20 organic gardening hacks to improve your veggie production

By Yvonne Lelong Bordelon

Using organic gardening techniques in your vegetable garden is the best way to improve food quality and increase your vegetable production while supporting the ecosystem by aiding pollinators. These organic garden hacks will help you incorporate sustainable methods into your landscape.

Cool-weather crops, such as celery, shallots and Tuscan black kale (‘Lacinato’) are good companions.
A pot full of pollinator plants that borders our garden includes flat leaf parsley, catnip, and dandelion. All are edible and used in many ways.

Stayin’ Alive: Fertile Soil, Rich with Microbes Means Plenty of Produce

• Use the sheet composting method to create a no-till garden, which utilizes natural microorganisms to enrich the soil. First spread 2 inches of rotted manure or compost over bare garden soil. Next dig holes, plant the veggies, and apply mulch. Each year, add another 2-inch layer of compost, soil, mulch, or rotted manure.

• Have your soil tested through your extension service so you’ll know exactly what your soil is lacking and how to best remedy any deficiencies.

• In addition to adding compost and manure in solid form, give plants a boost by brewing up some microbe-rich compost, manure, or worm casting tea. Use 5 gallons of rainwater and a shovelful of rotted compost, manure, or worm castings in a burlap bag. Soak the burlap “tea bag” for one to three days. Dilute the manure tea by 50 percent before using. 

• Always keep your soil mulched with brown matter – such as leaves and straw – or with green cover crops, such as legumes. Both will enrich the soil, prevent erosion, and reduce moisture loss. 

Prickly cucumber vines may deter rabbits and raccoons.
Swiss chard is showy enough to be included in the ornamental garden as well as with other cole crops such as Brussels sprouts and arugula.

Welcome Pollinators: Most Vegetables Need Pollination to Produce

• Honeybees need water, but can drown if it’s too deep. Provide places for bees to land by putting river rocks or floating flat cork in a birdbath or by planting lily pads and adding sandy edges to a pond.

• Plant bee-friendly annuals and perennials to improve pollination of vegetables and fruits. Don’t forget to include edible flowers and herbs such as nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus), Viola, chives (Allium schoenoprasum), and arugula (Eruca sativa) for a pleasing garden border that also attracts pollinators.

Masses of strong-smelling anise hyssop planted in a border around the veggie garden will help keep the rabbits away.

Keeping Out Varmints: Organic Pest Control is Best

• Plant a border of strong-smelling flowering herbs such as anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) as well as various species of basil (Ocimum basilicum), mints (Mentha spp.), Salvia, and oregano (Origanum vulgare) around your garden. It may deter rabbits (unless they’re very hungry rabbits) but will definitely attract bees.

• Kill ants, unwanted wasps, and grasshoppers with insecticidal soaps. According to researchers at Clemson University, insecticidal soaps are inexpensive, safe to use, and are natural products that are virtually non-toxic to animals and birds. They can even be used on vegetables up to harvest. 

Mint is a tasty tea herb and a prolific grower with lavender flower clusters that bees enjoy foraging.

Methods for Growing Healthy, Productive Veggies

• Plant tomato stems deeply to produce more feeder roots and stronger plants. Bury two-thirds of the plant, even if you have to arrange part of the stem to run horizontally.

• Add rain barrels or cisterns near the garden to collect rainwater. Use a drip hose and a mechanical timer to water the garden.

My rain barrel has a drain hose with an on/off valve that can be connected to a timer and drip hose. It also has an overflow hose that can be used to send the extra water into the garden.

Recycle/Reuse: Increase Production and Save Money

• Reuse small plastic containers to soak bean and pea seeds in wet paper towels, germinating them for better growth and earlier yields.

• Cut the bottoms off of gallon jugs and use them to protect tender plants during cold weather. Liter soda bottles make excellent mini-greenhouses to root pots of cuttings.

• Use the cardboard inserts from rolls of toilet paper or molded newspaper strips as inexpensive starter pots to grow your own transplants from seed. 

Two inexpensive alternatives to peat pots are Pot Maker newspaper pots and recycled toilet paper inserts. Both are great for kids’ garden projects or gardeners on a budget.

Managing Available Planting Space for Veggies

• Utilize all available garden space by planting leaf and other shade-tolerant vegetables such as lettuce, Swiss chard, and broccoli in low sun areas.

• Plant potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers in reusable, non-woven geotextile bags or make your own potato pots from two 5-gallon plastic pots.

• Use self-watering containers and soil polymers for healthier plants that need less watering.

• Don’t have enough space for a veggie garden? Use colorful herbs and leafy vegetables such as chives, red lettuce, and ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard in ornamental plantings.

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