Starting your own vegetable garden is more than just a hobby. It’s a fantastic idea for anyone who wants to eat more fresh, nutritious food while also saving money on groceries.
If organic, healthy food is your goal, there are some things gardeners like you can do to make sure those vegetables are grown in the best possible way.
Here’s some advice for improving the quality of your garden’s soil, keeping bugs away and even killing weeds – all without having to use potentially toxic herbicides, pesticides and other less-than-desirable gardening products.
How to Check Your Soil’s pH Levels
Do you know the pH level of your garden soil? The dirt your plants grow in is what feeds them – impacting fertility and plant growth. So it can be very important to figure out if your soil is too acidic or too alkaline.
In many areas of the country, you can contact your local University Extension and send them a sample of your soil to be tested. You’ll receive in-depth and very accurate results on the pH levels of the soil on your property, as well as other information such as nitrogen levels. In addition, there are soil testing kits available at most home and garden stores.
- Find a University Extension Service near you at GardeningKnowHow.com
You can also test the pH level yourself using those paper litmus test strips. You can order them online at Natural Healthy Concepts, including pH Test Strips from Enzymedica.
You’ll basically need to mix some soil from 3 to 5 inches below the surface with rainwater or distilled water. That’s because tap water could throw off your test results. The video below gives you detailed instructions on how to test the soil at home.
As a rule of thumb, most vegetable gardens should have a pH level between 6 and 7.5. Less than 5.5 may mean your soil is too acidic. More than 7.5 may mean your soil is too alkaline.
If your soil is too acidic, you can add limestone to balance the pH. If your soil is too alkaline, you can add soil sulfur or citric acid. In general, states that are east of the Mississippi River tend to have more acidic soil, while states to the west may be more alkaline. But every garden is different – which is why we test!
Adding Minerals to the Soil
You may have heard about how commercial agriculture practices have depleted mineral levels from the soil. This may actually be making some of the produce you get from the grocery store less nutritious.
According to the gardening site UnderwoodGardens.com, many farmers use the tomato as a benchmark for the nutrient content of soil. That’s because the tomato’s nutrient profile includes 56 different minerals and trace elements. The author of the article “Why Your Garden Soil Needs Minerals” says it’s not just the health of the plant that indicates soil nutrient content – taste is also a big factor.
“If the tomato tastes rich, is juicy and has a complex flavor, then the soil is healthy. If not, then some work remains to get the soil to it’s optimum condition.”
That’s exactly why a tomato from your backyard vegetable garden tastes so much better than most tomatoes you get at the store.
The main elements most commercial gardening products focus on are nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. But many other major and trace minerals are important to the quality of your soil.
One product that may be particularly useful in replenishing nutrient content to your garden is Dragonite from Premier Research Labs. It gives you high-quality volcanic basalt minerals and will also improve the fertility of your soil.
We offer a 20lb bag, as well as a 2.2 lb container, and the recommendation is to use about two lbs per 100 square feet . You can apply it on top of the garden bed, but it works best when worked into 3 to 6 inches of topsoil.
Note: If you want to order Dragonite from Premier Research, you will need to create an account/login with Natural Healthy Concepts as this is a special professional brand.
Make Some Homemade Fertilizer
Adding compost to your garden is an excellent way to improve the quality of soil with natural fertilization. However, not everyone has the space or time for composting.
No worries! There are some other easy ways to fertilize your garden naturally. For one thing, instead of a huge compost pile, you can simply save some of the stuff from your kitchen you’d normally throw away.
According to HomegrownFun.com these are three things that can benefit your garden:
- Coffee Grounds – adds nitrogen to the soil and is ideal for acid-loving plants like tomatoes
- Banana Peels – decompose quickly, replenishing potassium and other minerals to the soil
- Egg Shells – can add calcium carbonate and help avoid blossom rot in peppers and tomatoes
Another common kitchen ingredient to help fertilize your garden is molasses. Just mix a few tablespoons of molasses with a gallon of water and then water your plants with it. The molasses apparently acts sort of like a probiotic. It helps increase beneficial microbes.
