Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Grow Your Own! How to Grow an Organic Garden: Part 3

Ok, so now that you've seen some amazing reasons why you should garden, let's talk about how!

These are my top six tips for getting started from scratch!

1. Determine your hardiness zone, and your area's last spring/first fall frost.
If you don't know when you should be planting, you won't be able to grow things at the right times or harvest the maximum amount! Also check out the dates for your area's last frost in spring and first frost for fall on this website. Once you've got those dates figured out, you're ready to move to the next step.

2. Decide what you want to plant!
Do you want just an herb garden, or veggies and fruits? Do you love green beans but hate Swiss Chard? You can grow practically everything. My advice is: choose the veggies and herbs that you use anyway. It seems exotic to grow your own kale, but if you don't eat it anyway (it's really good for you!) use the space for something your family will eat! Make a list of your favorite fruits and veggies, and include a couple new ones you'd like to try. Just don't include 100 new ones! Our family's favorite veggies are green beans, squash, peppers, tomatoes (which are technically a fruit) peas, radishes, lettuce, cucumbers, and carrots. For herbs, I'm planning on growing basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley and mint this year. For fruits, we got all our fruit trees and plants from Fast Growing Trees, an online store that sells mature trees, so you don't have to wait 5 years to get fruit!

3. Decide how you want to grow.
Do you have space for a traditional in-ground garden? Will you use raised beds or containers, or is your garden on your windowsill? There are so many different options. If you have a backyard, and you can dig a traditional garden, that is truly a blessing. If you're like me, though, you have a backyard but you can't dig it up, because you don't own the house! I use containers that function as raised beds. (Actually they are better because air can circulate from all sides. They are called Smart Pots and I love them! You can use them in your yard, on your patio, or your front porch, or in a window! They come in sizes 1 gallon-200 gallons! And the great thing about them is that you can use regular dirt in them, you don't have to buy special potting soil like you do with standard containers. If you do decide to container garden, there is a FABULOUS book called "Bountiful Container" by McGee & Stuckey. It goes through each plant and tells you how to correctly plant it and maintain it. It is easy to read and reference, and not boring! I highly recommend it, even if you have a traditional garden, because the information on each plant is so good!

4. Decide if you'll grow from seed or transplants.
Once you've got your list of desired herbs and veggies, (and even fruits!) decide how you'll grow them. Some foods, like cucumbers, don't like being transplanted, so you have to grow them from seed. Personally,I like growing just about everything from seed, because it's fun, and it's the most affordable. I got my seeds from, and I like buying organic and heirloom seeds, because most seeds these days are genetically modified or hybridized. Even some "organic" ones! I go for heirloom seeds and make sure "hybrid" is nowhere on the package. This is especially true for tomato plants. You can also get organic seeds/heirloom seeds from Whole Foods or any natural food store.

5. Decide how you'll arrange your plants, and figure out when they need to be planted.
Timing is everything in gardening. And so is your growing arrangement. For example, some plants don't like each other and won't produce well when they're in close promixity. And some plants have mutually beneficial properties and grow better when they're together! This is a fascinating concept called companion planting. It's used a lot in organic gardening because the right arrangements not only encourage higher yields and greater growth, but they stave off unwanted insects. I read a great book on this called "Carrots Love Tomatoes" by Louise Riotte. Also check out this great article that has a list of "friendly" plants by Seeds of Change's newsletter. For timing, check out your county's local extension center for a listing of what should be planted on what dates. Do a google search for "*your county* extension center. This information should also be in the white pages of your phone book.

6. Decide what soil you will use.
The soil that you use for your plants is so important! If your soil is lacking nutrients, your plants won't grow properly. If you are growing in the ground, check out for natural soil amendments and tests to find out if your soil is lacking anything crucial. If you're growing in a raised bed or container, it is very important that you buy organic soil. But let me warn you, do not buy any "organic" soil by Miracle Gro or Scott's Brand. They are owned by Monsanto, the manufacturer of Round-Up. They are absolutely not "organic" or environmentally friendly. Don't waste your money! Instead, look for local lawn and leaf companies in your area that manufacture compost and distribute soil to residents. Here in Kansas City, I got my dirt from Missouri Organic. You might have to get a lot, but it would be well worth it! Plus it's much cheaper when you buy dirt locally. If you just have a few pots, though, and need some potting soil for ceramic/clay/plastic containers, I'd recommend you get some from your local natural foods store/Whole Foods. Don't buy it from Home Depot or Walmart. They're not really organic, even though they say they are.

Well this concludes my first 6 steps to growing your own organic garden. Tomorrow we'll talk about my favorite garden accessories. Happy Gardening everyone!

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