There are official standards set by National Organic Program that home gardeners can follow, but Suzanne DeJohn, a horticulturist and co-author of Organic Gardening for Dummies
, says those are detailed in a 500-page document.
"The standards can be a little overwhelming and can be confusing for home gardeners. I think it's more important to follow the general principles of organic gardening," she says.
Here are Suzanne and Barbara's easy-to-follow, organic gardening principles:
- Build good soil. Your soil should be built up with organic matter such as rotten manure, chopped leaves, compost and organic mulch.
- Buy certified organic or healthy, untreated seeds and transplants. All certified organic garden seeds are labeled with a stamp that reads "USDA Organic." These seeds can be found in garden centers nationwide. You can buy organic transplants from a certified organic nursery. If there is no such nursery in your area, buy untreated transplants from a local nursery with a good reputation and make sure the plants have been well watered and taken care of.
- Plant a border of flowers. Planting daisies, zinnias and marigolds around your vegetable garden will help attract bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects to your plants.
- Plant a diverse mix of vegetables, fruit and flowers. Try growing a diverse garden; you'll encourage a variety of animals and insects, so you can use nature's system of checks and balances to help manage pests.
- Use floating row covers. These covers, made of a light-weight woven material, can be fitted over your rows of plants to keep pests out. You can keep row covers over crops like lettuce all season long. For other plants, such as zucchini, squash and melon, the row cover should come off when the plants start to get large.
- Keep your garden mulched. Using organic mulch on your garden keeps weeds down and soil moist.
- Learn to recognize pest problems. Ninety percent of insects in your garden are either benign or beneficial, Barbara says. You need to be able to identify the damaging ones, such as spider mites, aphids, Japanese beetles, green caterpillars, slugs and flea beetles.
- Fight diseases with vigilance. Diseases can often be avoided if caught early. If you notice some leaves of a plant that look diseased, you should prune the leaf and remove it from the garden. Only prune diseased leaves when the plants are dry. When plants are wet, you can spread disease spores to the rest of the garden. If pruning leaves does not solve the problem, you should probably remove the diseased plant from your garden.
- Don't neglect it. Walk though your garden every day or every other day and inspect your plants to see if they need to be watered or are being harmed by pests or diseases.
- Say no to synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. If you use these chemical-laden products on your garden, it is no longer organic.