New to gardening, or looking to up your garden game? This page is full of free organic gardening resources to give you a head start with learning how to start a garden. Let’s dig in! 🙂
Resources for Starting a Garden
If you’re starting your first garden this year, and have never really gardened before, you probably have a few questions! Starting a garden can seem like a huge process when you consider all the decisions and planning that has to be done.
To simply the process for you, I’ve separated the garden planning process into eight basic steps. If you complete each of these steps in order, your chances of success are far higher than if you simply throw a few seeds in the ground and hope for the best! Here are the eight steps to planning a successful garden. Check out each step to learn more:
- Set Your Garden Goals
- Find Your Garden Mentor
- Discover Your Growing Zone
- Pick Your Type of Garden
- Choose Crops You’ll Love
- Determine the Right Number of Plants
- Draw Your Garden Map
- Create Your Planting Calendar
To guide you through these steps, I’ve created a garden planner which includes a workbook section for each step. The planner is completely free and will guide you through the basic steps of planning out an annual garden. It’s the perfect companion to help you plan out your vegetable, herb, or flower garden. You can grab your free copy by entering your first name and email in the form below:
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You can read more about the free printable planner on the Garden Planner Page.
Organic Gardening Resources: Free Gardening Printables
For most of the gardening how-to articles on this blog, there is a corresponding free printable set of instructions. There’s everything from how to grow microgreens on your kitchen countertop to DIY project instructions that you can bring out to the garden with you. You can find the entire list of available free downloads in the Organic Gardening Printables Vault.
The available printables include:
- Wheatgrass Growing Instructions
- Kale Growing Instructions
- Garlic Growing Instructions
- Indoor Basil Growing Instructions
- Indoor Strawberry Growing Instructions
- Drip Irrigation Instructions
- Potting Soil Recipes & Instructions
- Hugelkultur Garden Bed Instructions
- Leaf Compost Instructions
- Fall Chore Checklist
Connecting with Other Gardeners
The quickest way to get off to a good start with your organic garden is to connect with other gardeners. Gardeners in your area can point you towards plants that do well in your area, answer your gardening questions, recommend reputable local seed companies/nurseries, and help you plan out your garden. They’re in the best position to point you towards organic gardening resouces in your area. For more info about how to find a local gardener to help you, check out this this article.
Online Gardening Community
One of the best places to connect with other gardeners is online. This is especially true if you are not yet part of a gardening network such as a Community Garden.
The Organic Gardening Community Group on Facebook was created to give you an online space to connect with other gardeners. It’s the perfect place to share photos of your garden, ask your gardening questions, and chat with other gardeners! It’s free, easy to join, and will instantly connect you with gardeners. Click here to visit the group and click “Join”!
It can be hard to figure out what is “organic” and what isn’t when discussing gardening. In general, any use of synthetic chemicals isn’t permitted in organic gardening. Check out this comprehensive list of what is considered organic versus what isn’t permitted in organic gardening.
The first step each year after planning your garden is often finding organic seeds for the plants you would like to grow. Finding seeds from a local seller in your area is the best way to go, as those seeds will be optimized for your growing area. Next, find an organic seed starting mix which doesn’t contain synthetic chemical fertilizer. Later, once the seedlings are becoming established, use natural fertilizer such as worm castings to feed the plants instead of buying chemical fertilizer.
If you already have a garden, but aren’t sure if it would be considered organic, check this article to make sure you’re not inadvertantly harming your garden with chemicals.
What to Grow
Simply put, grow what you love. Grow your favourite fruit. Pick veggies your family will eat. Grow flowers you think are gorgeous. If you grow something you love, you’re a lot more likely to stick with the whole gardening thing.
If you’d like to start with a few common vegetables, check out this post:
- The Top 5 Easiest Common Vegetables to Grow – familiar veggies perfect for new gardeners
If you’re living somewhere without a yard, or it’s too cold to grow anything outdoors right now, check out this post:
- Growing Microgreens – baby leafy greens you can grow on your countertop
Growing microgreens is the perfect way to get started gardening if you’ve never grown anything before. It’ll teach you how seeds germinate and sprout, helping you build confidence for when you grow full-size plants!
Unfortunately not all plants can be grown everywhere. Plants are classified by hardiness zones, which dictate the coldest temperature that a given plant can withstand. Plants have a range of zones in which they will survive. This range is generally printed on the seed packet or plant label. If no zone is printed, look it up online prior to buying.
- Canada: Canadian USDA Plant Hardiness Gardening Zone Map.
- USA: American USDA Plant Hardiness Gardening Zone Map.
Pick plants you love, and just go with it. Maybe wait a few years for things that say “expert level” on the seed packet. But otherwise, you’ll be fine. It might take a few tries, but you’ve got this.
Where to Garden
Picking the right spot for your garden can be tricky. In Canada, the south side of your yard is probably a good place to start looking. You’ll want lots of sun for most plants. Full sun generally means at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day.
Observe your yard for a few days and check out the sunny areas. Check out this Solar Aspect Map to see where the sun hits your yard at various times of the year. See my complete list of online organic gardening tools for more helpful online tools.
