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Blog: Planting an Organic Vegetable Garden

April 1, 2010

Transplanting seedlings.

Credit: Catherine Boeckmann
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I'm planting a small organic vegetable garden this year. My goals: enjoy healthier and better-tasting veggies, show my young child where food comes from, and save money!

I just took a class at a local organic farm. Here are the basics of what I learned. Perhaps you'll find these pointers helpful!

Overall

  • Pay closer attention to the soil (versus the plant). If you prepare the soil with "organic matter" such as compost and manure, your soil will feed the plants the nutrients they need.
  • Control pests and diseases without chemicals by giving your plants a heartier start, mulching, and allowing "beneficial" insects to control harmful bugs. If needed, there are organic pesticides that are less toxic to wildlife and humans than synthetics.

Starting SeedsSeed-starting container

  • Plant the seeds in flats or shoebox-size containers, not into individual cell packs. This way, you don't have empty cells if some don't germinate.
  • Look for a seed-starting mix approved for organic use (processed according to the rules of the National Organic Program). Use soilless peat moss and mix in equal parts vermiculite and perlite. I found a starter that's premixed.
  • Always put in a third more seeds than you need, as germination is never 100 percent.

See the Almanac's Best Planting Dates for Seeds chart to know when to get started, indoors and out.

Transplanting Seedlings

  • For transplanting, use a potting mix with plenty of compost so the plants have plenty of nutrition when they grow.
  • Transplant into cell packs (or the ground) as soon as there are two true leaves. This is the second set of leaves (not the little cotlydons or seed-leaves).
  • When you transplant, hold the base of the leaves, not the stem. The stem is the stomach of the plant. If it breaks, throw it out, as it won't grow.
  • If you transplant into cell packs, turn the packs each day if the sun is coming from one direction. Gently brush over plants with a stick to get strong stems.
  • After 4 weeks, top with a mix of compost and "Pro-Grow" (found in many garden stores), an organic waste product that supplements the nutrient needs of plants. After 4 weeks, the plants have used up what was in the potting mix.
  • As you keep the soil watered, remember that the goal is to keep it as "damp as a wrung-out sponge."

When you're ready to plant in the ground, be sure that your soil is ready. Before adding compost and organic matter, get a soil test—for a small fee—through your local extension service. Then, you'll know what your soil needs to be productive.

Hope you found these pointers helpful. To read more, see our article on A Beginner's Garden, which recommends plot size and which veggies to grow.

Have you thought about starting an organic vegetable garden? Submit your comments below!

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Amy, our Associate Editor, joined the The Old Farmer's Almanac in 2009. Amy loves to travel and explore new places (and recipes) around the globe. She enjoys cooking for family and friends, country music concerts, and relaxing in the great outdoors.

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By Almanac Staff

READER COMMENTS: Comment from Lina Offenbacher on April 11, 2009
Thank you for this advice,I found it helpful...
 
Comment from ann hicks on April 13, 2009
I'm starting my own organic garden this year. Instead of using pesticides, etc., I hope to use natural ingredients and fertilizers. What are some easy, never-fail vegetables? I live in Indiana and the soil is heavy with a low ph.
 
Comment from joyce smith on April 14, 2009
What plants are recommended for Washington State (West side) where there is not a lot of sunshine? Tomatoes seem to have a hard time ripening.
 
Comment from judy ronk on April 14, 2009
Seed catalogs advertise a red vinyl product to place under tomato plants to aid and maybe hasten ripening. I've honestly not used it. Here in Iowa tomatos don't need that kind of help. Maybe this is what you're looking for?
 
Comment from Linda Boorman on April 14, 2009
when is the best time to plant tomatoes, peppers in JC MO? What can you do to keep the rabbits out of your garden?
 
Comment from fredrika bolling on April 14, 2009
we have had a mostly organic gorden for years and it gets easier and easier..we plant inside in Feb,and put cukes and corn and radish,carrots, beets directly into soil later..collards are also easy. Parsnips and salsify wont grow in hot middle Ga. Pumpkin does grow if I put paper under them so they dont rot [if I find them before they get nig. I cant grow zucchini but have got moschatas and prefer calabaza but it must be covered around 4 every afternoon or it wont pollinate..I just grow 3 plants and they are vines and there will be some fruit there before I can find it. They hide under big leaves. I also compost cut grass, food scraps [not meat] and it has been fun...used to can 22 quarts tomatoes every year..and some green beans. which are easy to grow. we add a little bone meal and lime some years, and use miracle gro when plants are small. squashes do best of if planted in half rotten compost or pumpkin..craqy but true. An old farmer in Germany told my daughter one year and it happened by accident here, as I didnt always cover my food scraps in the compost.
 
Comment from Holly Bee on April 14, 2009
Great article! I will be doing things differently then I have previous summers with my vegetable garden.
Thanks for the great advice.
 
Comment from Catherine Boeckmann on April 14, 2009
I'm so happy you all found these pointers helpful! Joyce, I would recommend calling Don Tapio of the Pacific cooperative extension: 360-482-2934 (or see our main gardening page for cooperative extension links). I know that last summer was a tough season in your area due to lack of light. Linda, for planting dates, see our main gardening page--we have frost dates, planting dates, and growing guides--and customize much of it to your area. For rabbits: suspicious-smelling substances can keep them out. 1. Sprinkle dried blood meal on the soil surface around all of your plants as early in the season as you can, and repeat after a heavy rain. 2. Deodorant soap shavings placed in cloth bags around the garden will also help to keep rabbits away. We'll put this tip in next Tuesday's newsletter!
 
