5 steps to starting and maintaining an organic garden


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What would encourage you to make your garden organic? For Howard Garrett, it was his little daughter.

“She was with me outside on the porch, picking things up and putting them in her mouth,” he says. “I didn’t want to use anything toxic around my little girl. At that point, I had no earthly idea of ​​what organic gardening even was.”

Garrett, 74, is a Dallas-based gardener, author, and YouTuber known as the Dirt Doctor (or just “dirt” to his golfing friends). Since the episode with his daughter 35 years ago, he has made a career of convincing people that organic farming is safer, easier and cheaper than using chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

For example, when gardeners focus on keeping the soil healthy and rich in organic matter, it retains more water, says Garrett. “Just the irrigation alone, if you go the natural, organic route like we recommend and teach people, you’ll save between 40 and 50 percent on your water bill.”

If that’s not enough inspiration, consider Theresa Martz. By focusing on soil and mulch, Martz, who describes herself as “almost 80,” spends just 10 minutes a day weeding her flowers and the 2,500-square-foot vegetable garden she’s tended in Northern Virginia for decades. Martz blogs about organic gardening at TendingMyGarden.com and author of OOrganic Gardening: Through the hype on the 3 keys to successful gardening. She is confused as to why no one would garden organically.

“I don’t use all that chemical stuff,” she says, instead enriching her soil with leaves, pine, straw, plant debris, and other organic matter. “It’s so easy when you follow nature’s path.”

If you’re considering making the switch from conventional to organic, it can help to have patience, says Mark Highland, founder of Modena, Pa.’s Organic Mechanics Soil Co. and instructor at the Mt. Cuba Center, a botanical garden near Wilmington , Delaware.

Don’t expect a beautiful organic garden the first year — there will be a transition period, Highland says. “I think people put too much pressure on themselves to be perfect,” he says. “No garden is ever perfect.”

But making the switch to organic gardening might also be easier than you think. “I bet a lot [people] are more organic than they think,” says Highland, but notes that “in a world of choices, it can seem overwhelming.”

To make it less overwhelming, consider this basic five-step approach.


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