Finally, in the video below, Smiling Gardener tells us about two of his favorite homemade fertilizers. One of them is your pee. Yep, you read that correctly – potty, tinkle, wee-wee – on your garden.
He reminds us that urine is not toxic and it is actually a great way to add nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil that your body doesn’t use.
He’ll also tell you about fermenting yard waste, like lawn clippings and weeds, to make what he calls an herbal tea fertilizer.
5 Ways to Control Pests, Weeds and Other Problems
1. Look for All-Natural Insect Control Products
There are certainly safer alternatives when it comes to choosing products that fight off insects and other pests. One brand that makes such a product is Wondercide with its Eco Treat Insect Control.
It’s made with cedar oil which can repel many problematic bugs. You can even apply it to your lawn to keep mosquitoes and ticks away. Those are pests that could pose health risks to your family.
- Find out more about avoiding disease spreading insects naturally
Another natural product often used on gardens is called diatomaceous earth, which can work as a mineral-based, natural pesticide.
According to GardeningKnowHow.com, “Diatomaceous earth is made from fossilized water plants and is a natural occurring siliceous sedimentary mineral compound from the remains of algae-like plants called diatoms.”
The particles from diatomaceous earth have sharp. microscopic edges that can pierce the exoskeleton of many pests. It can help kill off slugs and snails as well as ants and earwigs – without chemicals. However, it won’t harm earthworms.
Natural Healthy Concepts offers a food-grade version of Diatomaceous Earth from Lumino. It’s important to use a food-grade product in your garden. The other type of diatomaceous earth is used for swimming pool filters and gets processed differently so that its composition isn’t conducive for soil.
2. Plant Marigolds Around the Perimeter of the Garden
Many gardeners put marigolds in their vegetable gardens. It’s believed the pungent smell potentially repels pests while attracting beneficial insects. Some say that the aroma of marigolds might even help keep rabbits and other rodents away from your vegetables too.
However, not everyone is a believer in the marigold theory. In fact, there are some gardeners who say marigolds may actually attract harmful spider mites. Regardless of whether it works or not – marigolds will at least add a splash of color to your vegetable garden.
3. Use Orange Peels
Orange peels can be placed around plants or attached directly to the stem to ward off and eliminate some pests. That’s because orange peels contain a natural chemical known as d-Limonene, which can kill off ants and aphids. The chemical destroys the waxy substance around the bugs, causing them to suffocate.
Even the scent of orange peels, as well as other citrus peels, can keep those plant-destroying aphids and ants away.
4. Mix up an All-Natural Weed Killer
If you’re striving to be an organic gardener, then there’s no way you’ll want to put toxic herbicides near your plants. But keeping up with the weeds can be a real hassle. Thankfully, there are more natural ways to keep weeds under control.
Another use for the citrus peels mentioned above is making citrus oil, which can be sprayed onto the soil around invasive weeds. This increases the acidity so that weeds can’t survive
Many gardeners have found success using vinegar as a weed killer. But experts, like Ann Lovejoy of Fine Gardening say it’s important to use vinegar with 20% acetic acid rather than the 5% concentrate that you’ll probably find in the kitchen cupboard.
You can also combine vinegar and citrus oils to make a natural weed-killer with a one-two punch!
- Get a recipe for making a homemade natural weed killer
- Get a subscription to Fine Gardening and save up to 44%!
5. Use Baking Soda to Stop Mildew and Fungus Growth
Besides weeds and insects, other potentially harmful things, like fungus and mildew, can start growing on your plants and in the soil.
Use baking soda to make a non-toxic fungicide. Just mix 4 teaspoons into a gallon of water and spray it on your plants. You can also use baking soda to prevent mildew growth on plants like cucumbers and squash. This is especially useful during times of high humidity. For preventing mildew, mix a tablespoon of baking soda in water and apply to the vegetation.
- Get more uses for baking soda at TheGardeningCook.com
What are Your Natural Gardening Tips?
There are many other creative ways to help your garden grow naturally.
We’d love to hear your suggestions!
Please leave us a comment below and let us know what you do to maintain a healthy, toxin-free garden.