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Organic Plant Culture

Course CodeBHT302
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Learn to produce organic crops and set up sustainable gardens

Organic growing of plants works with nature, rather than against it. It recognises the fact that nature is complex and accordingly endeavours to understand interactions between plants, animals and insects. It therefore encourages the gardener for example to learn about the life-cycle of pests and to use this knowledge to control them. It also recognises that the use of chemicals has to be replaced with labour and management. Organic gardeners have to manage pests rather then eliminate them. They need to be vigilant and have the ability to recognise problems and act quickly to minimise the spread of both pests and disease. They may also need to accept some insect damage to the plants they grow as inevitable.

  • New! Course substantially revised and updated.
  • Develop a solid understanding of the principles and procedures underlying the cultivation of plants by natural methods.
  • Learn to grow plants naturally and by working with the natural environment.
  • Work with the environment and without the use of artificial fertilisers or sprays.

Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction (Gardening styles, basic organic procedures, etc.)
  2. Plant Culture
  3. Understanding Soils
  4. Fertilisers and Plant Nutrition
  5. Soil Management
  6. Pests and Diseases
  7. Mulching
  8. Seeds (Collecting, storing and sowing)
  9. Vegetable Growing in your locality
  10. Fruit Growing in your locality

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Explain the concepts and principles of organic growing, including the common techniques used in organic growing systems
  • Explain the concepts and principles of organic growing, including the common techniques used in organic growing systems.
  • Determine soil management procedures, which are consistent with organic growing principles.
  • Explain how pests and diseases are controlled using organic growing principles
  • Determine appropriate mulches for use in different organic growing situations.
  • Determine the appropriate use of seed propagation, in organic plant culture.
  • Plan the production of an organically grown vegetable food crop
  • Plan the production of an organically grown fruit crop

What You Will Do

  • Determine the roles of different organic farming and gardening organisations.
  • Explain how organic crops can be 'certified' as being organic in your country.
  • Explain the application of crop rotation in a specified garden, or farm.
  • Describe the construction of a 'No-Dig' garden, using materials readily available in your locality.
  • Explain the intended aims of a specific 'Permaculture' designed garden.
  • Explain different organic growing concepts, including:
    • biodynamics
    • sustainable agriculture
    • companion planting
    • fallowing
    • composting
    • recycling.
  • Explain how organic matter may benefit plants growing in different soils.
  • Compare the advantages with disadvantages of using organic versus non-organic fertilizers.
  • Determine different organic fertilizers that are commonly available in your locality.
  • Compare factors affecting the selection of different organic fertilisers, including:
    • Proportions of different nutrients
    • Likelihood of burn
    • Buffering characteristics
    • Where it is to be used
    • Method of handling
    • Cost
    • Availability.
  • Determine mulch materials readily available for organic growing in your locality.
  • Compare different mulches suitable for organic growing systems, in terms of:
    • Interaction with water (eg. repellence, absorbency, drainage)
    • Nitrogen draw down
    • Toxins
    • Rate of decomposition
    • Insulation properties
    • Weed suppression
    • Availability
    • Cost
    • Nutrient content
    • Ease of handling.
  • Explain how different, specified leguminous plant species, may be used to improve soil fertility.
  • Explain how different worm species may be used to improve soil fertility, on a specific site.
  • Determine how soils on a specific site may be managed, using organic principles.
  • Explain the different methods of natural control of pests and diseases, including:
    • Quarantine
    • Natural sprays
    • Physical controls
    • Plant selection
    • Use of natural predators
    • Environment manipulation.
  • Determine commercially available, naturally derived sprays that can be used in organic growing.
  • Explain the benefits of ten specified examples of companion planting, including:
    • Repelling pests away from crop plants
    • Attracting pests to bait plants
    • Improving soil (structure and nutrition)
    • Deterring growth of pests and diseases.
  • Develop criteria for evaluating pesticides, including natural pesticides, for use in an organic garden or farm.
  • Develop appropriate programs to control pests and diseases on different, specified cultivated plants.
  • Develop guidelines for seed variety selection, appropriate to organic plant culture.
  • Explain the importance of preserving seed sources of 'older' plant varieties.
  • Compile a catalogue of different, reliable seed sources for organic culture.
  • Explain appropriate methods for storage of different types of seed.
  • Explain various ways dormancy factors can affect seed germination.
  • Develop an annual timetable for planting different varieties of vegetables, appropriate to organic growing systems, in your district.
  • Compare the culture of different specified vegetable species, in organic with non-organic production.
  • Prepare organic production schedules for different food crops, including:
    • A vegetable
    • A fruit
    • A berry.

Organics Involves Working with Nature

Modern science has given us the tools to destroy anything in nature that is undesirable. In theory, this sounds good; but in practice, there will always be collateral damage. A far better application of science may be to understand and harness the good in nature to minimise the bad.

This is the Organic Way of doing things. It isn't anti-science - it is just utilising knowledge in what many would consider, a more responsible way.

Here are some examples of how biological factors can help us grow plants.

