How To Make An Organic Garden

Why start and organic garden? Well, there are tons of reasons and long answers, but the most basic explaination is this:

Its better.

Its better for you, its better for the fruits and vegetables, better for the soil and its better for the environment overall.

Organic gardening is more than just avoiding poisons. It’s an integrated approach to maintaining healthy plants from the soil up without the use of chemicals.

Most commercial chemical fertilizers kill a large portion of the microbiotic life in the top 6 inches of soil. They drive out the earthworms and most of the other creatures in the soil that normally live there. The soil becomes just a medium for holding up the plants, and the plants become totally dependent on man’s continued application of fertilizer to keep them healthy.

So take the first steps towards a healthier, less toxic lifetstyle and create your own organic garden!

Here are some tips how:

‘Choosing a Location – Select a plot of good, well-drained soil near a water supply. It should be close to the home for convenience, but should not be shaded by tall buildings or trees.


Since organic fertilizer and soil conditioning materials are slow working in general, they should be mixed into the soil at least three weeks ahead of planting and the soil thoroughly prepared for the seed or transplants. Clumps of unrotted organic materials not only interfere with the seeding operation, but may result in nutrient deficiency and possible soil-borne diseases problems such as “damping-off” of young seedlings.


A major basis for organic gardening is the use of abundant quantities of organic material applied to the soil. Usually, it is in the form of animal manures, plant manures, cover crops, compost, or mixed organic fertilizer.

Proper Conditions For Nitrification

First, materials containing nitrogen must be present. There is a great variation in the amount of nitrogen the different organic materials contain. Then certain soil or compost conditions are necessary:

1. Proper soil acidity (pH) –should be about 7.0; in acid situation below 5.5 it ceases.

2. Proper temperature of soil — above 50°F.

3. Good aeration — (does not occur with wet, soggy soil or compost).

4. Adequate lime for use by micro-organisms and to keep the soil from being acid.


Where animal manures are available, they are probably the best source of fertilizer and organic matter for the organic gardener. Use manure which has been aged for at least 30 days, or composted.

Manures vary greatly in their content of fertilizing nutrients. The composition varies according to type, age, and condition of animal; the kind of feed used; the age and degree of rotting of the manure; the moisture content of the manure; and the kind and amount of litter or bedding mixed in the manure. Table 1 shows average minimal amounts of nutrients to be expected. They may be as high as 4.5% N; 2% P; and 2% K in some cases. Animal manures also provide most of the micro-nutrients needed. Some manure products are composted, rehydrated or mixed with plant litter to enhance their fertility.


Acceptable manure-like organic fertilizer (artificial manure) may be obtained through the process of composting. Simply put, compost is made by alternating layers of organic materials, such as leaves and kitchen table refuse, with manure, topsoil, lime, organic fertilizer, water, and air, in such a manner that it decomposes, combines, and yields artificial manure.

How is the Compost Pile Made?

The compost pile is made of convenient size, usually not less that 10 feet square (100 square feet) and 3 to 5 feet high. The top should be left flat or with a slight depression in the center to catch rain or added water. Too much water eliminates air and slows the decay process.

One way suggested in building the pile is to make a layer of leaves, straw, grass clippings, and other organic materials 1 foot deep, wet down and pack. Spread a layer of manure 4 to 6 inches deep over this layer of wet material. Then spread up to 5 pounds of ground rock phosphate or 1 quart of raw bone meal per 100 square feet, and 1 pound of ground limestone.

Instead of the rock phosphate and bone meal, you could use 5 pounds of a complete organic fertilizer such as Fertrell per 100 square feet. Also, a layer of topsoil is sometimes used.

Then continue to repeat the process until the pile has reached 3 to 5 feet high.

Compost will begin to heat after 2 or 3 days. Keep it moist, but not too wet, and do not disturb for awhile.

After 3 to 4 weeks, fork it over, mixing the parts to obtain uniformity. Fatty animal wastes tend to create bad odors, draw flies and ants; so, try to avoid their use if this will be a problem.

Compost for the garden should be ready from 2 months to 1 year, depending on the time of year, type of materials added, and skill of the composter. When the compost is broken down into a homogenous mixture, and no undecomposed leaves or other material may be seen, it is ready for use.

What Organic Materials Can Be Used in the Compost Pile

Most anything organic, but most popular materials are natural materials such as straw, leaves, pine straw, grass clippings, shrub clippings, garbage, fish scraps, water hyacinths, etc. A list of materials and what each might contribute to the compost is given in Table 2 . In addition, certain of the materials listed as organic fertilizers (for example, tobacco stems) could also be added.

Use of Compost in the Garden

Since compost is artificial manure, it should be used much as you would manure.

Broadcast it over the entire garden three weeks or more before planting. Or if you have only a small quantity of compost, it may be mixed into the soil along each planting furrow or at each hill site. As a minimum, apply it at the rate of about 25 pounds per 100 square feet, or ¼ pound per square foot. Larger amounts are even more beneficial, up to 200 lb/100 sq ft. (2 lb/sq ft.). Caution: If your compost is made from mostly woody materials, it may temporarily deplete the nitrogen from the soil and plants. Be sure to mix manure with it when applying.


Natural and organic materials which yield plant nutrients upon decomposition are often available for purchase either separately or in combination. These materials may be applied to the garden separately or combined, used in the compost pile, or mixed with manure.

