Organic Growing Basics for Small Farmers & Backyard Growers

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For small farmers that only sell at farmer's markets or the backyard gardener primarily growing for themselves, the expenses and hoops one has to jump through may mean that an official organic certification isn't worth it. It can still be worthwhile to try and ensure that you are growing organically, though, even if it isn't official. For a small farmer in particular, your customers may not care about the certification if you can still describe your farming method as modeled after the official guidelines. The following guide can help you know what they are.

#1: Soil management

The first thing you will want to do is have your soil tested. A thorough test done by a local soil lab will let you know what outside contaminants are in your soil. If you have been using conventional growing methods, there may be quite the buildup of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers that don't fall under the organic label. If this is the case, then you will want to begin by flushing the soil out with a heavy irrigation.

For backyard gardens and small farms, you may be able to speed up the process by incorporating organic, untreated compost into the soil. Otherwise, you must follow organic growing recommendations and have the soil tested annually until the conventional buildup has decreased.

#2: Water management

The water you use to irrigate your crops must also be free of non-organic contaminants. For most backyard farmers on municipal water sources this is not an issue. Small farms irrigating off of their own wells must have the well tested, but chances are there won't be contamination if you aren't using non-organic items elsewhere on your farm.

If you use a different water source, such as an irrigation canal or water from a central source like a nearby river, you must make sure this source isn't contaminated. If it is, your only option may be to find another "clean" irrigation source, such as having your own well dug.

#3: Only use organic crop treatments

From the time you decide to try growing organic you will need to change the way you fertilize, weed, and treat pests. Begin by switching out your fertilizer to a certified organic fertilizer. This is much easier than trying to put together your own fertilizer solution, since the manufacturer has already gone through the trouble of getting official determination on what is considered organic.

You can also find herbicides and pesticides that have the organic seal of approval. The specific ones that will work for you depends upon your crops, area, and the type of pests and weeds you are dealing with.

For more help, contact a supplier of organic farm and garden treatments such as Nature Safe.