Worms and other insects for example can aerate (till) the soil, help to build up soil structure and texture and can help to control pest insects.

Once the soil biology becomes more complex and diverse, it is then not dependent on a limited range of soil organisms to maintain soil health and fertility. With diversity the structure and health of the soil improves, making it more resilient also improving its output.

If you improve soils to encourage more soil biological life:

  • You will need less fertiliser (because nutrient cycling will be more productive).
  • Lower pesticide input as biodiversity increases in the soil pest organisms are better controlled by other beneficial organisms active in the soil.
  • Soil structure and texture improves – improved structure reduces the need for tillage; it also improves crop yields - good soil structure promotes better root growth and water storage ability in the plant.
  • You reduce the possibility of pollution through leachate into groundwater or waterways. Soil biological life decontaminates soil by absorbing excess nutrients and chemicals in the soil and filtering out the contaminants.

Action of Soil Organisms
Most soil organisms are found in the topsoil and it is the action of microbes (microscopic organisms) which results in humus production. Organic matter only becomes humus when it has passed through a microbe's body. Of these microbes, certain bacteria are most important. Specifically, antinomycetes, which are thread-like in appearance, decompose organic matter into humus releasing nutrients as they do so. They also produce antibiotics which combat root diseases.

When dead plant material, or animal material, is added to the soil the decomposition begins. Initially, only those compounds which are easy to break down are decomposed through the action of soil organisms e.g. proteins, sugars. Over the next few years more complex compounds are decomposed e.g. lignins, cellulose. During the next ten years ever more complex compounds such as waxes, phenols and relatively stable compounds within the soil peds are decomposed. Finally, over hundreds and up to thousands of years, the remaining compounds are broken down into humus. The compounds within humus are extremely complex and are not recognisable as plant material. When humus has reached a point whereby it can no longer be broken down, it is said to be stable.

The benefits of humus are that it provides a food source for micro-organisms, it improves soil structure, it buffers against excess acidity or alkalinity, it increases the soil's cation exchange capacity and therefore nutrient retention properties, and it retains moisture.

After You Graduate From This Course

What will you be able to do with the knowledge and practical skills you gain from this course?

  • Start your own organic vegetable and fruit growing enterprise.
  • Start and organic gardening service.
  • Be a consultant - show others how to garden organically and sustainably.
  • Set up edible organic gardens for others.
  • Extend your knowledge gained in other areas such as permaculture.
  • Help save the environment.

Learn from experts - our tutors are experts in this field - some have had their own organic enterprises and have been gardening organically for decades. Let them help you to improve your knowledge and skills.

If you have any questions, or want to know more, please get in touch with our specialist Horticulture and Permaculture tutors today.

Meet some of our academics

Maggi BrownMaggi is regarded as an expert in organic growing throughout the UK, having worked for two decades as Education Officer at the world renowned Henry Doubleday Research Association. She has been active in education, environmental management and horticulture across the UK for more than three decades. Some of Maggi's qualifications include RHS Cert. Hort. Cert. Ed. Member RHS Life Member Garden Organic (HDRA) .
Diana Cole B.A. (Hons), Dip. Horticulture, BTEC Dip. Garden Design, Diploma Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, PTLLS (Preparing to Teach in the Life Long Learning Sector), P.D.C. In addition to the qualifications listed above, Diana holds City & Guild construction qualifications and an NPTC pesticide spraying licence (PA1/PA6). Diana runs her own landscape gardening business (Arbella Gardens). Active in many organisations including the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers.
Yvonne SharpeRHS Cert.Hort, Dip.Hort, M.Hort, Cert.Ed., Dip.Mgt. Over 30 years experience in business, education, management and horticulture. Former department head at a UK government vocational college. Yvonne has traveled widely within and beyond Europe, and has worked in many areas of horticulture from garden centres to horticultural therapy. She has served on industry committees and been actively involved with amateur garden clubs for decades.

Check out our eBooks

Organic GardeningCreate a healthy, well-balanced garden. Attract abundant beneficial insects to pollinate your plants. Have healthy, fertile, organic soils teeming with life. Use this book as a guide to establish lush gardens laden with fruit, vegetables, herbs and ornamentals - without the use of chemicals. The ebook covers: soils and nutrition, pest and disease, natural weed control, conservation and recycling. 179 pages, 170 colour photos
WeedsA good cross section of of common weeds are illustrated and reviewed. These are plants that occur in many parts of the world, and some are not always weeds.
Fruit, Vegetables and HerbsHome grown produce somehow has a special quality. Some say it tastes better, others believe it is just healthier. And there is no doubt it is cheaper! Watching plants grow from seed to harvest and knowing that the armful of vegies and herbs you have just gathered for the evening meal will be on the table within an hour or two of harvest, can be an exciting and satisfying experience.
What to Plant WhereA great guide for choosing the right plant for a particular position in the garden. Thirteen chapters cover: plant selection, establishment, problems, and plants for wet areas. Shade, hedges and screens, dry gardens, coastal areas, small gardens, trees and shrubs, lawns and garden art.