Organic Gardening Myths We’re Officially Breaking: Or, Why You Don’t Need Raised Beds and Fertilizer

Why You Don't Need Raised Beds & Fertilizers - Organic Gardening Myths We're Officially Breaking | Heirloom Soul | heirloomsoul.com

Spoiler Alert:  This gardening thing is about to get a whole lot easier.

People who garden, myself included, tend to have really strong convictions about how to garden.  For the sake of Mother Nature, I’m beginning to let go of all my opinions.  I’ll always have certain gardening “camps” I identify with:  the Permaculturists, the No-Tillers, and the Soil Food Webbies, but there’s a whole heck of a lot I’ve changed my mind about along the way. 

I say with one hand over my heart: I’ve gardened in enough places with diverse soils and bugs and crops across the Midwestern board and guess what:  Mother Nature doesn’t give one damn about our gardening convictions. 

(Please note this post contains affiliate links, which means if you click on a link and buy something I’ll get like 4 cents for it.  No extra cost to you –  all product recommendations are humbly my own.)

Reasons why raised beds, weeding, expensive equipment, and overwatering are common misconceptions of organic gardening. Learn how to garden the easiest way possible without getting bogged down by these myths! | Heirloom Soul | heirloomsoul.com

 

Myth #1:  “I Have to Build Raised Beds Because they Increase Production and Drainage”

Newsflash:  Raised bed gardens do not grow any better than in-ground gardens (assuming all other variables are equal).  Raised beds actually have very little to do with how well your garden grows, so no worries about having to spend all your money on the materials and equipment to build them (whew!)  

I’ll tell you what will significantly improve the production and drainage of your garden: Your Healthy SOIL.

Raised beds, be they cedar, stone, cinderblocks or old bath tubs, can certainly lend an attractive architectural element to your yard.  Raised beds are also great for gardeners who can’t bend over for long periods of time (the garden below was built for a client with back problems and I had the pleasure of growing it last summer):

Reasons why raised beds, weeding, expensive equipment, and overwatering are common misconceptions of organic gardening.  Learn how to garden the easiest way possible without getting bogged down by these myths! | Heirloom Soul | heirloomsoul.com

I have grown around 75 raised bed gardens (ballparking here, but it’s close to that number).  I’ve also grown in about the same amount of in-ground gardens, including larger urban farms.  And I confidently tout, one more time:  Raised beds are not necessary to grow a beautiful, productive, healthy edible garden.

Reasons why raised beds, weeding, expensive equipment, and overwatering are common misconceptions of organic gardening.  Learn how to garden the easiest way possible without getting bogged down by these myths! | Heirloom Soul | heirloomsoul.com

Assuming you have adequate sunlight (tutorial on that here), and you planted everything on time, the biodiversity of your soil is what will make your garden healthy (less bugs and diseases), it will produce more food, and the food will be much more nutrient-dense.  

I have a 2-part blog series on soil building techniques here:  Increasing the Biodiversity of Your Soil Food Web: Part 1 and Part 2.  If you really want to learn what it takes to build healthy soil and increase productivity in your garden (without raised beds!) I suggest bookmarking these articles and start implementing the practices in stages.

Reasons why raised beds, weeding, expensive equipment, and overwatering are common misconceptions of organic gardening.  Learn how to garden the easiest way possible without getting bogged down by these myths! | Heirloom Soul | heirloomsoul.com

 

 

 

Myth #2:  “All the Bugs Need to Die”

This one requires a mind shift.  All bugs, good and “bad,” serve a purpose in our ecosystem.  Those aphids? Food for the beneficial ladybugs.  The slugs?  They secrete slime that creates amazing soil structure in your garden.  All the spiders and centipedes?  They cause zero harm to your plants and actually eat the ones that do.

Reasons why raised beds, weeding, expensive equipment, and overwatering are common misconceptions of organic gardening.  Learn how to garden the easiest way possible without getting bogged down by these myths! | Heirloom Soul | heirloomsoul.com

We’ve been taught from a young age that bugs should be squished.  Meanwhile, our modern American agricultural system attacks the “bad” farm bugs with toxic concoctions of chemicals that completely kill them, but at a very sad price: All the good bugs, honeybees and other pollinators, trillions of soil microbes, and even animals, are all killed in the process.  This bug genocide seriously effects the ecosystem as a whole.

