Bonnie Helander began her love of gardening while living and working in San Diego. After retirement, she moved back home to Georgia with husband, Dan, and now resides and gardens in Peachtree City (Zone 8a) where she is a member of the Peachtree City Garden Club. Bonnie is the gardening writer and blogger for Fayette Woman magazine and also blogs and writes for Georgia Gardening Magazine. Besides gardening, Bonnie loves nature and hiking and is a proud graduate of the University of Georgia and avid supporter of the Bulldog nation.


Tips to Get Started Gardening Organically
by Bonnie Helander - posted 08/29/12

Organic gardeners are defined as those who do not use any synthetic pesticides or fertilizers in their gardens. I’ll be the first to admit that I still use some chemical products, but I have been doing lots of research, taking classes and trying to move toward a total organic approach.

I’ve also been greatly influenced by Tricia Stearns, the founder and executive director of the Peachtree City Farmers Market and Community Garden and Larry Dove of Two Doves Farm who serves as the organic gardening consultant at the community garden. Recently I attended a workshop at the Coweta Extension Office on Organic Gardening taught by Newnan organic farmer, Mike Cunningham. Mike gives comprehensive and easy-to-understand information on gardening organically.  

Peachtree City Community Garden plot - grown organically!

So I am putting into practice some of the tips I’ve learned from these wonderful folks who are dedicated to healthier techniques for growing food and ornamental plants.

Tip 1:  Amend your soil. It really is all about the soil.  If we spend more time creating a friable, well-drained soil mixture, filled with organic matter, we will have healthier plants. A good soil starts with a soil analysis at the extension office to see what nutrients your soil is lacking. I am planting in more raised beds because I can add a good soil mixture of native soil, compost and other nutrients as needed.

Take a soil sample to your extension office for analysis


Plant in raised beds.

Tip 2:  Compost, compost, compost!  I have a wonderful two-bin system that my husband built but I could use more bins.  Composting is pretty easy and you get free organic matter to add to your soil every few months.

My two-bin compost system keeps me in compost year-round.

Tip 3: Use plants adapted to our area. You might say “duh” but I am guilty of wanting to stretch the limits of my zone 8(a) and try things that really don’t thrive here.  Not only do I end up wasting my money but these plants become susceptible to pests, inviting more into my garden.

Tip 4: Mulch to cut down on weeds. I’ve started adding a layer of newspaper first and then a good 3-4 inches of wood chips to all my garden beds to deter weeds. Most weeds that do sprout up can be pulled up easily after a rain. Even ten minutes of “weed-hunting” each day helps me to stay on top of the weeds.

Mulch all your planting beds to cut down on weeds and retain moisture.

Tip 5: Learn to identify the “bad” bugs from the “good” bugs. I’ve learned that the vast majority of insects are beneficial and that when we use insecticides, we are killing off many of our “good” bugs. A good spray with water can dislodge many insects and there are many organic products on the market to address pests.

Become a bug detective and learn the good from the bad.

Tip 6:  Live with some imperfections. My plants may not look perfect but I’m not showing prize roses at the flower show, so a few damaged leaves aren’t the end of the world. The garden, like life, is sometimes messy and I’ve decided that that is okay.

Enjoy the wildlife in your garden! (photo by Cubie Steele)



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Marcia H - 08/29/2012

I, too, attended Mike's outstanding workshop. Thanks for summarizing everything so nicely, Bonnie. Three more things of note:

1. Composting and grass clippings - Don't spread compost around edible plants if it contains grass clippings from a yard treated with herbicides. (Rationale: Some plants, like tomatoes, won't grow well. Also, if you're gardening organically, do you really want to eat fruits/vegetables that have absorbed herbicides?

2. Compost pile location: (This is per a workshop attendee who spoke to me afterward, later confirmed on Wikipedia) - To avoid your plants getting a fungus and you getting a pneumonia-like, sometimes fatal disease called Aspergillosis, locate your compost pile in a sunny area and turn it at least once a month.

3. Mike talked about making your own insecticide using a liquid soap available at the Thomas Crossroads Kroger in the natural foods area. (It might be available at other Krogers, as well--although I couldn't find it at the Kedron Kroger in the natural foods area.)

Here's an excerpt from a post-workshop email he sent me with detailed how-to's: "As a preventative mix 1 tablespoon Dr Bronner's Peppermint soap per quart water. Spray on vegetables on a regular bases or first sign of trouble. On specific pests mix 5 tablespoons per quart water. Test first on plant/bug to see if it is too strong or not strong enough."
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bikegal - 08/29/2012

Great tips Bonnie and Marcia!
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Bonnie Helander - 08/30/2012

Marcia - you should be writing your own blog! Great stuff from Mike's presentation last week. Thanks for sharing!!! And Judy - I so appreciate your continued encouragement.
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Ellen Honeycutt (Atlanta, GA) - 09/12/2012

Great reminder about good bugs!
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