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Growing an organic, sustainable and companion garden

Last Updated Jul 31, 2017 · Written by Rob Schneider


How can you grow an organic, sustainable garden? It's not hard, but does require a change in thinking. There are so many products on the market, it's easy to simply buy them and use them in the garden. Why not try a DIY approach and grow plants and veggies organically? Here's a step-by-step guide to an organic, sustainable and companion garden.

  1. What is an Organic Garden? 
  2. What is Companion Planting?
  3. Homemade Pesticides
  4. Beneficial Garden Insects
  5. Planning an Organic, Sustainable and Companion Garden

What is an Organic Garden?

An organic garden is a garden that does not contain chemicals of any kind. That includes chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. We are so accustomed to using chemicals in the garden, many of us have forgotten they are unnecessary. An organic garden reduces waste and chemicals do not end up going into ponds, streams or the oceans.

Organic garden

The first step towards producing an organic garden is to keep food scraps and use them in a compost heap. A well maintained compost heap does not smell or attract flies and other insects. A compost heap can be composed of brown and green materials. Brown materials include paper, cardboard, ash, sawdust, vacuum dust, and straw or hay. Green materials include most kitchen scraps, grass clippings and other garden waste.

Some things should not go into a compost heap. Our article, How to Make a Compost Heap goes into more detail about what can and can't be used in a compost heap. The article also offers tips on how to create a compost heap that doesn't smell or attract flies or maggots.

A compost heap will produce rich fertiliser for the garden. It will not, however, prevent garden pests from coming into your garden. There are effective organic ways to reduce garden pests. Try them and you won't need to use chemical pesticides.

What is Companion Planting?

Companion planting was a common way to reduce garden pests before chemical pesticides became available. Instead of growing a row of lettuce or other vegetable, plant "companion" plants together to reduce pests. For example, pests are repelled by:

  • Oregano
  • Sage
  • Lavender
  • Basil

Plant these in the garden and you will have herbs to use in the kitchen and repel pests at the same time. Plant them anywhere in your garden, including around your veggies and other plants. Some other plants that repel pests include:

  • Cotton lavender
  • Tansy
  • Wormwood
  • Santolina

Pests won't come near these plants and will even avoid nearby plants.

Companion planting

Companion planting goes beyond planting herbs and other plants that repel pests. You don't have to plant your vegetables in a separate garden. Many vegetables look great in the garden. Make them easy to access because you'll want to use them in the kitchen, but don't think of a veggie garden as a separate garden.

Homemade Pesticides

You may have to use pesticides in the garden, but they don't have to be chemical pesticides. Homemade pesticides can be made from organic materials and work just as well as chemical pesticides, but leave no chemical residue. These are some powerful organic pesticides:

  • Use half an ounce of neem oil and half a teaspoon of organic liquid soap in two litres of water.
  • If ants are a problem, try mixing 10 drops of citrus oil and one teaspoon cayenne pepper into one cup of water. Shake the mixture and spray onto the affected area.
  • For slugs, mix three tablespoons of organic castile soap and one ounce of orange oil into four litres of water. Spray the mixture on your garden.
  • Eucalyptus oil is great for controlling flies, bees and wasps. Just sprinkle a little eucalyptus oil wherever they gather and they will look for another home.

For some more tips on companion planting and homemade pesticides, read Garden Pest Control: What are Your Options?

Beneficial Garden Insects

Not all insects are bad for your garden. In the past, farmers and home gardeners encouraged some insects to take up residence in their gardens. What are some beneficial insects?

Beneficial garden insects

  • If ladybirds (or ladybugs) are in your garden, you want to encourage them to stay because they eat aphids, mites, scale and whiteflies.
  • Bees pollinate plants and can be beneficial in the garden. If you leave them alone, they won't sting you. If you have children, you may not want bees in your garden.
  • Butterflies are beautiful and good for the garden. To attract them, make some small depressions in the soil and fill them with water.
  • Green lacewings feed on aphids, mites, whiteflies, small caterpillars and moth eggs.
  • Worms break down soil and their droppings enrich soil. Consider starting a worm farm in the garden.

Companion planting, homemade pesticides and beneficial insects will keep most pests away from your garden. Keep an eye out for them, though. Remove larger pests like snails or slugs by hand or use an organic treatment. Other pests are harder to see, but will leave signs of their activity in your garden. Organic treatments work just as well as chemical treatments, so make a habit of learning about organic treatments and keep them on hand.

Planning an Organic, Sustainable and Companion Garden

There is no rule to planning an organic sustainable and companion garden. You may want to plant vegetables separately or may prefer planting veggies with other plants. Make sure the vegetables get plenty of sunlight. They need sunlight to grow, so shouldn't be planted under the shade of a larger plant.

Many vegetables can make a beautiful addition to the garden. Plant companion plants between lettuce and other vegetables to ward off pests. By mixing them together, the garden will be more interesting looking, too. Also consider planting veggies in a long row in the front of the garden to make accessing them easier.

Planning an organic, sustainable companion garden

If you want to grow climbing vegetables such as certain varieties of beans or peas, find a sunny place near a fence and provide the vines with something they can climb. Alternatively, you can create something for them to climb in the middle of the garden.

Climbing vegetables

On the other hand, you may prefer growing your vegetables separately. One good way to do this is to plant them in pots, tubs or raised boxes. You can even grow some vegetables in a vertical garden to save space. Fill pots, tubs or raised gardens with the rich soil you produce from compost. The plants will thrive and give you delicious, organic vegetables throughout the year. Yes, you can even grow vegetables in winter. Vegetables to Grow in Winter gives tips on growing winter vegetables in every climate zone in Australia.

Also think about installing a drip irrigation system. Some systems come with moisture detectors and will automatically water your garden when the soil becomes dry. Others may not have moisture detectors, but a drip irrigation system is a great way to save water because the water goes directly into the soil rather than on top of the soil.

Growing a chemical-free, organic garden requires a change in thinking, but once you start, you won't turn back. Compost heaps are easy to make and companion planting will reduce the number of pests in the garden. Once established, an organic, sustainable and companion garden is easy to take care of. You'll love having fresh, organic produce on hand and the decorative plants in the garden will benefit from growing organically, too.

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