Comment from Janice Stillman on April 14, 2009
Ann, re "easy, never-fail vegetables," amend your heavy soil and fix the pH and most plants will thrive. For specifics, go to Almanac.com/garden and click on the pH chart and the manure chart for advice on this. (Of course, you will need to weed and water in a timely fashion to ensure success, too.) Joyce, tomatoes need sunlight. Period. If there is not a lot, as you suggest, grow your tomatoes in a pot and put the pot in a wagon and wheel the wagon, with the pot in it, into the light as needed to get about 8 hours per day. If the tomatoes still do not turn from green to red at end of season, pick them green and wrap them individually in newspaper and store them in a cool, dark place. Check them occasionally and consume when ready. Or allow them to ripen on a window sill. Or make green tomato sauce/relish. (This assumes, of course, that the tomatoes you grow are supposed to turn red; some "exotic" heirlooms turn black/purple/striped.) Linda, to be safe, plant your tomatoes and peppers after the last frost. Try planting marigolds on the edge of your garden to keep rabbits out. Or get a dog. You all can find a lot more tips and advice on growing edibles on this Web site and in the 2009 All-Seasons Garden Guide. We developed the vegetable section with beginning gardeners in mind, but there is oh so much more! It is available where garden supplies are sold and at shop.Almanac.com. I hope that you all have bountiful harvests, but no matter how your garden grows, remember to have FUN!
 
Comment from Greg Cody on April 14, 2009
How much compost can you add to soil? I have built some raised beds about 9 inches tall and would like to go the extra mile to ensure the beds have great soil. Are there any tips I can use to prepare the soil properly?
 
Comment from Catherine Boeckmann on April 15, 2009
Hi, Greg, The rule of thumb is that the best mix of compost and soil is 1:2 or 1:3. 2-3 inches on top or tilled/forked in should do the trick. Here are articles on soil prep and planting: http://www.almanac.com/garden/starting-garden/soil-test http://www.almanac.com/garden/starting-garden/soil-amendments http://www.almanac.com/garden/starting-garden/planting-tools Hope this helps!
 
Comment from Bill Stewart on April 17, 2009
What if your seeds have sprouted and the roots are going through the holes in the planter? How do I get them out? I have the hot house planting system also. The plants are getting really big . Do I leave them in the dome covers and keep the heating pads on them? Have 100 questions but will try to save you the rest until I know these answers. If I am posting in the wrong place please don't yell at me.
 
Comment from Mary Lyons on May 1, 2009
I'm trying organic gardening... small plots in our backyard, for the first time. We live in IL. I've already have spinach, snow peas, cucumbers, and broccoli in the ground. It's been years since I've gardened at all. I'm getting concerned about how to keep rabbits from eating my baby plants! Besides fencing, are there other means that are in keeping with organic gardening that are effective? We'd like to reap some of the fruits of our labors. Thanks for the great article. I found it very helpful!
 
Comment from Teresa Scanlan on May 5, 2009
Last year I try to grow organic vegetables. My tomatoes did not do so great, squash and oregano, and peppers did great.
thanks for all your tips, great job
 
Comment from Leigh Wilmot on May 22, 2009
Why can't I use dog dung in my compost ???
 
Comment from Judy Garvin on June 10, 2009
I'm growing rhubarb for the first time. Help me. Can you harvest it all spring and summer? Do you cut it to the ground when you are done harvesting it? Some plants are much larger than others. Is there such a thing as mini rhubarb? Some plants came up, look healthy but are very small while others are quite large with more foliage than stalks; they look more like a bush. These larger ones grew flowers right away. What am I doing wrong or not doing right?
Comment from Janice Stillman on June 10, 2009
Judy, Rhubarb thrives in a lot of organic material, such as compost and aged manure. It also needs full sun and a reasonable amount of water. I once tried to grow it without the above, simply because I did not know any better, and it barely pushed through the ground. Re harvest, it is gives a spring harvest in cold climates. You can cut it or let it go to seed, sending up tall shoots with tiny flowers. (A neighbor does that annually, with no harm to the plant or its production.) To delay its going to seed, try cutting some stalks. I think a mini rhubarb is likely to be merely immature or not thriving. Remember, of course, not to eat the leaves! The pink/red stalks are the edible portion.
 
Comment from Sharon Wittenburg on June 16, 2009
My first garden seems to be hit and miss! The soil is very rocky. I pulled out as many large rocks as I could, but one bed is creek gravel that was hauled in to fill a hole. I bought organic compost and humus from the local garden center and tilled into the soil. My tomatoes are doing ok and my carrots look good. Only about 3-4 pea plants and 3 bean plants and 1 eggplant came up. I have 3 cucumbers growing so far. I guess if these survive my first gardening attempt I will be grateful!
 
Comment from Ron Mitchell on June 23, 2009
I had the same problem. if the soil is too rocky you might consider container planting,that fixed my problem,now I need to know how to can in jars all the tomatoes that was the result. does anyony one know how to can tomatoes propely? I don't want to tomane poison.
 
Comment from Ron Mitchell on June 23, 2009
one more thing,honey bees seem to be getting scarce,so I'm putting in some bee hives before next season. That is the advise of the Clemson farm ext.
 
Comment from Bev Hussey on August 11, 2009
I just have a question, something; I think is a white mothe maybe is ruining my brussel sprouts, they are consuming the leaves and the sprouts. Please! what can I do? I am making a wild stab at organic gardening for the first time. Also my yellow crook neck squash seem to need to be pulled when they are still very small, otherwise they begin to rot on the blossom end. I am having real good luck with kale,,ice burg radishes were good size and delicious,potatoes are good,and my swiss chard grows good. My 2 sons built me a raised garden so I do not have to stoop as I do have back problems and I love it. Thanks for any advise. Bev

 

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