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Monday, June 13, 2011

Organic Gardening

Organic Gardening

Lots of people would like to grow their own organic vegetables, but don’t have the time, space or knowledge to make it happen. They think organic gardening is a lot of work – digging, tilling, and worst of all – weeding.  And it can be all of this.  I started organic gardening about 5 years ago and decided to have a victory garden done in beds.  My Mom has had gardens here in the past but had stopped working them.  So I purchased some mulch from a local outlet and started to work.  I reopened the beds Mom had made and started planting tomato plants and gradually over the years have added to it until I have quite a substantial garden space.  All planted in beds or areas that I have fenced in.  This year looks like it may be the best year ever in large part due to the efforts of my nephew who put in a watering system and helped us with every aspect of the garden.  I might add that this is his first efforts into gardening and he has learned most of what he has done by going on line and researching how to do it.

Planting and maintaining an organic garden is a rewarding experience. While many of the steps for making a new organic garden are similar to starting any type of garden, there are a few noticeable differences. For example, there is a lot more work up front, planning and analyzing the site. This work is essential for any organic garden: ideal conditions result in healthier plants, fewer pest and disease problems, and a more care-free garden.

I recently saw on TV where some folks had sold their house in the city and moved to the country to get back to nature and raise their own foods and enjoy the peace and quiet of the country.  Now they were selling their house in the country and moving back to the city.  They had determined that there wasn't much to do in the country and it was easier to just buy the vegetables.  Realistically, even if you do everything you can to make gardening easier, it is still gardening and requires a lot of effort.

Our goal is to produce quality vegetables but take out 90% of the physical work in getting the garden up and running.  I think we have accomplished some of this.  Here are the basic questions you need to ask when deciding to start your own organic garden.

  • Where will I put the organic garden in my yard?
  • How much sun will it require?
  • How much room will an organic garden need?
  • What water source will I use to sustain it?
  • What materials do I need for a successful organic garden?
  • How should I prepare the soil for my organic vegetables?
  • What varieties of organic vegetables can I use?
  • What organic vegetables will it make sense to grow and when do I plant?
  • What are the easiest methods so that I can reduce the overall work required.
  • How much time am I willing to invest in this effort.
I hope this blog will help answer some of these questions through our own experiences.  Perhaps making organic gardening so easy that your entire family will want to get involved and help with the process from start to finish.

Before you can start to answer these question you must first determine the goals for your garden. 

Goal Setting

Before you ever put shovel to soil, before you buy a single plant or seed, you need to know what your goals are for your new garden. Are you hoping for a pretty planting bed to give your home curb appeal? Maybe you’re planning a vegetable or herb garden, or that flower cutting garden you’ve always dreamed of. What you choose to grow will have a huge impact on selecting the site for your new garden. 

Whatever your goals are, it’s important to be realistic.  It is  best to start with something small and manageable. You can always expand beds later. Keep your hopes for expansion in mind as you consider your site. For us our goals were simple.  We wanted a garden space that was neat but the main goal was to produce organic vegetables.  In that we have succeeded in doing.

Question 1:  Where will I put the organic garden in my yard?

It is time to spend some time analyzing your yard. Where would be the best place to put a new garden? Keeping your goals in mind, start observing areas of your yard that look like they’ll work. If it’s an herb or vegetable garden you’ve got in mind, you’ll need a site that gets at least six hours of sun per day. You’ll also need to make sure that the site drains well—if it’s like a swamp in the spring and summer, it won’t work for herbs and vegetables, which prefer well-drained soil. If it’s an ornamental bed, consider placing it where you can enjoy it from inside your house as well. 
Question 2:  How much sun will it require?

This is a very important question.  After you have selected a site spend a couple of days watching the site to make sure it will be getting enough sun to grow your vegetables and/or herbs or other plants.   How many hours of sun does it get? Does it get bright morning sun, or hot afternoon sun? 

Question 3:  How big will I make my garden?

Now that you have your perfect site selected, it’s time to start digging. The first step will be deciding on the size and shape of your new garden. This can be done by putting down a garden hose and adjusting it until you get the size and shape you want, which is a good option for beds with curved borders. If you are going with a more formal, geometrical bed, you can use string and stakes to create an outline, or simply measure the size and mark your borders in paint.  Since I was using previously used beds this was predetermined for me. 

My next step was to remove the grass and other plants that were currently occupying the area.  If it is a small area you can simply dig it up with a shovel removing most of the grass and weeds/plants.  We used a tiller because our area was quite large.  A good garden requires good soil so I added compost and finely ground mulch to the garden.  Compost can be purchased if you do not want to make your own.  I purchased our first in bulk from a local garden center.   

You can also take soil samples to determine the nutrients and acidity level of the soil.  I purchased a testing kit from our local garden center.  You can determine your need based on what plants you are planting.

Question 4:  Water source?

We have a well for gardening so our garden bed was near the outlet for the well.  It was also near our city water outlet as well.  Gardens will need extra water so this should be a consideration for your site selection as well.  This year we have a complete watering system put in on timers with the exception of one small tomato bed which we still water by hand.  It has certainly made things a lot easier and has removed a substantial amount of time required for the garden.

.Question 5:  What about plant Selection?

This is the fun part: your garden is ready for plants. Time to hit the nursery and make your selections. A word of caution: most nurseries carry plants that were conventionally grown using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They will bring some trace amounts of these chemicals into your garden. Also, plants grown conventionally tend to get almost “addicted” to the chemicals they are raised on, and will show signs of stress when weaned off of these chemicals. They will adjust to chemical-free conditions in time. 

It’s getting easier to find organically-grown plants in many home and garden centers. If you are starting your garden early in the season, you can select organic seeds and start your own plants.  I do a lot of this.  Organic plants and seeds will always clearly be labeled as such. There are also several good catalogs that sell organic plants. 

As far as the plants themselves, be sure to closely inspect any plant before you bring it home. Look for signs of insect or disease problems. Remove the plant from the pot and inspect the root system. Does it look healthy and robust, or is it straggly and weak? If the plant is root bound, you can still purchase the plant, but you will need to slice the root ball before planting so the roots will start growing out.

Question 6:  How about Planting?

When you get your plants home, give them all a good drink of water, even if you plan on planting them immediately. A thoroughly moist root ball will help your plant adjust better to its new surroundings, lessening transplant shock. 

To plant your plants, dig a hole just as deep and at least twice as wide as the root ball of your plant. Place the plant in your prepared hole, back fill with the soil you removed, tamp it in, and water it thoroughly.  Sometimes I put water into the hole and allow it to soak in before I plant.  This assures me that the plant will have plenty of water.

Once you have all of your plants in, give the entire garden a three inch layer of organic mulch, such as shredded bark, hay, chopped leaves, or grass clippings. This will keep weeds down while retaining soil moisture.  I cannot overemphasize this step.  You do not want to be hoeing all summer.  Now I have tried putting down black out covers and use these in some cases but the easiest to start with is just using mulch from your local garden center.  It works very well for us.

Labeling your plants now will ensure that you will remember exactly what you planted. You can do this by installing plant labels near each plant, or by making a map of the garden to keep for future reference. This will help remind you where plants should be emerging in the spring.  Also next season you will want to rotate your plants to different areas in your bed knowing where they are will help you with this as well.

There is some work involved in creating a new organic garden, but it will pay off in the years of enjoyment you will gain from it.  We enjoy ours and especially the food that comes from it.