Growing your own fresh, organic produce is satisfying on so many levels. Flavor; the convenience of walking out to your garden to select fresh vegetables to prepare for a family meal; reduction of food costs; and knowing the origin of your food source, are just a few. Gardening can be both an art and a science, and it can take some trial and error to get to the point where you can rely on your own green thumb to provide an adequate food source for your family. Here are a few primary tips that can help you get started with your own organic backyard garden.
Choosing an area for your garden is the first step, and should be considered one of the most important. Vegetables require a fair amount of sunlight, so choose a location that receives at least 6-8 hours of sun per day. If you need to clear an area of vegetation before working the soil, wet down the area and cover it with a layer of black plastic for 3-4 weeks prior to digging up the area. This will rid the plot of existing grass and weeds, and will also sterilize the soil, killing any dormant weed seeds. To ensure a truly organic garden, you’ll also want to make sure that your garden is not located in an area that was recently treated with lawn chemicals or pesticides. If you have difficulty meeting any of these requirements, a raised garden bed is an excellent and easy solution to existing soil or location problems, as it can be located anywhere on your property, including a sunny patio.
The soil needs to be well-drained, and have a rich organic consistency. Add peat moss, and a variety of composted materials to build up your soil. If you are using a raised bed garden, you can create your own soil mix by combining peat moss, vermiculite, and compost in equal portions. All of these materials can be purchased at your local garden center.
You’ll also want to start your own compost pile for ongoing inexpensive soil amendments.
When selecting what to grow, it is best to start small, and choose plants that your family likes to eat or that can be added to dishes that appeal to your family. Be sure to choose seeds that are organic or open pollinated, and if purchasing seedlings, choose the organic varieties. Garden centers and online seeds shops are a good source of organic seeds and seedlings, however if you are unable to find them commercially, starting your own seeds indoors in a greenhouse is a cost-effective way to ensure that your plants are organic. First-time gardeners may want to start with plants such as beans, peas, carrots, onions, squash, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, and pumpkins as they are all easy to grow and need little care. Be sure to water transplanted seedlings and newly planted seeds well to encourage germination.
If you sterilized the soil prior to planting your garden or you’re using the raised bed garden technique and created your own mix of soil, weed growth should be minimal. Sowing seeds in close proximity, and companion planting (such as growing marigolds next to tomatoes) results in very little room for weeds to grow between plants. Once the vegetables are established, mulching around the plants and on garden paths is a very effective method of maintaining a weed free garden, and also builds up your soil as the mulch decomposes. When using mulch, be sure that it contains only organic materials (not grass clippings that have been treated with lawn chemicals). Keep any new weeds at bay by hoeing and weeding by hand regularly. When hand weeding, be sure to pull the weed from the base of the plant to ensure that you get the entire root. Pouring boiling water over the entire plant is also an effective way to kill established weeds.
Insects and Pests
Many insects are beneficial to your garden, and organic gardening encourages bees, butterflies, earth worms, and frogs to make themselves at home. Earth worms can be purchased and added to your soil. Lady bugs are also a welcome friend to organic gardeners as they feed on aphids which love to chew on leafy greens. Remove any uninvited pests by hand. Slugs, which can do a great deal of damage in very little time, can be deterred by using beer traps (shallow containers such as jar lids, filled with beer). Rabbits, deer, and other four legged creatures can be kept out of your garden by installing a fence around the circumference of the plot. Fencing is easily installed by using steel fence posts and 4′ high wire mesh. Secure the bottom of the fence to the ground with stakes, and make sure the openings at the bottom of the mesh are small enough to keep the baby rabbits out too, as they can be very destructive all by themselves. If you need more deterrent, tried used kitty litter or a commercial prepared product such as Liquid Fence.
Watering your garden until plants are well established, and during dry spells, will keep them healthy and better able to ward off diseases and pests.
Watering in the morning will reduce problems with pests that like dark, moist places to hide (slugs). It also gives the plants extra energy to get through the hot, sultry days of summer.
Keeping a garden journal that includes dates, plant names, and photos will help you track what works and what, if any modifications you need to make for planning your garden next year. The photos will help with crop rotation, by helping you track where things were planted so you can move them around every year.
Don’t forget to get the whole family involved. Teaching your children to garden is educational and they’ll learn lifelong skills that are healthy, enjoyable, and useful. Gardening is a hobby that can bring your family closer together, while creating memories and healthy eating habits that each of you can benefit from and cherish for years to come.