The simplest definition of organic vegetable gardening is growing food without the use of chemicals. It is growing food more naturally. Organic gardening views gardens as mini ecosystems, which means they should be treated with kindness, respect and humility.

The goal is to work in harmony with nature to create mini ecosystems that protect, nourish and sustain soil microbes, plants, insects and other wildlife. Any input or practice that disturbs this harmony by killing organisms, harming and polluting the environment, or causing food to become toxic, should be forbidden.

Pay attention to how certain plants perform when grown next to others. (Photograph: Ngcebo Mhlezana of Who Are We)

Remember that organic gardening works with the sun, as sunlight provides the energy for plants to grow. No sun, no garden – it is that simple. Your garden can never have too much sun. In fact, you should worry if it gets too little sun. Vegetables need at least six to eight hours of sun to thrive. For every hour less than that, the garden becomes less productive.

Build healthy soil and mix things up

Organic gardening also means working with the soil and the intricate web of life that exists in it. As a gardener, you team up with the billions of fungi, bacteria, insects and earthworms that breathe life into gardens. When you take care of the soil, it will take care of you.

I have seen first-hand the abundance that comes from thriving soil. So, take the time to work a lot of compost and other organic materials into your garden bed before you plant anything. It will pay off more than just about anything else you can do.

Pay attention to how certain plants perform when grown next to others. Some attract beneficial insects that help to protect a companion, others emit a strong smell that repels unwanted pests, while others produce nectar to lure butterflies, bees and birds. So, mix things up. Plant trees, climbing crops, creepers, fragrances, herbs, and flowers to add diversity to your garden. A biodiverse garden is a healthy, resilient garden.

Consider seasons and the climate

You also garden in concert with the seasons and climate. You should not grow tomatoes and melons in winter, because these warm-weather crops do not like the cold. If you pay attention to the weather and climate, and select only suitable crops for the area and season, you will be rewarded.

Keep things clean

Just because you grow organic food does not mean that your garden should be a mess of dead or dying plants, weeds and rotting tomatoes. You should keep things clean. Many diseases and pests spread rapidly in dead, fallen foliage. Walk through your garden once a week, and clear it of any dead plants, leaves or other debris. This keeps your garden healthy. You can prevent a disease from spreading through an entire plant by just picking off an infected leaf.

Plant of the month: Coriander

In my opinion coriander is by far the best fresh herb there is. It brightens almost any dish. Think about it: Where would our curries be without coriander? I love its fresh flavour, while others swear it tastes like soap. It is a cool-weather herb and prefers to be planted in the cooler seasons of autumn and early spring. Plants will run to seed more quickly if stressed by hot weather.

Coriander tends to brighten up almost any dish. (Photograph: Ngcebo Mhlezana of Who Are We)

Grow coriander in a sunny spot that has a little shade during the hottest part of the day. Because of its pungent smell, coriander is an excellent repellent of aphids. Consequently, it is best grown next to cabbage, broccoli and kale. The leaves and seeds are an excellent source of magnesium and vitamin C and K. They are also great for the digestive system. – Manti Maifadi, Naledi Farm

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For more information on Naledi Farm or for advice on growing vegetables at home, contact Manti on 082 800 2327 or email bookings@naledifarm.co.za.