How to Prepare an Organic Vegetable Garden


People grew organic food for thousands of years--then got "advanced" and started pouring pesticides and chemicals on crops. Simply speaking, an organic vegetable garden is one in which synthetic, manufactured pesticides and fertilizers are never used. The old methods are making a comeback: It all boils down to old-fashioned good sense as opposed to high-tech expertise.

  • Select a sunny location with well-drained soil. Prepare planting beds first by measuring out a size and length that are convenient. Beds that are about 30 inches (76 cm) wide allow for reaching the middle from either side. Plan lengths to suit the space.

  • Stake out a planting bed or build a frame that is 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm) high to contain and protect the bed soil. This improves drainage and raises the garden's working level.

  • Mix compost into the planting bed about three weeks prior to planting. Compost can come from animal manures or plant material and may be homemade or commercially prepared.

  • Choose varieties of vegetables that are well adapted to your region and known to be disease and pest resistant. Check with your local cooperative extension service for recommendations, and use seed catalogs to identify varieties that are bred to be pest or disease free.

  • Start planting peas, spinach and broccoli once soils are thawed in the spring (or in the fall where winters are mild). These vegetables thrive in cool soils and air and can even survive light frosts. Tomatoes, peppers, corn and squash need heat and do not tolerate frost. Plant them only after soils are thoroughly warm and danger of frost has passed.

  • Encourage beneficial insects such as ladybugs, lacewing flies and hover flies by not spraying broad-spectrum pesticides, by planting the plants that nourish them (such as dill and zinnia) and by releasing purchased insects into your yard. Likewise, provide habitats for toads, birds and bats to live.

  • Water and mulch as needed. Healthy, vigorous plants are somewhat less attractive to some pests, and if attacked are better able to outgrow any damage that they may have suffered.

  • Prevent pests by removing weeds, which often sustain them. Rotate crops every year to avoid pest buildup, and cover susceptible crops with lightweight fabric row covers to exclude pests. Research the crops you're planting so that you can identify their common pests, then strategize how to outmaneuver them. Searching a variety of garden Web sites under "integrated pest management" will provide lots of materials to look over.

Tips & Warnings

  • Learn about the USDA's National Organic Standards at See for information about the Organic Crop Improvement Association.
  • Time planting to avoid pests. Plant corn early to avoid corn-ear worm; plant broccoli late to avoid cabbage worm.
  • Use protective devices, such row covers, cold frames and hot caps, to start your vegetables earlier in the season and extend your harvest beyond the first frost.
  • Avoid choosing shaded, poorly drained, low or soggy spots for your garden. Depending on where you live, you may also need to fence off marauding animals.
  • Take action against pests when you find them. Handpicking is an excellent method, or use certified organic control measures starting with insecticidal soap. Light oils and neem-- an insecticide derived from the neem tree (check out among the many options available.

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