Types of Gardens
There are several different types of outdoor garden structures. In addition to just finding a bare patch of soil in your yard, or removing existing grass, consider the following options before you start construction.
The easiest way to start a garden is to start a small container garden. There are a few crops that are quite easy to grow in a container garden. You can grow them on your apartment patio. You can even make your own potting soil for your containers.
Containers have the benefit of being portable. This is really nice if you’re new to gardening, because you can move them around your space to experiment with different light and precipitation amounts. You can also bring your container gardens inside in the winter if you live in a cold climate. They’re incredibly versatile too…you’d be surprised what you can grow in a container! (Blueberries anyone?)
Raised Bed Gardening
Raised bed gardens are like giant container gardens. Raised beds are generally 4′ wide, and usually about 8′ long. They’re often made of wood planks which hold in the garden soil. Most gardeners prefer gardening in raised beds to gardening directly in the ground.
Because these beds are raised up off the ground, the soil warms up earlier in the spring, allowing you to start growing veggies earlier in the season. It also allows you to garden if you have less-than-perfect natural soil in your yard such as heavy clay or potentially contaminated soil.
Community gardens are neighbourhood organizations that rent out individual garden plots to individuals or families. Most community gardens have raised garden beds with pathways between them to access your plants. Some even have built in irrigation such as drip lines or wicking features.
You can rent out a raised bed for a season and try your hand at gardening. Joining a community garden is a nice way to learn about gardening in the company of other, more experienced gardeners. If you’re considering a community garden, check out this post on joining a community garden.
Caring for The Garden
Watering Your Garden
Getting irrigation right can minimize water use. Rainwater harvesting can minimize use of potable water. Xeriscape gardening techniques can minimize the amount of water your garden requires to thrive.
My favourite way to water the garden is with permanent drip irrigation. Drip irrigation is very efficient, and is considered one of the most water-wise methods of watering your garden. Only small areas are irrigated, and those areas are irrigated very slowly to allow the soil to properly absorb the water.
Drip irrigation can be expensive if you hire a landscaping company to install it for you. Fortunately, it is completely reasonable to install drip irrigation yourself, even if you have no experience with it. The materials are available at the hardware store or a specialty landscaping store. It’s exactly the same gear the pros would use. Check out this tutorial on installing your own DIY Drip Irrigation and get started!
Feeding Your Garden
The happiness of your plants depends on the health of your garden’s soil. To feed your garden, choose an organic plant food rather than a synthetic chemical fertilizer. The best organic plant food is homemade compost. It’s easy to make at home with Fall leaves or other plant matter. This composting article provides instructions on how to make your own compost.
Other wonderful organic plant foods include worm castings, glacial rock dust, and compost or comfrey tea. Just try to stay away from anything that isn’t organic. Please let me know if you have questions about what to feed your plants, or ask the gardeners in the Organic Gardening Community Group.
Outdoor gardening is mainly a Spring-Fall activity in cooler areas of the world. Here in Canada, many gardeners take the winter off to plan next year’s garden. Check out this article about how to get your garden ready for winter to make sure you’re ready for the colder weather.
Despite freezing temperatures, it is possible to grow hardy winter greens and other crops using a greenhouse or cold frame. Just be sure to plant your seeds about 6 weeks before the ground freezes.
Organic Gardening Books
There are so many wonderful organic gardening books! I could hardly name them all. My favourites are included here on this list of gardening books that I frequently update.
Here are a couple of my favourites:
- The Zero-Mile Diet, by Carolyn Harriot (affiliate link). This book is great for beginner gardeners learning to grow vegetables. The book provides a nice overview of general gardening skills, as well as reference sections on individual vegetables.
- Gaia’s Garden, by Toby Hemenway (affiliate link). This book is the perfect introduction to turning your yard into an edible oasis. This book is the perfect introduction to home-scale sustainability, including edible landscape design, rainwater harvesting, forest gardening, and the creation of wildlife habitat.
- Landscaping with Fruit, by Lee Reich (affiliate link). This book is the perfect introduction to growing fruit in an urban lot setting. Lee Reich is an expert fruit grower and horticulturalist. This book is split into two sections: a section on garden design, and a reference section dedicated to individual plants. This book was a great read and remains a great reference for individual plants.
Organic Gardening Resources: Finding Organic & GMO-Free Seeds
Many gardeners try to buy the most local seeds possible because they are most closely adapted to the local growing area. The best place for finding local seeds is your local Seedy Saturday seed swap market, held in February-March each year. Bring some of your own seeds to swap, plus a list of everything you want to grow that year.
Where finding local seeds is impossible or impractical, I turn to the internet! These lovely companies sell organic, GMO-free seeds online.
A list of Canadian seed vendors can be found on the Seeds of Diversity site.
Organic Gardening Resources: Favourite Gardening Tools
Gardening Tool Suppliers
Check out a few of my favourite tools over at Amazon Canada (affiliate link).
Do you have any other questions? Are there other organic gardening resources you’re looking for? Please let me know so I can update this page! Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂
xo Mary Jane
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