulch to naturally deter weed growth.
Plant tomatoes, carrots, turnips, peppers, beans, and squash in late spring (April or May). Also sow melon, pumpkin and corn seeds.
Add naturally beneficial plants and attract beneficial animals to your organic garden.
Repel pests by planting marigolds and basil among your vegetables. Attract beneficial insects by planting flowers such as broccoli, calendula, parsley flowers, nasturtiums and sunflowers.
Create a pond or fill a shallow container with water and place a chipped, clay flowerpot upside down in a shady spot to offer shelter and attract toads, box turtles and frogs, which eat pests. Don't kill beneficial snakes; most are nonpoisonous. Snakes are good for organic gardens because they eat slugs and snails that can harm your plants.
Fertilize regularly with organic compost teas. To make compost tea, place two shovelfuls of compost into a burlap bag, and tie it closes. Place the bag in a 5-gallon bucket and let it steep for about a week. Remove the burlap bag, and add water to the mixture in the bucket until it resembles a weak tea. Use a water can to pour the tea directly onto the roots of plants in garden beds.
Rotate your garden crops from year to year to cut down on diseases, pests and soil depletion. Don't plant the same crops in the same bed next year. Planting the same crop over and over again in the same soil creates a buildup of pests and disease, and a leaching of nutrients. Rotating crops, a principle in organic gardening, allows the soil to gain nutrients as different crops deplete or restore different nutrients in the soil.
Plant cover crops such as legumes and winter annual crops. According to organic gardening experts at the University of Missouri Extension, cover crops add organic matter to your garden soil and help the soil maintain its quality and fertility. Plant the crops in the fall and turn them into the soil in early spring, adding organic matter to soil. Check your local garden center for winter crops that will work in your garden soil and climate zone.