How To Start Your Own Organic Garden
There is something so rewarding at starting an organic garden from scratch, putting in the labor and eating the harvest once it is ready. We’ve been growing in our garden for many years and each year we learn something new to make life easier and the produce BETTER. Growing your own food couldn’t be easier and the health benefits are priceless. You know what kind of seeds or plants are purchased, the supplements added to the soil and plant to make them strong and healthy so that in turn they provide you and your body with top notch vitamins, minerals and more to accelerate your health to new levels. Not to mention that it will save you LOTS of $$$$.
Organic gardening means you won’t be using synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, but that doesn’t mean your plants are left to fend for themselves. There are tips and techniques you can use to bolster plant health and ward off pests. Organic gardening also isn’t just about what you don’t do, it’s about trying to foster a more holistic, natural ecosystem. Work WITH mother nature, not against her. Just as we strengthen our immune system to ward off bacteria, viruses and any unwanted visitors in our internal ecosystem, we apply the same strategy to plants. Strengthen the soil with nutrients and the immune system of the plants and you have a great preventative against invading pests and bugs. Weak plants and poor soil are a breeding ground for attack from all kinds of pests, bugs and disease. Sound familiar?
When Scott and I started our organic garden, we had a large plot and borrowed a tractor from a neighbor and tilled up the soil, added LOTS of horse manure and organic mushroom compost to amend the soil. We planted with good success but it was a LOT of work to weed and maintain. The following year, we built a fence around the garden due to the deer, rabbits, ground hogs and whatever critters in the area saw that we had put out a smorgasbord of delights for them (NOT SO!) Then with all the weeding and labor, we decided the next year to build raised beds to plant in and reduce the need for weeding. Raised beds have been a blessing and I would highly recommend you start there instead of just growing in the ground. Too much work. This is where “No dig gardening” is wonderful!! It has been a labor of love in progress.
“No dig gardening” or a raised garden bed, consists of layering organic materials on top of the soil to create a nutrient rich environment for your plants, in this case, vegetables and herbs. The garden literally composts the materials while feeding the plants. A raised garden bed means that it doesn’t matter what sort of soil you currently have. Simply layer materials over the top of your surface and start growing! Learn more here and here. I wished we knew about this method years ago, but we all live and learn. :) You can also take this information and apply it towards growing in pots or containers.
1)Location and size : Start small. Don’t take on more than you can handle or hoe. Find a spot that is sizable and has growth potential for the future – you can always expand later. Choose a location that receives as much sun as possible throughout the day. Whether you choose to plant in an area of your yard or in containers on your porch/balcony, go for a brightly lit place.
2) Soil : You’ll want to amend your soil by mixing in compost, leaf and grass clippings and manure. Manure should be composted, unless you aren’t going to harvest or plant anything for two months after application. Preferably, get your manure from local livestock that have been organically and humanely raised — and never use manure from animals that eat meat. If using the no dig method, layer with card board, leaves, compost, manure, etc. and let it decompose naturally (a few weeks or months) and you’re ready to plant. The cardboard kills the grass and you don’t have to dig, but it doesn’t disturb the ecosystem below the sod (worms, bacteria, etc.) that is highly beneficial to your overall soil ecology for future planting and plant nutrient uptake. We go to our local recycling area and get cardboard and newspaper (color free) for FREE.
If using pots or containers, purchase a quality organic compost and organic soil and maybe some worms that will further enhance the nutrient breakdown. Again, the better nutrient dense the soil, the better the plant.
3) Compost: Compost includes any biodegradable material which can be broken down into a fine, dark humus. Compost feeds plants, helps conserve water, cuts down on weeds, and keeps food and yard waste out of landfills (where it produces methane), instead turning garbage into “black gold.” Spread compost around plants, mix with potting soil, use to bolster struggling plants. We have cut down our garbage waste TREMENDOUSLY by composting our kitchen scrapes, coffee grinds, etc.
1. To get started, measure out a space at least three feet square. Your compost heap can be a simple pile or contained within a custom pen or bin (some can be rotated, to improve results).
2. Add alternating layers of carbon (or brown) material — leaves and garden trimmings — and nitrogen (or green) material — such as kitchen scraps and manure, with a thin layer of soil in between.
3. Top off the pile with four to six inches of soil. Turn the pile as new layers are added and water to keep (barely) moist, in order to foster microbe action. You should get good compost in as little as two months (longer if it’s cold).
4. A properly maintained compost pile shouldn’t smell. But if it does add more dry carbon material (leaves, straw, or sawdust) and turn it more frequently.