The truth about organic gardening: There will always be holes in your cabbage and you learn to deal with it.

I scoff at the many blog posts I see on Pinterest titled, “10 organic ways to kill bugs” and “THE ONE THING IN YOUR FRIDGE that will kill all the pests in your garden”…

What we need to realize is that we don’t actually need to interfere with the bugs at all.  When our gardens are healthy, the bugs balance themselves out by eating each other.  Really!  Our homemade “organic” remedies aren’t even necessary.  Masanobu Fukuoka, one of the beings I have been most inspired by so far in my life, founded the idea of “do-nothing” farming.  More and more I am adopting his do-nothing attitude, not only for my soil building practices, but for the bugs, too.

Totally Related:  20 Common Garden Pests + The Organic Pest Control of Mindfulness and Compassion

I’m going as far to challenge you to build an insect habitat (picture below).  This way, your ladybugs have somewhere to live over the winter.  Believe it or not, ladybugs live for years at a time!  You are now a bug mama (or papa).  Bet you never thought it would come to this!

 

Reasons why raised beds, weeding, expensive equipment, and overwatering are common misconceptions of organic gardening.  Learn how to garden the easiest way possible without getting bogged down by these myths! | Heirloom Soul | heirloomsoul.com

 

 

 

Myth #3:  “I Need to Buy All These Fertilizers”

The fertilizer companies would love you to keep on believing this.  The truth is, plants don’t actually grow from fertilizer.  Plants grow from nutrients provided by trillions of visible and invisibile creatures living in the soil.  

Another mind shift (you’re doing great):  We don’t feed our plants by throwing handfuls of fertilizer on them.  We feed the soil a diverse diet of organic matter that is eaten and broken down by the plethora of earthworms, beneficial bacteria, protozoa, fungi and other microbes that naturally live in the Earth’s crust.  

The microbes synthesize this organic matter into usable nutrients for the plants.  The most fascinating part is, the plants and the microbes develop intricate relationships, so the microbes know exactly what the plants need.

Reasons why raised beds, weeding, expensive equipment, and overwatering are common misconceptions of organic gardening.  Learn how to garden the easiest way possible without getting bogged down by these myths! | Heirloom Soul | heirloomsoul.com
You can add organic matter to your soil by growing cover crops and then using them as mulch over the winter, like I have with sweet alyssum in this rooftop garden.

Totally Related:  4 Steps to Cover Cropping Your Backyard Garden

This is called the Soil Food Web and is life on earth at its most basic!  If this is really peaking your interest, I suggest reading Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to The Soil Food Web by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis – a fascinating, easy to read book that will change the way you garden forever.

Let me compare our gardens to our bodies.  Some people think that as long as they take daily vitamin pills, they can keep on eating a junky diet largely devoid of nutrition and the vitamins will keep them healthy.  Then there’s other people who eat mostly healthy, plant-based diets with occasional grass fed organic meat, yet they don’t need vitamins because their bodies are already nourished from their food.  There are very basic similarities in this mindset of fertilizing our bodies with vitamins and fertilizing our plants with junk we buy at Home Depot.  Just as most commercially-available vitamins lack in nutrient delivery for our bodies, fertilizers lack nutrient delivery for our plants.

The #1, absolute best “fertilizer” for your plants is your own homemade compost + compost tea made from it.  Making your own compost is not only free, but it can be as easy as throwing all your food scraps in a pile and forgetting about it.  

If you want to get serious about composting, I suggest checking out my tutorial here:  How to Compost Kitchen & Garden Scraps to Increase Soil Biodiversity in Your Garden.

Reasons why raised beds, weeding, expensive equipment, and overwatering are common misconceptions of organic gardening.  Learn how to garden the easiest way possible without getting bogged down by these myths! | Heirloom Soul | heirloomsoul.com
Composting is NOT complicated! It’s a completely natural process and I encourage you to embrace it, to save food from landfills and to build amazing fertility in your garden!

In gardens that do not have a robust microbial ecosystem (new gardens and container gardens), I will add small amounts of Kelp Meal and Alfalfa Meal during soil prep.  Sometimes fertilizers are necessary, and it’s okay to use the sustainble, organically-derived ones.  Just make sure you know why you’re using your fertilizers.  Don’t mindlessly use them just because the labeling on the package told you so.

 

 

Myth #4:  “I’ll Spend All My Time Weeding, and I Hate Weeding!”

