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Beginner Organic Gardeners – How To Avoid Common Mistakes1. Water – Over watering and under watering are both bad for your plants. Over watering creates plants with shallow root systems. Without deep root systems your plants will suffer (or die) if they aren’t watered daily. Encourage your plants to develop deep roots so they can take in more water.
Under watering dehydrates your plants. This creates stress and can lead to weakened and susceptible plants. Mulching can help with both of these problems. I like to mulch each spring – I use pea straw – once I have planted seedlings into my veggie plot.
Water your plants deeply about once a week, depending on rainfall – more often in really hot weather. Make sure the water penetrates to a depth of about 25mm (an inch).
2. Mulching – This is a great way to prevent soil erosion, add organic matter to the soil and reduce evaporation. However, you need to leave space around the base of each plant. Mulching right up to plant stems encourages disease and rot to set in. Leave a 50mm (2 inches) between the mulch and the stem. You don’t need to mulch any deeper than 75mm (3 inches).
3. Using inorganic fertilizers – many inorganic fertilizers are heavy on salts, discourage (or kill) earthworms and soil micro-organisms, and only provide major nutrients – nor do they feed the soil. The nutrients give your plants a quick boost, but the fast, sappy growth is very attractive to pests. You might then be tempted to use pesticides (organic or other). Remember that it is better not to have a pest problem than try to solve it.
Inorganic fertilizers can contain heavy metals and other dangerous ingredients. Your plants will be much happier with natural slow release organic fertilizers and compost. These provide the major nutrients as well as trace elements in a form that your plants can use over an extended period. By feeding your soil (with compost and organic matter) you will provide your plants with long term food and create a better growing medium.
4. Overuse of fertilizers – Don’t overdo it. More fertilizer is not better, even when it is organic. Too much can lead to excess plant growth. The magic comes from creating healthy, balanced soil.
A general rule of thumb is to add about 25mm (1inch) of compost to the soil. This should be enough to grow most annual vegetables and flowers. If you are mulching with compost, most plants will not need much more in the way of fertilizers. It's like eating right and taking vitamins... putting compost in the soil is getting the plants to eat right, adding fertilizer is like giving them a vitamin on top of eating right.
You may need to use more compost or some organic fertilizer until you create good soil. It’s a good idea to do a soil test to see if your soil is around the right pH. Without getting technical, no matter what your soil is like it will benefit greatly with the addition of organic matter. Over time you will achieve the right pH, just by continually adding compost.
5. Failing to plan – Planning is crucial to a successful organic veggie garden. You need to consider the aspect of your plot/s. North facing in the southern hemisphere, South facing in the northern hemisphere is best. If your area is windy, you’ll need to find solutions for this too.
Having water close by is just as important. As well as installing an irrigation system with a timer. It will be the difference between enjoying your garden and being a slave to it!
Knowing and catering to the needs of your family will help you decide what to plant and how many.
If you are planting trees and shrubs, check what their eventual size is going to be. Many shrubs and trees are difficult to move. Trees will grow and make shade, so don’t forget they do this and expect your sun loving flowers to still thrive in the shade. Trees can also grow into power lines, tear up footpaths and even destroy house foundations and septic tanks. Plan carefully before planting big trees.
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