5. Even if you live in a city, you can do some composting under your counter with a tidy worm kit, or partner with a community garden. (source)
Tip: You can add some urine to the compost to activate it and get it breaking down quicker and add nutrients. Again, recycle, re-use and reduce. It might seem gross, but it is great for compost! Just saying!
4) Choose the right plants: Many things are best grown from seed. When you also grow your own seedlings, it’s a lot cheaper than purchasing them; not to mention that satisfying, gratifying feeling that you raised them yourself. Backtime the date you hope you’ll be frost free and start your vegetable seedlings about 6-8 weeks earlier. Of course, you will have to start them off under cover or indoors. I start my seedlings off indoors in small trays (from the garden center) that I re-use each year. Look for seed companies that carry heirloom varieties that are non-GMO. I like to purchase from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and have for years. I have had great success with their seeds and I have enough seeds now to not have to buy any for a long time. I just use what I need for the year planting and store the rest (in original packets) in a zip-lock baggie in the freezer. I also like to share seeds with friends and anyone else looking for certain varieties that I may have – I have PLENTY.
When starting seeds indoors, they will need a light, airy soil that will hold moisture to grow. The soil should not be too light and sandy so that it dries out quickly, but not too heavy so that it compacts and clogs up the air spaces. Normal garden soil or compost is NOT suitable. Here’s a great tutorial on how to start seeds indoors.
If you’re buying seedlings, look for plants raised without chemical fertilizers and pesticides. A great place to look is at your local farmers’ market, which may also have native plants and varieties well suited to your area. It’s better to buy stocky seedlings with few, if any blooms yet, and with roots that don’t look overcrowded.
5) Plant according to space recommendations: When it comes time to put those little babies in the ground, here’s what to do:
- Mark where you plan to put each of your plants. Use a trowel to make a hole large enough to take the root system.
- Have the soil in the seedlings’ containers damp enough so that the soil clings to the roots of each plant as much as possible.
- Gently prise or tip out each vegetable seedling from its container taking as much of the soil as you can with it into the garden bed.
- Firm the soil around the plant in its new position, cover the area with mulch and water in gently. Initially leave a small gap between the mulch and seedlings so that rot does not set in when the plants are so young and tender.
- It is best to transplant seedlings in the late afternoon or evening to give the plants time to settle before being subjected to midday sun. (source)
6) Proper Watering:
The best time to water plants is usually in the morning. Why? Mornings tend to be cool and without strong winds, so the amount of water lost to evaporation is reduced. If you water in the evening plants stay damp over night, making them more likely to be damaged by fungal and bacterial diseases.
Ideally, you want to water the roots, not the greenery, which is easily damaged. A drip or soak system can work great, or just carefully water the bases of plants by hand. (source)
7) Weeding: Yep. It’s going to happen in any garden. Pulling weeds by hand may sound like hard work — and it can be — but it also can be good exercise, and gets you outside in the fresh air. We love to go out after dinner (once a week), while the sun has gone down, and spend an hour pulling weeds, talking to each other and the plants, playing with the cat (Daphne) and connecting with the earth. It is so grounding and healing. Great way to de-stress and let all your worries go. Don’t be lazy and put toxic chemicals on the weeds. Go out there and get your hands dirty pulling weeds and enjoy knowing that you are creating a better environment for the plants to absorb nutrients (not those pesky weeds) to benefit YOU.
8) Protect Plants Without Toxic Pesticides: If your plants are being assaulted by pests, it may be a sign of other problems, so the first thing you should do is make sure they are getting enough light, nutrients and moisture. Organic weapons include Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring bacteria that disrupts the digestion of caterpillars and other leaf-eaters. You can also use horticultural oils, insecticidal soaps and garlic and/or hot pepper sprays and food-grade diatomaceous earth.
9) Harvesting: Now, here’s the FUN part! Generally, the more you harvest, the more your plants will produce for you. During peak harvest season, you’ll likely find that it’s best to check your garden every day. When harvesting leafy greens pick sporadically from the entire crop, a little from each plant. In general, it’s best to cut produce off with a sharp knife or scissors, versus ripping with your fingers, which can cause more damage to plant tissue. If you get too much bounty, remember you can also freeze, can, dehydrate and give away to friends and neighbors. There’s nothing like nibbling on fresh greens that you just plucked from the garden.
Have fun harvesting and creating delicious, nutritious meals with your bounty knowing that it is feeding you and your family amazing nutrients.
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May the GREENS be with You! and Be Inspired!