Organic farming has become a runaway success, posting sales in the billions, showering eager consumers with naturally grown fruits, vegetables, and showing no signs of becoming a niche market any more.
The booming organic industry posted new records in 2015, with total organic product sales hitting a new benchmark of $43.3 billion, in the US alone.
Naturally, many people want to emulate that success in their own gardens and farms.
But what forgotten organic farming tips will work in your backyard if you pay attention to them?
Here’s the catch:
12 forgotten organic farming tips to ignore at your peril
1. Start by thoroughly preparing the Soil
The best way to gauge the quality of your soil is to get it tested.
You can get a home testing kit, or better, send a sample to your local agricultural extension office.
For a modest fee you'll get a complete breakdown of pH and nutrient levels, as well as treatment recommendations (be sure to tell them you're going organic).
That way you can tailor your gardening program.
Manure should be composted, unless you aren't going to harvest or plant anything for two months after application.
Preferably, get your manure from local livestock that have been organically and humanely raised -- and never use manure from animals that eat meat.
2. How to Make Your Own Compost
You can’t overdo compost!
All gardens benefit from compost.
If you plan on using homemade compost, which is perfectly OK to use organic compost from a store if you don't have the time or resources, make sure it's well broken-down and free of weed seeds.
Compost feeds plants, helps conserve water, cuts down on weeds, and keeps food and yard waste out of landfills (where it produces methane), instead turning garbage into "black gold."
Spread compost around plants, mix with potting soil, and use to bolster struggling plants.
According to Country Living, the best compost forms from the right ratio of nitrogen- and carbon-rich organic waste, mixed with soil, water and air.
It might sound like complicated chemistry, but don't worry too much if you don't have time to make perfect compost.
Even a minimally tended pile will still yield decent results.
1. To get started, measure out a space at least three feet square. Your compost heap can be a simple pile or contained within a custom pen or bin (some can be rotated, to improve results).
2. Add alternating layers of carbon (or brown) material -- leaves and garden trimmings -- and nitrogen (or green) material -- such as kitchen scraps and manure, with a thin layer of soil in between.
3. Top off the pile with four to six inches of soil. Turn the pile as new layers are added and water to keep (barely) moist, in order to foster microbe action. You should get good compost in as little as two months (longer if it's cold).
4. A properly maintained compost pile shouldn't smell. But if it does add more dry carbon material (leaves, straw, or sawdust) and turn it more frequently.
5. Even if you live in a city, you can do some composting under your counter with a tidy worm kit, or partner with a community garden.
3. Sterilize Your Homemade Compost by Solarisation
To ensure that you're not introducing a fungus or other disease causing agents into your garden, you'll want to sterilize the compost before you plant.
Instead of using a fungicide or a pesticide, you can buy clear plastic sheeting, roll it out to cover your compost pile, stake it down, and leave it on for a week.
It'll allow the rays of the sun to come in and trap the heat to a point that'll kill the nematodes or fungi already in there.
4. Choose suitable crops
It really pays to select plants that will thrive in your specific micro-conditions.
Choose plants that will be well adjusted to each spot, in terms of light, moisture, drainage and soil quality. Most gardens have gradations in these variables.
The happier your plants are, the more resistant they'll be to attackers.
If you're buying seedlings, look for plants raised without chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
A great place to look is at your local farmers' market, which may also have native plants and varieties well suited to your area.
It's better to buy stocky seedlings with few, if any blooms yet, and with roots that don't look overcrowded.
Alternatively, grow your fruits and vegetables from seeds.
Many crops are best grown from seed, including sunflowers, annual poppies, evening-scented stock (Matthiola bicornis), coriander, dill, annual phlox (Phlox drummondii), larkspur, annual lupine, morning glories, sweet peas, squash and cucumbers.
5. Plant Crops in Wide, Raised Beds
Plants that you will be harvesting, such as vegetables or cutting flowers, should be grouped tightly in beds that you don't walk on (raised beds work great).
Grouping reduces weeding and water waste, and helps you target compost and nutrients. Easier path maintenance helps lead to healthy soil.
Ample space between rows helps promote air circulation, which repels fungal attacks.
Remember that seedlings won't always stay diminutive, and you do want to try to limit over shadowing. It's a good idea to thin crops based on nursery suggestions.
According to Leslie Land, if you have limited space and time, and want the highest returns of fresh organic produce, these plants are typically winners:
1. Indeterminate Tomatoes. So named because the vines keep getting bigger and producing new fruit until they are felled by frost.
2. Non-Hybrid (Old-Fashioned) Pole Beans. They keep growing and producing 'til frost -- assuming you keep them picked.
3. Zucchini. Everything they say about avalanches of zucchini is true, especially of hybrid varieties.
4. Swiss Chard. You can keep breaking off outer leaves for months, and every picking will be tender as long as plants get enough water.
5. Tall Snow Peas and Sugar snaps. They grow readily and produce delicious rewards.
6. Watering your organic crops like you mean it
The best time to water plants is usually in the morning.
Mornings tend to be cool and without strong winds, so the amount of water lost to evaporation is reduced.
If you water in the evening plants stay damp overnight, making them more likely to be damaged by fungal and bacterial diseases.
Ideally, you want to water the roots, not the greenery, which is easily damaged. A drip or soak system can work great, or just carefully water the bases of plants by hand.
Alternatively, use drip irrigation system for the garden, which helps you avoid getting the leaves wet—that can lead to fungus or disease, especially if they remain damp overnight.
Most experts recommend substantial, infrequent watering for established plants, typically a total of about one inch of water per week (including rain).
One or two applications a week encourages deeper rooting, which promotes stronger plants.