Many of the more commonly available materials are listed in Table 3 along with the nutrients which they produce. These include both the organic materials derived from plants and animals, plus the natural deposits of rocks and minerals.

Natural Deposits (Rocks, Sands, Shells, etc.)

Such naturally occurring materials are usually not easily obtained in today’s modern agriculture; however, where available they represent sources of mainly potash, phosphorus, and lime (calcium and magnesium) for organic gardeners.

Phosphorus — Rock phosphates are natural deposits of phosphate in combination with calcium. The material as dug from the earth is very hard and yields its phosphorus very slowly. When finely ground and with impurities removed, the powdery material is only slightly soluble in water, but may be beneficial to plants in subsequent seasons following application. The reaction of phosphate rock with acids from decaying organic matter in the garden or compost tend to make the phosphorus available to garden plants. Collodial phosphate is also available and widely used.

Apply both phosphates at the rate of 2-5 pounds per 100 square feet of garden soil.

Or, when applying manure or compost, mix at the rate of 2½ pounds phosphate per 25 pounds manure or compost.

Broadcast the material over the soil surface and work into the topsoil at least three weeks before planting. Manure or other organic fertilizer should be added at this time.

Since the materials are so slowly decomposed, sidedressings are seldom beneficial.

Potash — Potassium is widely distributed in nature, occurring in rocks, soils, tissues of plants and animals, and water of seas and lakes.

In gardening practice, materials such as wood ashes, tobacco stems, wool suint, seaweed, potash salts, greensand, and ground rock potash are used alone, in combinations with other materials yielding other nutrients, mixed with manure, or in compost piles.

Since the potash bearing materials vary so much in composition and rate of decomposition, specific application rates must be determined for each material and its combinations.

In general, ground rock potash at 5 pounds per 100 square feet may be broadcast over the soil surface three weeks prior to planting and spaded in. Langbeinite (Sul-Po-Mag) is used at 1 lb/100 sq ft.

Micro-nutrients — An advantage for using organic materials as fertilizers is that they contain many of the elements also needed by the plants in addition to N, P, and K (for example, manganese in manure).

Besides the general amounts of micronutrients found in most organic materials, certain ones are concentrated into such naturally occurring materials as gypsum (calcium and sulfur), marl (calcium), dolomite (Calcium and magnesium), limestone (calcium), basic slag (iron, calcium, manganese and magnesium), and finely ground borosilicates.

Lime — Reducing the acidity of the soil is the primary purpose for using lime in the garden. However, liming materials also provide nutrients for plant use. Calcium and magnesium are the two elements most commonly provided by lime. Gypsum is used where more calcium is needed without raising the pH.

Natural deposits of lime which are an organic gardener might use are limestone, dolomite, shell, and marl. All these forms must be finely ground to provide maximum benefit to the soil and plants. Dolomite is preferred due to its ocntent of both calcium and magnesium.

Lime to sweeten the soil should be applied only when the needs have been established by a reliable soil test. Under most Florida soil conditions, applications of 2 to 5 pounds of finely ground dolomitic limestone per 100 square feet usually will be sufficient except on very acid soils.

Apply lime well in advance of the planting date, preferably 2 to 3 months before the garden is planted. Mix well with the soil and keep moist for best reaction. Application closer to planting time is permissible, but its benefits are delayed.


In irrigating the garden, it is advisable to thoroughly wet the soil once a week unless sufficient rain falls. Thus, the soil will be moistened throughout the root zone. Light sprinklings every day merely tend to wet the surface and encourage shallow root growth. Drip or trickle irrigation is encouraged as a method for conserving water.

Use of organic materials as soil conditioners and fertilizers tends to improve the ability of the soil to retain moisture. Also, a good garden mulch will conserve soil moisture. Please observe all local watering regulations.


A mulch is any material, usually organic, which is placed on the soil surface around the plants. Organic materials most commonly used for mulching are leaves, grass clippings, pine straw, sawdust, and wood shavings. Synthetic materials, mostly plastic sheeting, have been used quite often in recent years.

Among the benefits of a mulch are (a) conserves soil moisture, (b) conserves nutrients, (c) reduces soil erosion, (d) reduces crop loss due to nematodes, (e) reduces weed growth, (f) provides barrier between fruit and soil, thus reducing soil rot on fruit, and (g) moderates the soil temperature.

Apply mulch before or after seeding or transplanting. Roll back the mulch with a rake in order to wet the soil beneath when irrigating, for best results.

At the end of the garden season, the mulch (except plastic) may be removed and composted, or cut into the garden soil. Most mulch is woody and should have manure or other rich organic fertilizer applied with it when cutting into the soil.


The primary purpose of cultivation is to control weeds. Weeds are easy to control when they are small. Shallow cultivation and hoeing are advised in order to reduce damage to the root system. A garden mulch, such as pine straw, leaves, or other material, will help to keep weeds from growing if the mulch is thick enough to exclude light.’

For more information on Organic Gardening please visit the source listed below.

Source/Work Cited:

1. This document is CIR375, one of a series of the Horticultural Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date April 1993. Reviewed May 2003. Visit the EDIS Web Site at

2. James M. Stephens, professor, Horticultural Sciences Department, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville FL 32611.

by Dena Ventrudo (Intro) & James M. Stephens (Instructions)
James M. Stephens, professor, Horticultural Sciences Department, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida