Organic gardening – what I’ve learned and you should know…

This is an entry in our current non-fiction writing contest By CB

Simple Organic Gardening Tips – Garden Like a Pro!

organic gardening tipsI’ve been meaning to do an article on gardening for a while, but work has been keeping me busy.  I have some information about seed starting, but by now, in most, if not all, geographic zones of the US, seed starting is too late.  We’re about two weeks away in the central/south central US from putting in our plants in the garden.

We have a half-acre garden that sits in an area with sun most of the day.  We have a few trees on one side of the garden, ad depending on what/where you plant, you want to take in consideration the daily sunlight that the area gets as well as what you’re planting.  We tend to plant the “viney” plants such as cucumbers, pumpkins, zucchinis, etc. in the area of the garden that is partially shaded by the trees during the day.

This is because during July/August our summer heat is brutal, and those plants tend to wither and die under our humid, unrelenting heat.   Geographically, you also want to take note of the sun rise/fall and whether or not you plan to plant corn or any other tall crop.  One year when I was a kid, we mistakenly planted our tomatoes on the wrong side of the corn and they were soon dwarfed by corn stalks and didn’t do well at all.

You can also benefit your plants by planting certain vegetables next to each other.  Plants like tomatoes and peppers or tomatoes and carrots or tomatoes and garlic, just to name a few, are plants that have a symbiotic-type relationship where they benefit each other and tend to grow better.  Smaller plants, such as carrots could even be planted between the approximate 24” that tomatoes need between each plant.  Conversely, there are plants that do not like to be next to each other.  An example of this is onions and beans or cabbage and beans.

Last year, I decided to go as “organic” or pesticide-free that I could.  We used to use Seven ® and other products to keep potato bugs off of our tomatoes and potatoes when I was growing up.  Then, I read articles online and decided that I would go as organic as possible.  We have a deer problem in our neck of the woods, so I take 2-3 tablespoons of a hot sauce, 2 tablespoons of minced garlic, 1 teaspoon of Dawn® dish soap and a gallon of water.  I let it sit overnight and then strain out the garlic.

The garlic and the hot sauce are smell and taste deterrents for deer.  The dish soap helps the mix stay on the plant as well as it helps keep bugs off of the plants.  I reapply after 1-2 weeks or after a heavy rain.  Alternatively, you can take human hair or urine and spread around the perimeter of your garden.  They would have to be regularly re-applied to keep the human scent present and the deer at bay.  Our local hair salon will give us hair by the gallon-full if we ask.

I also shied away from commercial fertilizer.  Instead, I also use a fish oil emulsion, which smells horrible and can be found at our local nursery, but I take 1 tablespoon with 32 ounces of water in a spray bottle, shake well and apply every other week to my tomatoes and peppers.  On the “off” weeks, I apply 1 tablespoon of magnesium, which I get from Epsom salts (which can be found in the Pharmacy section), shaken until the crystals dissolve in 32 ounces of water.  If you go fishing and bring a catch home, you can bury the dead carcasses of the fish in your garden near your plants, like tomatoes or peppers, to give them an extra nutrient boost.   A teaspoon of dish soap in 32 ounces of water will also keep bugs off of your plants.  You have to reapply about every 1-2 weeks or after a good rain.

I tend to focus on tomatoes and peppers in my examples because that’s what I usually start early indoors (starting in February) and take the most time and energy to produce those plants.  A good, consistent weekly watering, at the least, is very important for your garden.  It’s said that a tomato plant needs about a gallon of water daily.  I know a guy that takes a Folgers ® can, which is about a half-gallon, and waters each of his two dozen tomato plants daily.  I try to water at least twice a week and hope it rains a day, as well.  When the plants start flowering and when they start producing are the most important times to give good, consistent watering that will allow the plants to put enough water into the produce.  Conversely, over-watering will cause cracking, for example, on tomatoes.  Heat-loving plants like peppers thrive in dry, arid climates so they can be afforded to be watered less, but should be, at minimum, be watered weekly with a good soaking.  When watering, I try for early morning before the heat of the day.  If necessary, I do water after 5-6 PM, but tomatoes and the “viney” plants do better if they are watered in the AM.  For some reason, they do not like evening watering.

Another pest that seems to run amok in our garden is the plethora of squirrels we have.  They go after the water content in the produce and leave little bite marks in our tomatoes and drop pounds and pounds on the ground before they’re ready.  To try and combat this, I put five-gallon buckets around the garden that are filled with water.  Theoretically, the squirrels will drink from the buckets instead of consuming the produce.  In reality, it DOES work, but they still knock off a few tomatoes weekly.  I recycle the water on the plants after a week or so because it starts to grow algae and then refill the buckets.

