Organic gardening is all about proper soil management. Here I will go over three major considerations to preparing a successful garden bed: nutrition, pH, and water drainage/retention. If you don't know what kind of soil you are starting with, you will not know what to add. For this reason, you should always start organic garden bed preparations with a simple soil test.
If you follow my suggestions, you will be adding plenty of good nutrients to your garden soil. The addition of organic material to a sandy soil will increase water retention, while in a clay soil it will increase drainage. The main concern, therefore, is the pH of your existing soil.
Different nutrients are available (or not) at different pH levels. Check out the chart here to get a better idea of nutrient availability at different pH levels. Certain plants do very well at low pH levels, while other plants do very well at high pH levels. The pH range they have in common with most garden crops is 6.2 to 6.5.
If your pH level is too low and needs to be brought up, use hydrated lime or clean wood ash (no burned paper, cardboard, or plastic). If your pH is too high and needs to come down, there are a number of different sulfur compounds you can use to acidify the soil. Always follow the directions on the package carefully and retest the soil in 2 to 3 weeks.
Certain crops do much better in a raised bed, not only because they
drain better but also because the soil in a raised bed stays warmer.
These crops include garlic, potatoes, onions, carrots, sweet potatoes,
melons, and parsnips. Crops like garlic, potatoes, and carrots are often
grown in mounded rows for this reason.
If you decide not to make a raised bed, and you do not want to form mounded rows, then you should make sure the soil for these crops is tilled deeply and drains well. Underground crops (garlic, potatoes, carrots, beets) may rot in soil that stays too wet.
Nutritional requirements vary widely from plant to plant. To make the preparation of your organic garden bed as easy as possible, start with additions that will benefit the whole garden. Next, I will discuss two additions that will benefit large sections of the garden. Finally, you will add different amounts of a complete fertilizer to specific areas of your garden depending on what each crop prefers.
Once pH adjusted, the entire garden will benefit from the addition of compost (the more the better). Tilling a layer of loose straw, hay, or clover into the soil could also benefit the whole garden.
Aged manure is different from compost in that it contains lots of
Nitrogen. Add manure to the section of your organic garden containing
corn, peppers, eggplant, garlic, beets, and herbs (sage, rosemary,
thyme, cilantro, basil, etc).
Manure can adversely affect parts of the garden, causing the growth of too much leaf and not enough vegetable. Do not add manure to the section of the garden containing carrots, brussel sprouts, pole beans, bush beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, or parsnips.
Bone meal should be added to the section of your garden where you will be growing potatoes and/or sweet potatoes. The addition of 3 to 7 pounds per 100 square feet will ensure a bountiful potato harvest. Tomato plants will also benefit from a small handful of bone meal in the soil beneath each plant as you transplant them.
The last step in the preparation of your organic garden bed involves the addition of a complete fertilizer in amounts specific to each crop. Please visit my page on crop by crop bed preparation for this information. In addition, some crops like to be "top dressed" with fertilizer or bone meal. This information can also be found in the same section.
About the same time you are preparing your garden bed soil, you should also be starting your seedlings and getting ready for transplanting.
I suppose when you take into consideration how much money you save NOT
having to buy food at the grocery store, it is surely cheaper to grow
your own food hydroponically even with the cost of high quality
nutrients. Nevertheless, I didn't have a whole lot of money to work with
and I needed to make my efforts as affordable and effective as
possible....and in the last 24 years I HAVE learned a thing or two!
As you browse through Jason's Indoor Guide, you will notice all of the systems that I use personally are homemade systems. As I got 3 or 4 years of experience under my belt, I quickly adopted a preference to standing water systems and systems that use expanded clay pellets or lava rock, because the media is re-usable and it eliminates a huge operating expense. So once a hydroponic system is built, garden maintenance is minimal- check and adjust the nutrient solution daily, and to change it completely every 2 weeks....and the biggest operating cost is the hydroponic nutrients. (and the electric bill, lol)...
And, regarding the cost of the nutrients....I experimented for about 3 years with making different compost teas and nutrient teas, but there is still a lot of expense $$$ associated with making high quality nutrient teas....like kelp meal, liquid seaweed, rock dust, bat guano, un-Sulfured molasses, worm castings. You can eliminate a lot of this expense by becoming an expert at making high-quality colloidal humus compost, and use your properly made compost as the basis of your hydroponic nutrient solution.
Unfortunately, I have been gardening for over 24 years and I have only
just recently mastered this difficult skill....and even then, only
because I happened to find a very easy to follow, high quality technique
and decided to follow the instructions to the letter. I produced more
high quality compost in just one week than I was able to use in a whole
year! If you can master the technique, I highly recommend it. It is one of the top 3 things you can do to
increase the productivity of your food production efforts, while at the
same time decreasing the amount of effort required to grow all of your
own food, and decreasing the total cost of operating your food
And when I say decrease operating costs, I mean decrease them to almost ZERO, especially if you are producing your own nutrients...
The ultimate solution to eliminate the cost of your hydroponic nutrients: Imagine a hydroponic system that does not require you to buy any nutrients, does not require you to make your own compost, and does not require you to brew your own nutrient tea. Seriously! No cost and no effort as far as providing nutrients to your plants! Plus, at the end of the gardening cycle you harvest all of your garden vegetables, PLUS YOU HARVEST FISH from the system--->
This solution is aquaponics. If you are serious about producing all of your own food and being self-sufficient, this is the ultimate solution for reducing expenses (as much as possible), reducing the total amount of work required, and maximizing the productivity of your gardening efforts. I have been gardening for over 24 years, and it is the perfect food production solution in my opinion.
Besides mastering how to make high quality compost, learning aquaponics is one of the top 3 things you can do to increase your garden productivity, reduce your total costs, and reduce your total work. The product that I learned from is called Aquaponics4you. With all of my hydroponic gardening experience, the first time I came across the Aquaponics4you product I knew immediately that it was something very special! Place an aquaponics system outdoors and use the sun instead of grow lights, and you have reduced every garden expense to nearly ZERO!
The Same System/ 10 Weeks Later!