Reasons why raised beds, weeding, expensive equipment, and overwatering are common misconceptions of organic gardening.  Learn how to garden the easiest way possible without getting bogged down by these myths! | Heirloom Soul | heirloomsoul.com

Weeds get no love!  Yet they are simply incredible.  The above photo looks like a mess to most people, but I spy a delicious smorgasbord of white clover, plantain and nettles.

Totally Related:  Edible Medicinal Plants for Your Yard + How to Grow and Use Them

The beautiful thing about weeds is – most of them are edible.  And they are highly nutritious.  Dandelion?  Natural diuretic, prebiotic, and gut healer.  Lamb’s Quarters?  More Vitamin K than spinach.  Plantain?  Wound healer.  Chickweed?  It’s the new Superfood.  Wood Sorrel?  Tart and to die for.  Purslane?  The reason I fell for all the others.

Purslane, edible weeds in the garden - Reasons why raised beds, weeding, expensive equipment, and overwatering are common misconceptions of organic gardening.  Learn how to garden the easiest way possible without getting bogged down by these myths! | Heirloom Soul | heirloomsoul.com
Once we stop thinking of weeds as “weeds,” the whole weeding chore becomes manageable.  You don’t have to do it as much.  Start by identifying which “weeds” you have growing in your garden, and decide which ones get to stay and go.  Midwest Foraging by Lisa Rose is the perfect book for this and includes 115 plants.  You’ll be AMAZED how many weeds growing in the cracks in the sidewalks you can EAT or infuse in oils to make natural body products.  

 

Download my FREE Handcrafted Plant Magic eBook!

Easy DIY bath & beauty product recipes that are completely natural and organic - banish toxins from your daily routine for good! - Handcrafted Plant Magic - DIY Self-Care Rituals Inspired by My Garden - Free Ebook! | Heirloomsoul.com

Enter your info below to download my free eBook, Handcrafted Plant Magic!  In it, I will teach you how to make your own herb-infused oils to use as a base for other natural body products.  And yes, you can totally infuse your oils with medicinal weeds from your yard!   

 

Myth #5:  “I Have to Buy a Tiller and Other Expensive Equipment Before I Start Gardening”

This one makes me chuckle.  Why, exactly, do you need expensive equipment?  You want to save money with your garden, right?

If you’re thinking you need a tiller, just stop.  Do you have 5 acres you need to get turnt right this minute?  Or are you one of those people that cruises around on a riding lawn mower in your small, suburban back yard?

Reasons why raised beds, weeding, expensive equipment, and overwatering are common misconceptions of organic gardening.  Learn how to garden the easiest way possible without getting bogged down by these myths! | Heirloom Soul | heirloomsoul.com
This’ll do it.

Coming from someone who prefers a manual push mower:  You do not need a tiller.  Or a mini hand tiller.  Or a weed whacker.  Or anything that requires electricity.  All you need are some shovels, a hard rake, a compost fork (that one is my favorite little thing to use for soil prep!), some trowels, maybe a wheelbarrow, tub trugs are nice for harvesting & maintenance but not completely necessary, and gloves.  And good old fashioned strength you got from your granddad.

If you do have a large patch of land to turn over to start your garden, consider doing it in phases. In fact, you should do it in phases so you have time to observe your land (sun patterns, wind patterns, wildlife, invasive plant growth, etc.) before breaking ground.  Observing your space first will help you make the right moves in your garden for the long run.

 

Myth #6:  “My Plants Need “X” Amount of Water Everyday”

…Did your plants tell you that?

Truth is, most people mistakenly overwater their gardens.  A lot of times it’s the kids with the hose or, literally, super soakers.  I’ve seen it!

Something we don’t realize about plants is that they don’t need as much water as we think they do.  Humans are all like, “I need my 128 oz everyday,” and we project that onto our plants. Thing is, some farmers never water their plants.

Some plants do need more water than others (leafy greens, for example, are finicky and will shrivel up and die if they don’t get adequate water).  But for longer-growing plants (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, and ESPECIALLY perennials), not watering them will force them to reach their roots deeper into the soil to find water and will make them much stronger in the process. 

Growing Lettuce - Reasons why raised beds, weeding, expensive equipment, and overwatering are common misconceptions of organic gardening.  Learn how to garden the easiest way possible without getting bogged down by these myths! | Heirloom Soul | heirloomsoul.com
Leafy greens need a lot of water – but your tomatoes, peppers, squash, and especially perennials, don’t need as much as you think.

