Biological Control · Food Garden · Homesteading · Observations · Off Grid · Soil care · Water Supply

Sustainable, Productive and Economical Vegetable Gardening (Part 3): Integrated Organic Gardening

My vegetable garden is entering its 8th year and it has been a long journey of trial and error, many a dead or diseased plant and lots of research into various facets of food production along the way. As I have mentioned many times, organic gardening principles are not properly integrated and do not provide any guidelines towards developing a production system that fits with what you have available.
Here is a picture I designed to convey some of the most important factors in proper food production i.e. a vegetable garden not concerned with aesthetics, but providing food with the least amount of input in terms of the money, time and labour involved (cuz believe me; truly productive systems based on sustainable practises are not what most people consider beautiful 😉 ).
Integrative Organic Vegetable Gardening IOVG garden blog south africa gauteng johannesburg roodepoort highveld
Integrative Organic Gardening (IOG)

I am briefly going to discuss each concept I have above and will do follow-up articles concerning each section throughout the year. This system is based on my own experiences and research into various aspects of food production, including commercial agriculture and strict-organic principles. Mine aims to find a model suitable for backyard gardening enthusiasts with full time day jobs and tiny budgets! 🙂

Integrated Organic Gardening (IOG, if you like) is the proper management of your garden in order to maximise outputs (food, satisfaction and sense of achievement) with minimal input (money, time and labour). This is by no means ‘easy’ as most people will put it, it will require you making time (even just 30 minutes a day) and there will be disappointment, but most things worth doing take effort and dedication to reward you with accomplishment (and lots of food in this case too!). Vegetable gardening is lots of fun and part of the final reward/result is the fact that you know how hard you worked to accomplish this (as most hobbies should do).

Now part of proper management is meticulous record keeping. This can be terribly boring to start with and I would suggest leaving this initially so that you can get stuck into growing things and eating them right off the plant first. You can then start taking a few notes here and there and expand this system once the vegetable growing bug has bitten you! This would involve plans for the garden and later a sketch of what you actually did plant or keeping score of how many tomatoes you received from each cultivar and which you enjoyed the most to eat so that you can plant them again the following year. Record keeping is important, but if you forget to write a few things down or fall out of the habit its OK – it is not like the garden will stop growing because of it!


Garden Journal Planner Design Layout
Garden Journal/Planner


The overall success of the vegetable garden is highly depended on the food you grow. Do not grow food that you do not enjoy eating. Firstly, it takes up valuable space, soil and nutrients in the garden and secondly, you would not look after it as well as something you are looking forward to eating! The big lesson here is to start small. Begin an herb garden then the next season add some tomatoes and root vegetables. Thereafter try some crazy new cultivars of tomatoes (I would recommend the black fruiting varieties) and dig out an additional section for the squash plants. By starting small and adding on each season prevents the whole thing from overwhelming and discouraging you. Also aim to grow plants purpose bred for your climate, such as those available from local seed manufacturers – online purchases or exotics run the risk of being ill-suited to your climate and subsequently will be riddled with disease and would likely produce poorly.


Sustaiable Conservation Agriculture organic vegetable gardening south africa johannesburg roodepoort santon pretoria gauteng highveld1
My vegetable garden December 2014. Conservation Agriculture is my main practise here and everything is growing like it would on a abandoned sidewalk! LOL!


Water supply is a huge concern, especially in hot/arid climates. If the weather isn’t generous enough to water the garden for you and your municipal water doesn’t come cheap – then other sources become a must have. There are many different rain water collection systems on the market and coupling these to a drip irrigation system will give you the most bang for your litre of water! Water use is maximised through mulch (a dead or living cover to prevent water loss through evaporation from soil), ollas (ceramic water containers which release water as needed) and planting water efficient crops (some tomato cultivars are more water efficient than others and most herbs use the least amount of water in the garden).


blue sky, wispy cloud, tree branches
No rain in sight



Pest can become a major problem be they of the insect, bird, mammal or plant kind. Sustainable practises are hard and frustrating to adapt in the beginning stages as you do not receive the same benefit of instant/total pest annihilation. Many environmentally friendly pest control efforts take time to work and only reduces pest problem to a manageable level, meaning a low-level of pest will remain in the garden. I have several articles pertaining to this already and will write another with a more holistic setting later.


Bee, pak choy flower, pollinate, apis mellifera
Backyard organic gardening involves pollinators, pests predators and prey on the micro scale!


Soil and plant health are fundamentally linked – I cannot stress how important this is. I understand that many of us (including myself when I started gardening) do not fully appreciate the truth of this statement. Soil is the medium in which crops grow, gain their nutrient, water and it provides a foundation for biological interactions between the soil fauna (earthworms, microscopic worms, insects, arthropods, fungi and bacteria) and the plant roots. The biological interactions amongst the soil fauna and with the plants are crucial to provide nutrients and plant disease resistance. If your soil is lacking in nutrients, simply lining it with fertiliser (organic or not) is not sufficient as your plant will likely be prone to disease as nutrient only do not provide the plant with resistance. Adding decomposing matter (in the form of a mulch and compost) to the soil drastically increases soil fauna and these guys help sort out the pathogens/pests by either outcompeting them or simply destroying them. Again soil fauna reduces plant stress and disease to a minimal level; therefore you will have the odd sick plant. Please see my conservation agriculture post as an introduction to Soil Health and what you can do to improve it.


Mushroom, fungi, cap, decomposition
Fungi are an essential part of the soil fauna


So that ends the article for this round and I will finish off by adding a few links to each relevant concept for easy reference. Please remember that I will also write new articles on each topic listed in the topmost picture as well with the aim to provide you with tools to optimise food production whilst limiting the amount of soil working, pest combat and weed pulling on your side. Mother Nature has all the systems in place and if you allow her to steer your garden while you supervise in the backseat, you will be able to have a fully-stocked garden with minimal headache.




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