How To Avoid...
1. Failing to plan – Planning is crucial to the success of a your organic vegetable garden. I can't stress this enough – that's why it's at number 1!
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 dreading the watering drill!
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 mature size will be. Many established shrubs and trees are difficult to move. As trees grow taller they will create shade, so don't forget this will happen and expect your sun loving flowers to still thrive in the shade.
Trees can also become a problem if the wrong type is allowed to grow in the wrong spot. They may grow into power lines, tear up footpaths and even destroy house foundations and septic tanks. Plan carefully before going out and buying any trees.
2. Not Checking Your Soil – It's a really good idea to do a soil test to see if your soil is around the right pH. You can pick up a pH testing kit from your local nursery outlet or hardware store. They are cheap and easy to use. But 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.
You'll also benefit by understanding a little about your soil type. You may have a perfect, well-draining sandy loam. But you may have a clay soil, a non-wetting sandy soil, or something in between. Most soil problems can be overcome with the continual addition of organic material, but you need to know what you're dealing with so that any major problems are corrected before you stare at your vegetable patch scratching your head, wondering where you went wrong!
3. Not Using Mulch – Mulching 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 say 75mm (3 inches).
There are so many things you can use as mulch in your organic garden. The main thing you need to be sure of is that what you choose to use as a mulch is organic. You can get many types of straws, but always ask if it has been grown free from chemicals.
Of course you can add layers of your own home-made compost and be sure that it's organic. Compost is a great mulching material, providing all the benefits of mulch and feeding your plants at the same time.
4. Using In-organic Fertilizers – many inorganic fertilizers are heavy on salts, discourage or kill earthworms and soil micro-organisms, and only supply the major nutrients – nor do they feed the soil. These nutrients give your plants growth, but the fast, sappy growth is very attractive to pests.
Then you start wondering about pesticides (organic or other). Always remember that it is better not to have a pest problem than try to solve it. Natural predators will build up with time, but not if you blast everything with pesticides.
Inorganic fertilizers can contain heavy metals and other dangerous ingredients. Your plants will be much happier with the natural slow release of organic fertilizers and compost. These provide the major nutrients as well as trace elements in a form that your plants can use over time. By feeding your soil with compost and organic matter you will provide your plants with long term food and create a far better growing medium.
5. Overuse Of Fertilizers – More fertilizer is not better, even when it is organic, so don't be tempted. 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 your soil. This should be enough to grow most annual vegetables and flowers. If you are mulching with compost, most plants don't need much more in the way of fertilizers. It's like eating healthy food and taking vitamins... putting compost in the soil is getting the plants to eat right, while adding fertilizer is like giving them a vitamin on top of eating a well balanced meal.
You may need to use more compost along with some organic fertilizer until you create good soil though.
6. Over Watering – Over watering and under watering will both stress your plants. Too much water encourages plants to develop shallow root systems, close to the soil surface. Without deep root systems your plants may die unless they're watered daily. Encourage your plants to develop deep roots so they can take in more water by watering deeply only when the top 2cm (inch) of soil is dry.
7. Under Watering – Under watering dehydrates your plants, which also creates stress and can lead to weakened and struggling plants, leaving them susceptible to disease. Water your plants deeply once or twice a week, depending on rainfall – more often in really hot weather. Make sure the water penetrates the soil.
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.
***** These issues and many more essential to growing a successful organic garden are covered in much greater detail in my Organic Food Gardening Beginner's Manual:
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