A few last thoughts on water.  

1) Healthy soil filled with ample organic matter and microbial life has incredibly high moisture holding capacity.  When your soil is rich and diverse, it acts like a sponge!

2)  Our planet is experiencing a water crisis – we need to save water rather than mindlessly using it on our plants whom, more than likely, don’t even need it.  Consider setting up a rain barrel for garden water.  Here’s an amazing book I highly recommend every gardener read on lessons from desert farmers that we can adapt in our own backyards:  Growing Food In a Hotter, Drier Land by Gary Paul Nahan.  

3)  Investing in an Orbit timer and hooking your irrigation system up to it will free you from having to worry about watering your garden.  As a side note:  I’m not a huge fan of plastic in the garden (main reason is, it’s plastic and a waste of natural resources), so if you don’t need to lay irrigation lines out, then don’t.  

 

Myth #7:  “I got this one gardening [book/blog/guide] I love and I have to follow their instructions to a T”

The beautiful thing about gardening is that, there are no rules. I have adopted practices into my gardening from many different sources – farmers I’ve learned from in person, conferences I’ve attended, books and blogs I’ve read. And I continue to be flexible and tailor my gardening style to what works in each specific garden I’m in.

Reasons why raised beds, weeding, expensive equipment, and overwatering are common misconceptions of organic gardening.  Learn how to garden the easiest way possible without getting bogged down by these myths! | Heirloom Soul | heirloomsoul.com

You’ve got to start absorbing information from different sources.  Don’t limit yourself to one gardening style.  You don’t wear the same outfit everyday, do you?  There is so much plant wisdom out there!  Absorb as much of it as you can.  Meld what you love into your own gardening belief system. 

All of the books I’ve suggested in this post, I highly recommend.  I also have helpful lists for Organic Gardening Resources, Permaculture Resources, and Soil Building Resources.  

A few gardening practices I’ve adopted are:
Permaculture
Soil Food Web awareness
Cover Cropping and Intercropping in small spaces
Double-Dig Method + No Till gardening

Reasons why raised beds, weeding, expensive equipment, and overwatering are common misconceptions of organic gardening.  Learn how to garden the easiest way possible without getting bogged down by these myths! | Heirloom Soul | heirloomsoul.com

Myths aside, there are far more positive truths about growing our own food that we need to embrace.

Your homegrown food has FAR more nutrients than any organic food you’ll buy at the supermarket.
You will save money over time.
Your kids will start eating more vegetables.
Your yard will look better.
You will tap into your heirloom roots and gain a much closer connection to nature.
Most of all, you will be an inspiration to someone else.

What are you waiting for?

Comments

  1. Reply

    I have a raised garden and planted winter rye for the first time this year. Very happy with the results. Your post was my inspiration to think outside the box, or in it in my circumstances. I used the clippings from the rye as mulch to save on watering and adding additional biomass.
    Also, like the idea of a bug house. Think I’m going to have to create one.

    1. Reply

      Heather, thanks for your love! I love that you planted winter rye in your raised beds, such a good one for cover cropping and adding organic matter to your soil. Good luck with the bug house, if you make one, send me a pic 🙂

  2. Reply

    I love your wholistic approach- kudos for passing it on!
    Thanks for sharing your approach

  3. Reply

    It is literally like you read my mind!!! This is my second year gardening and my reasoning is that while I understand our soil is some depleted from some abuse…. Our forefathers successfully raised food to feed their entire families without all the fancy gimmicks we have nowadays and while some are helpful, they are not necessary to grow a healthy garden. I do know that my soil is in need of some more nutrients but I am excited to see what it does this year!

    1. Reply

      Jenn, yes, totally on the same page!! I find myself adding kelp meal and alfalfa meal in small quantities to my soils at the beginning of each season. Even in containers. This year I’ve saved a ton of egg shells and I’m going to grind them all up in my blender and add to tomato beds. Best of luck in your second year!! 🙂

  4. Reply

    Thank you for your post! You have some really great insight into dealing with plants and gardens! Have you read the Ringing Cedars of Russia series?

    1. Reply

      Hi Debbie, thanks so much for reading – and your sweet comment, it makes me so happy to hear!! I have not read that series… nor have I heard of it. I’m gonna check it out thanks for the tip 😊🌿💚

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