For the tomato plants, you can find a plethora of articles on whether or not to de-sucker the plants.  De-suckering tomatoes (Google ®to see a picture – I don’t want to copyright infringe any pictures) is where you remove the tomato shoot that grows between the main stalk and a branch.   You can find articles supporting each side.  I do de-sucker my tomato plants.  Well, the indeterminate ones.  The indeterminate (as opposed to determinate) are the ones that produce tomatoes for the length of the season.  These are the most common type of tomato.  Determinate tomatoes include Roma, San Marzano, and some cherry/grape type tomatoes.  It’ll say on the tag/seed packet if it’s determinate or indeterminate.  De-suckering your tomato plants gives you a less bushy plant, but it provides more sunlight to the plant and takes energy away from producing more foliage, an, theoretically, into producing more tomatoes.  It’s time consuming and depending on how many tomatoes you plant, it can take an hour of your day per week (I usually do ~200-250 plants).

I’m by no stretch a gardening guru or gardening professional, but I do consider it a hobby as I finish college.  If you have any questions that I didn’t address, or need any clarifications on stuff I did address, leave a comment and I’ll attempt to clarify.

Prizes for this round (ends May 31 2014) in our non fiction writing contest include…

  1. First place winner will receive –  A $150 gift certificate for Hornady Ammo  courtesy of LuckyGunner, a Wonder Junior Deluxe grain millcourtesy of Kitchen Neads, a one year subscription to the Personal VPN service courtesy of unspyable and Three Survival Seed Vaults courtesy of LPC Survival.
  2. Second place winner will receive – Brand New, Sealed Case of Military MREs (Meal, Ready-To-Eat)  a $119 value courtesy of and a Survival Puck  courtesy of Innovation Industries.
  3. Third place winner will receive – a copy of my book ”31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness“ and “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” courtesy of a copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of and a copy Herbal Antivirals and Herbal Antibiotics .



  1. Encourager says:

    Thanks CB for the spray recipes. We have been using a commercial repellant but not on stuff we eat. We put up heavy duty black web fencing around our main garden to keep the deer out. This is the 4th year we have used the same fence so it was worth the cost.

  2. Excellent tips! I think there are many of us who are learning as we go and absorbing all the information we can. I read something about the Magnesium a couple of weeks ago on this site and used it on my plants – they all look a little healthier now. I’m probably going to apply some more to my garden in the next few days as some of the plants look like they still need it.

  3. Don Duncan says:

    Beginners: Determine what produce you buy most (make a list). Add the total cost of each. Specialize by cost efficiency, i.e., plant what will save you the most. Some produce is so cheap it does not pay to grow, or your time/space is limited.

    Organic is important. It is the best reason for gardening. Your health is determined by the quality of your food.

    Thinking in fundamentals saves time/energy. Read: “The One Straw Revolution”

  4. CB
    Thank you for the article on gardening. I like your recipes for the sprays to get rid of the bugs.
    You did not mention if your squirrel population was ground or tree variety that were eating your water filled produce.
    If it is ground squirrels I read an old time way of ridding your place of the majority of them. It was an article in Country magazine a couple of years ago. They used a 4 pieces of black sewer pipe shaped like a “T” with guy wires to hold it in place. The “T” was upside down where they could place the bait down through the pipe. The bait was simple a mixture of plaster of paris with oats. The ground squirrels would eat the mixture than it would kill them.

  5. Sally Wolff says:

    I have a squirrel trap. Also a bird trap. Eventually you get their populations down. Four lined plant bug is my problem.

  6. mom of three says:

    Thank you, for the information the more we learn the better. My dad, told me you should learn one new thing a day. 🙂

  7. Thanks

  8. I bought about 20 bars of Irish Spring had soap, drilled a hole thru each, run a string thru and hang on the perimeter of my garden and anywhere else I do NOT want deer and they stay away.

    I was a bit skeptical at first, but after having my garden area tilled up, the next day there were deer tracks thru it. I took a steel fence post, put one at each corner, hung soap on each and never saw another track. I eventually used the same kind of “plastic” Encourager did and that keeps the other varmints out. I also found out deer do NOT like potatoes, so no fence or soap there. As for squirrels….I have a pellet gun.

    • Encourager says:

      We have not been able to find that plastic deer fencing for years. Ours is still in fair shape.

      Went to Menard’s yesterday and they had the fencing! 7′ tall x 100 feet. For $99.99….that is $1 per foot! Hopefully, at the end of the season, they will have some left on sale…I am not paying $100 to replace something I bought for $49.

  9. hand soap

  10. PrepperLabGirl says:

    I also try to be as organic as I can. A couple of years ago I bought a bag of pelletized organic fertilizer and spread it around in my garden beds. Unfortunately my dog thought something wonderfully dead and smelly was in there. She dug it all up! The next year I used it and covered the beds with wire, boards and whatever I could find. This was OK but she still dug around the coverings. This year I may have finally found a way to out smart her. I dug a hole for my seedling transplant and put a scoop of the fertilizer in the bottom of the hole and then planted. She never bothered them and the plants look great!
    Now if I could only get rid of the stink bugs!

