Torbay Organic Gardening Society

Getting Started

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Getting started with organic vegetable gardening:

Step 1. Raised beds. The first step is to create modern easy-care raised beds in which to grow the vegetables. Gone are the day of double digging of hard soil compacted by boots tramping up and down rows of crops! The beds should be no more that 4ft (1.2m) wide, so that you can reach the middle easily. Once you have dug over the veg patch to create raised beds with narrow paths between, you will never have to dig again, only fork over the beds, do a little light weeding to replenish your compost bin, and add fresh layers of manure or compost each year.


Step 2. Paths. The paths between the beds should be at least 18ins (45cm)wide, for wheelbarrowing, sweeping and raking. We recommend laying organic straw on the paths for comfortable working, rather than bark chips. By using straw, you will encourage birds such as blackbirds and thrushes which feed on slugs ands snails, and who will use the straw to build their nests close by. You can then add the used straw to the compost heap. Bark chips can encourage the presence of slugs, snails and woodlice, and do not rot down easily. Adding planks to the sides of beds helps to keep the soil from falling off the sides of the beds, and aids water retention, resulting in far better crops.


Step3. Rotation. In organic gardening, because you are not using chemical fertilisers and pesticide sprays, it is particularly important to use a rotation plan, which means never growing the same type of crop in the same place in consecutive years. An example of a traditional rotational system is to divide the beds into four groups: Group1. Potatoes, which the following year are replaced by Group 2. Pulses (bean family) in turn replaced by Group 3. Brassicas (cabbage family) and salads, in turn replaced by Group 4. Root vegetables such as beetroot, carrots and parsnips in the fourth year, and rotate the crops accordingly every year. This helps to avoid the build-up of particular pests and diseases in any one bed over the years. Onions can be treated as pulses (Part 2 of the rotational system), whilst marrows, courgettes and outdoor cucumbers can be treated as brassicas/salads (part 3 of the rotational system), for example.

Four Bed Rotation

Step 4. Pest control. The key to organic pest control is planning, forethought, and protection, protection, protection. Read the books. Learn which pests and diseases are likely to strike the particular crop you are growing, and keep the plants protected at every stage of growth from insect, bird, and animal pests by using the appropriate grades and types of fencing, netting, mesh or fleece available these days from all garden centres and suppliers. Colonies of small insects pests which do appear, such as aphids, including blackfly on broad beans, should not be treated with insecticides, but should be accepted as a natural occurence, being easily controlled by the use of a very dilute solution of liquid soft soap available from the Organic Gardening Catalogue.

horticultural frost fleeces,
Step5. Fertilisers and feeding. In organic gardening, there is no need for expensive artificial and chemical fertilisers. Organic gardeners feed the soil, not the plants – with organic animal manures, home-made compost and leaf-mould, comfrey, and seaweed, as well as liquid fertilisers, such as seaweed liquid, home-made nettle liquid or comfrey liquid.