To avoid shocking tender greenery, try to use water at or near air temperature. Harvested rainwater does a perfect job.
With population growth and climate change putting increasing pressure on our precious freshwater supplies, it is becoming more important than ever to save water.
7. How to get rid of weeds naturally
Weeds are practically found everywhere, since their tiny seeds are pervasive.
Pulling weeds by hand may sound like hard work -- and it can be -- but it also can be good exercise, and gets you outside in the fresh air.
You don't want to pour toxic chemicals on your food, or where your children and pets play, right?
Reduce the number of weeds you have to contend with by applying mulch (which also helps protect the soil). Organic mulch that will rot down into the soil is almost always preferable to landscape fabric, although burlap and other materials can work in a pinch.
Straw mulch is cheap but doesn't last long.
Wood chips are nice, but can get pricey.
Many people opt to use lawn clippings, although it should be noted that because they are high in nitrogen, clippings should only be used on plants that need a lot of the nutrient, such as squash and lettuce.
It’s also important to use only dry lawn or grass clippings. The reason being, fresh clippings compete for nitrogen at first with your crops.
If you get tired of weeding or aren't able to bend over, consider hiring other people to help out. It's a good way to get to know others in your community.
Remember too that raised beds can be made wheelchair accessible, and others can take advantage of wheeled stools, arthritis-friendly gardening tools and other equipment.
8. Toxic pesticides are the enemy, here’s what to do without them
If your plants are being assaulted by pests, it may be a sign of other problems, so the first thing you should do is make sure they are getting enough light, nutrients and moisture.
Also remember that a diverse garden helps prevent pests, by limiting the amount of one type of plant offered up to enemies, and boosting biodiversity.
It's a good thing to foster natural predators in your garden, such as frogs, toads, lizards, birds, and even bats.
Beneficial insects can be your best friends, especially lady birds and other predatory mite.
Most of them are available for sale.
Leave a small source of water out to attract friendly predators. It's also a good idea to grow plants with small blossoms, such as sweet alyssum and dill, which attract predatory insects.
Nets and row covers can also work.
It may sound surprising, but homeowners use more pesticides on their lawns and gardens than farmers do, acre for acre, according to EPA data.
But there are organic alternatives that are much safer for you and our environment. Find out what problem you have (an agricultural extension service can help), then look for alternatives.
Organic weapons include Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring bacteria that disrupts the digestion of caterpillars and other leaf-eaters.
You can also use horticultural oils for example neem oil, insecticidal soaps and garlic and/or hot pepper sprays.
The neem oil is perfect for controlling mites and aphids but safe and friendly to pollinators.
For really big pests, like deer, you're going to have to put up a fence. All the mentioned remedies might not be 100% effective, but are good enough.
9. Use non-chemical fertilizer alternatives
The seaweed and fish emulsion are both excellent organic fertilizers, but if you've done your groundwork and laid down a good layer of compost, you probably won't need to worry about fertilizer too much.
One homemade fertilizer that's popular is a compost tea.
Take some compost, soak it in water for a period, and use just the resultant liquid to fertilize your plants.
10. Practice Crop Rotation
Don't be disappointed when you can't grow your own organic crops in the middle of a given season. Every vegetable and fruit has its natural time in the cycle of the year.
Work with that cycle, not against it:
When one crop's done, rotate in something else.
For example, you can grow clover as a cover crop and let it sit there—it's a nice one for when you need to turn your beds over. Clover's also a legume, and will reintroduce nitrogen into the soil.
Field peas can be a fun cover crop too, because you can eat the pea shoots
11. How to avoid unnecessary waste while harvesting
Don't forget to harvest the fruits of your labor! Fresh organic produce also makes great gifts, educating your friends, neighbors and coworkers.
Generally, the more you harvest, the more your plants will produce for you.
During peak harvest season, you'll likely find that it's best to check your garden every day.
If you use them fresh pick them right before you need them. But if you'll be drying and storing them, it's best to wait until just before they flower, since they'll have the most flavor.
Gather all herbs except basil in mid-morning, shortly after dew has dried.
Harvest basil in the late afternoon, since it will last longer after some time in the sun. It's best not to wash herbs before you dry or use them, since that can leach flavor (extra incentive for growing organic!).
When harvesting leafy greens pick sporadically from the entire crop, a little from each plant.
For broccoli, wait until the central head is as large as it will get, before sending off buds for flowering. Cut it off right above the leaf node, and you'll likely get better production from the rest of the plant.
In general, it's best to cut produce off with a sharp knife or scissors, versus ripping with your fingers, which can cause more damage to plant tissue.
It creates unnecessary wounds that might serve as pathways for diseases.
If you get too much bounty, remember you can also freeze or sell the extra!
12. How to clean up after the season
If you have sick plants to remove, either during the season or at the end of the year, make sure you pull up the entire organism.
Don't forget to rake up underneath, since diseased leaves can harbor problems for a long time.
Put all infected material deep in the woods, in the ground at least a foot deep, or on the bonfire.
Most healthy or expired plants can actually be left in place when the season is over. You'll provide some food and habitat for birds and other wildlife, and plant cover can help protect your soil from eroding.
It's better to chop off annuals then yank them out, because that way you'll leave soil intact, and help prevent weeds from gaining a foothold.
You’ve just read about 12 organic farming tips that can help you to transform your organic garden or farm into a spectacular real estate.
And that’s not all:
By following these simple effective tips, you help fight the effects of global warming, you also help in protecting the environment while conserving biodiversity.
In summary, organic farming is not just a system to growing nutrient dense crops for your family but a way to revitalize the forgotten food growing techniques that are offers awesome market opportunities.