    • Country Vet says:

      When you say “stink bugs” are you referring to “green bugs” or the small black beetle you find in the garden? The black beetle is actually a beneficial that eats bean beetles. Other beneficials that are sometimes mistaken fro pests are the Asassin Bug and the larval form of the Lady bug.

      • PrepperLabGirl says:

        Country Vet
        These are stink bugs that pierce and suck juices out of tomatoes, apples, plums, etc. That leaves ugly spots and causes fruit to rot. Organic pesticide doesn’t seem to work on them. My beneficials are overwhelmed!

        • Country Vet says:

          Ok, you are talking about the insect that is grey/green and shaped like a “green bug” I think. Not sure of the proper nomenclature for him. I have had good luck with NeemOil with these if we are talking about the same insect. You do have to spray them directly. Be sure to spray right before dark when the bees have quit flying. It will kill any beneficials that it gets on. There is a “wettable” solution with a highly refined clay that can be used on apples and pears that leaves a film. It is called Surround and was developed for the Plum Curculio. I suspect that you might find it beneficial if you are being overrun. I believe that Garden’s Alive carries it. Hope that this helps. If I think of anything else I will let you know.

          • PrepperLabGirl says:

            Country Vet
            Thanks, I have used Garden’s Alive in the past. I will look for Surround.

  11. Country Vet says:

    I have found that inter-species planting versus mono-culture will greatly increase yields if thoughtfully done. This works on several levels- first by actually confusing the pests , second because some plants seems to produce compounds that actually benefit the health and well-being of other plants (the opposite is also true), and third because you utilize your space more efficiently. One of the very most important things that you can do is plant umbelliforms ( carrots, cilantro, dill) and allow them to bloom. (We have some carrrts “blooming out” all of the time scattered throughout the garden. This has the added advantage if you use minimum tillage of having some carrots coming along all of the time. Cilantro and Dill will reseed also.) These attract the tiny Tachnid wasp that is your number one garden warrior. This little guy feeds from the nectar of these plants and then lays its eggs in the bodies of catepillers, bean beetles, etc. Wild Verbena seems to be protective from aphids. Garlic and Onions appear to help against the Cabbage Looper.
    Another very important consideration is to always raise your own seedlings whenever possible. There are pathogens that you can bring onto your property that can take 10 years or more to “go away.”
    A smoker handling a tomato seedling can transmit tobacco mosaic virus which can devastate your tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers. Also, if you buy seeds from a private source be sure that it is a non-smoker. You can bring in club root to your brassicas (cabbage and broccoli). These are just two – there are others as well. Bio-security! (if you smoke, there are some ways to reduce the risk to your garden but do not have time to go into that now) Raising your own seedlings will also save you lots of money and you will be sure that you actually get the variety that you think that you are purchasing (not the banana pepper that turns out to be cayenne). Happy gardening!

    • Virginia says:

      In regards to your comments about smokers, I am curious about the ways you know to reduce the risk to a garden. I’ve been growing a garden for the past 5 years and have read many articles online about gardening. Your comment has been only the 2nd comment I have read about smoking and gardens. The 1st article did not elaborate on the subject either.

      • Country Vet says:

        A smoker can mechanically transmit the tobacco mosaic virus from the tobacco in the cigarette, etc. to plants in your garden. Tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and egg plants are all susceptible to this virus and it can be devastating. Once you get on your property, any volunteer plants have the potential to propagate it perpetually (usually only volunteer tomatoes and potatoes happen in reality). Best avoided in the first place if possible. My rules are no smokers on my property. I do not handle plants from the solanine family at nurseries. If you must handle tobacco for any reason, be sure to thoroughly wash your hands , (and your clothes) and use a very strong disinfectant. The plant most likely will not leave its original source infected, but will be at great risk from picking up the virus at Walmart, etc from smokers. There is some evidence that goat milk will inactivate the virus on surfaces, but no one knows for sure how it works.
        So, the most important thing that you can do is raise your own seedlings and restrict access to your garden. If you must buy seedlings, be there when the truck arrives and be the very first to handle the plants. It goes without saying, NEVER grow tobacco in your garden or allow it on your property. If you happen to be a smoker, use extreme caution in handling your plants. Latex gloves would not be too extreme. It might be possible to go a lot of years and not get into trouble, but the results of one slip- up can be devastating. I think that we are at a point where we cannot afford to make that kind of mistake- it might cost lives.
        Hope that this clarified it some

  12. Donna in Mn says:

    Good idea about the soap. I used diluted soapy water to kill the aphids off my birch tree buds. Most of them hid under the leaves so I had to use a sprayer under pressure to hit the under leaf.

    When I had transplanted wild blueberry plants, it took a few years before they would produce a few berries. Then Justus, my big honkin GSD took a big piss on them one spring (and I got after him for doing that) and low and behold they bloomed beautifully and produced many berries. I think because of this the soil needed more nitrogen and acid, so I used urine to fertilize the ground ever year around them.

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