organic gardening: a few tips for beginners

Abby here.

The greenhouse is currently at it’s peak, and is it crazy to say it’s been a blast?! I mean, I would have never guessed this sort of thing would be… well… my thing.

After posting pics on FB of some of our bounty, I’ve gotten quite a few questions on organic gardening.


I’ve been at this for 3 years now, which means I’m far from an expert but I’ve mastered a few things that work. While we do a bit more than throw a seed in the dirt and pray it grows, we keep our methods simple. Nothing too fancy or I think I’d throw in the cards!

I often think back to the professional organic gardener I know who told me even after 10 years she is still learning and changing how she does things every year. I think the unorganized side of me loves that… there’s still so much to learn!

But back to what I do know. Here are few things that will hopefully help those of you considering starting a garden take the leap!



This one is a toss-up, but I think having a greenhouse in the Montana climate has been incredible. A few friends ( Hi Jeanne! Hi Jennifer!) successfully grow food in a garden, but it is a shorter growing season with the risk of an extreme temperature drop or hail storm.

If you live in a more temperate climate and are just gardening for your family, an outdoor garden should suit you just fine. Greenhouses can be expensive and should not stop you from growing food!

Here is professional drawing I threw together of our current layout in the greenhouse.  I only wrote  the main plants in each bed, like tomatoes and blueberries, but didn’t include all their companion plants, as I thought i’d be way to hard to read.  In the tomato beds we also have basil, peppers and onions.   Ohh, and at the front of the greenhouse we have a giant (like 6 feet tall) tomatillo plant that produces one tomatillo… just one.  I have no idea what I did wrong, as it should have produced hundreds.


Whether you are in a greenhouse or garden, do your best to alternate crop locations each year as to not deplete the soil. Given the arrangement of our greenhouse, we can’t easily rotate every year, so we amend our soil with compost like crazy.

20130825-215451.jpg COMPANION PLANTING.

This means planting certain plants in pairs or groups, as they help each other out by encouraging growth, warding off unwanted pest or attracting the beneficial insects.

HERE is a great chart of companion planting in organic gardening.


It’s all about the soil! I must confess that I’m only starting to learn about the pH balance in soil, but plan on researching that more this winter in preparation for next summer. We amend our soil each year with organic compost, and used Jeanne’s soil blend for some new beds this year. Avoid soils such as Miracle Grow that include non-organic fertilizers.

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First off, this whole gardening gig has turned out to be a big job. But the pay off… organic produce that hasn’t been messed with by anyone but us… that is rewarding. Get your family involved, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Kids are great a watering and pulling weeds!

Some years your garden will be so productive you won’t know what to do with everything, and other years you will spend the whole time wondering what you are doing wrong. What works great one year, might not work the next.

Some years the bugs will seem to take over and you will grunt and groan and wish you could spray toxic pesticides all over that place. But instead of poisoning your plants… you pull yourself up by the boot straps and buy some ladybugs and let them do the work.

Some years you will google and google and google to figure if the yellowing of your leaves is from over-watering or under-watering, but you’ll eventually figure it out and have hundreds of tomatoes to thank you.


As I mentioned earlier, this is our third year in the greenhouse and it’s the start of a lifetime of gardening for me. I’ve tasted the (organic gardening) rainbow, and don’t foersee ever going back. I don’t expect everyone to share my enthusiasm, but I promise you’ll experience at least a bit of joy eating food you’ve grown yourself!

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