Acting Head, Amity Institute of Organic Agriculture, Amity University Uttar Pradesh
Organic agriculture is a system of farm design and management that creates an ecosystem which can achieve sustainable productivity without the use of artificial external inputs such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
The organic approach to growing plants recognizes that all living things depend on one another. We are all responsible for how we treat the soil and the environment, to safeguard it for future generations.
Organic gardening means you won’t be using synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, but that doesn’t mean your plants are left to fend for themselves.
There are number of tools/approaches that you can use to keep plant health and ward off pests. Organic gardening also isn’t just about what you don’t do, it’s about trying to foster a more holistic, natural ecosystem.
A more suitable definition of organic agriculture is provided by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) in 1995 — the federal advisory panel created to advise the USDA on developing organic legislation as “an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.”
The secret of organic gardening lies in treating the entire system in which plant grows starting from selection of good seed/planting material, preparation of soil, feeding the plant and protecting it by all local but organic means available.
The steps for organic gardening are covered as under:
Selection of seed/planting material
Preparing the Soil
Making a Good Compost
Protecting the plants
Selection of seed/planting material
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 suitable location gives plants an edge to be healthy. The healthier your plants are, the more resistant they’ll be to attackers.for example if the area is shady use shade loving plants otherwise it will adversely affect their growth. (Fig 1.)
If you’re buying seedlings, look for plants raised without chemical fertilizers and pesticides. A great place to look is at your local 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.
Many things are best grown from seed, including sunflowers, annual poppies, coriander, annual phlox, larkspur, morning glories, sweet peas, squash, cucumbers etc.
Preparing the Soil
In order to get the best results with your new organic garden, you’ll want to make sure the soil is properly conditioned. Good healthy soil helps build up strong, productive plants. Chemical soil treatments can not only seep into your food, but they can also harm the beneficial bacteria, worms and other microbes in the soil.
Use compost to enrich the potting soil from a previous season and keep your container plants sitting pretty. If the past year’s mix doesn’t look too tired, mix it with an equal amount of compost before putting it into your pots.
If more thorough rejuvenation seems in order, start by leaching the old potting mixture to remove excess salts that tend to build up in containers. For leaching, put the used soil into a bucket with several small holes in the bottom and fill the bucket with water. Let the water drain out and then repeat this process. After the water has drained away a second time, spread the soil on a tarp in the sun to dry.
Add manure and it should be composted.
Making a Good Compost
Compost feeds plants, helps conserve water, cuts down on weeds, and keeps garbage away from your garden by turning it into a useful plant food.
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 container or bin.
2. Add alternating layers of manure — leaves and garden wastes — and nitrogen 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. It may take more time in winters.
Weeding and mulching: Manually weeding the unwanted small plants is an essential inter-culture operation to ward off your plants from competitors for light and nutrition. The number of weeds can also be reduced by applying mulch (which also helps protect the soil and conserve water).
Mulch is a layer of material applied to the surface of an area of soil. Its helps in conserving moisture, improving the fertility and health of the soil, reducing weed growth and also help to enhance the visual appeal of the area.
Mulch is usually but not exclusively organic in nature. It may be permanent (e.g. bark chips) or temporary (e.g. plastic sheeting). It may be applied to bare soil, or around existing plants. Mulches of manure or compost will be incorporated naturally into the soil by the activity of worms and other organisms.
Straw is cheap but doesn’t last long. Wood chips are nice, but can get pricey and can also invite termites if not properly managed. 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 cucurbits.
Hoeing: Use hand hoes to aerate the plants regularly.
When watering the garden, the ground should be moist but not soaked. Overwatering the plants can lead to growth of mold within the bed. Having little to no water can also negatively affect the flowers in the garden since they will have nothing to thrive off of. It is recommended to water them thoroughly in the morning and not throughout the day.
Protecting the Plants
While good sanitation practices ensure that your plants are safe from pests. Still if find 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.
Use organic alternatives rather than applying toxic pesticides. Beneficial insects can be your best friends, especially lady bugs. Leave a small source of water out to attract friendly predators.
You can also use horticultural oils, insecticidal soaps and garlic and/or hot pepper sprays.
As it is known that prevention is better than cure! So, if you have sick plants, make sure you pull up the entire plant. Don’t forget to hoe up underneath, since diseased leaves can harbor problems for a long time.
There are numerous benefits to planting your own organic garden at home. It enables you to eat the freshest fruits, herbs and vegetable and save environment from harmful pesticides.
A lot of gardeners are afraid of trying this method because they do not want to risk an infestation of insects or having smaller blooms as a result of not adding chemicals. However, with the right information, the gardener can still have full blooms in the gardening season and no insects whilst having a chemical-free organic garden. Organic gardening is becoming increasingly popular because it will give you something that is more natural and costs less money to maintain.