Making Your Green Dreams a Reality: Organic Garden

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Earth911 asked its Twitter followers, “If you had unlimited funds, what would be on your green wish list?” This series breaks down the most popular responses and how to make them a reality.

Want the freshest, most affordable, organic vegetables possible with absolutely no food miles? Make like the Obamas and grow your own. “I think everyone should try to grow a little bit of their own food. It’s one of the best ways to really understand the seasons and become more conscious of where you’re food comes from,” says Scott Meyer, editor of Organic Gardening.

Here are Meyer’s tips for getting started.

1. Pick the right spot

Most vegetables need at least six hours of sunlight—the more, the better. Generally, this means planting on the south or west side of your home. You’ll also want to make sure your spot gets good drainage, so avoid any location where puddles tend to collect.

2. Time for beds

Meyer recommends planting your crops in raised beds, which are easy to build, help to simplify soil management and improve drainage. Start with one or two 4 by 8 foot beds, and be sure to avoid constructing them from treated wood or railroad ties, which can leach chemicals into your garden. Check out the below video from GardenGirltv for step by step building tips.

Once built, fill your beds with a blend of topsoil and compost. If you already compost, and you have enough material to create a 50/50 mix, great. If you need to supplement with store-bought materials, ask to open a bag before you buy. “It should smell sweet and earthy and the texture should be about like chocolate cake crumbs. If you smell ammonia, take a pass. That means it probably has chemicals,” says Meyer.

3. Choose your crops

Tomatoes are popular for a reason. They’re among the easiest vegetables to grow, particularly cherry tomatoes. Leaf lettuce, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers and herbs are also good bets for novices, according to Meyer. “You can also ask around at your local farmer’s market for advice on what does well in your region,” he says.

As a beginner, you’ll probably want to start from seedlings, as opposed to seeds. Once your plants are in the ground, protect them against dehydration with mulch. Grass clippings, shredded leaves or hay should do the job nicely and will choke out weeds while nourishing the soil as they decompose.

4. Create a healthy ecosystem

In addition to planting a variety of veggies and herbs, add some flowers to the mix to help ward off pests, since you’ll be eschewing chemical insecticides. Flowers and herbs attract beneficial insects like ladybugs, which keep aphids and other pests in check.

Putting a birdbath nearby will also invite more fine feathered friends, who will also be happy to help your cause by feasting on bugs.

“People mistakenly think birds are eating their vegetables when they see them in the garden, but really, they’re going for the bugs that are crawling on them,” says Meyer.

5. Nourish without chemicals

You’ll be avoiding chemicals when it comes to fertilizer, but you will still need to make sure your crops are getting the nutrients they need in order to thrive. Your compost/soil blend is a good start, but you can also buy chemical-free fertilizers if your garden needs an additional boost. Just be aware that the word “organic” is not regulated the same way for fertilizers as it is for foods.

“Read the ingredients. If you see a lot of chemicals on the label, that’s what your getting. Natural fertilizers contain things like feather meal or manure. Chemical ones typically contain ammonium nitrate,” says Meyer. The words “slow release” are also a good sign, and anything that’s “OMRI-listed” is permitted for use on certified organic crops, the highest standards available.

6. Keep it up

Now that you’re on your way to building your dream organic garden, your next moves will likely require some trial-and-error and the flexibility to adjust as you go. County extension services or nearby university extension services are great resources for more information on local growing conditions, crops, soil and other agricultural considerations.

Also read: Urban Farming: 10 Crops You Can Grow at Home

Feature image by from Pexels

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  1. For nourishing the soil, I highly recommend worm castings. Sprinkle them around your plants and the nutrients gradually penetrate the soil. Healthier plants seem to have less bug problems!

    Also…we’ve found that sprinkling some coffee grounds (free from your local Starbucks) discourages snails and slugs without adding toxic bait. Garden smells nice like a coffee house, too.

  2. Hi Sarah

    Thanks for the garden tips!

    Garden Guru’s….,

    We started a new vegetable garden at the lake to celebrate Mother’s Day. The plan is to use a 3″ bed of pine needles as mulch to retain water, prevent weed growth, and provide an acid boost to tomatoes and other veggies. My question: The soil has had exposure to pine needles for many years…will adding this 3″ bed of mulch add to much additional acid to the soil? Note: I was hoping not to add additional top soil, manure….but will if needed.

    Any advice is appreciated.

    Green or Greedy?

  3. Very good short little article. Most people wouldn’t believe it’s this easy but it actually is. There’s not much to it just to grow a few vegetable that your family will enjoy! It’s very simple to get started. Of course it can get very complicated the more and wider variety you want to grow so add different plants as you become more experienced. It’s nice to say that I need to go to the garden vs. I need to go to the grocery store. Also, if you don’t have the room think of a few containers and grow in those.

  4. The economic downturn and the rising fuel prices, plus the growing “green movement” has generated an amazing increase in the public’s interest in using organic fertilizers rather than chemicals. You know it’s going mainstream when NFL ball teams are ordering our Pure Black Castings and VermaPlex to fertilize their fields. We can all take heart that “going green” may be here to stay.

  5. This is a great article for beginning gardeners (me). This fall is my first large-scale attempt at feeding my family with what I grow.

  6. This is a great start for new gardeners. I’d love to see more on compact gardening for very small spaces. I use worm castings, coffee grounds (work great for snails & rabbits) & organic mulch, plus focus on drought tolerant & native plants…now, I need to try vegetables in pots, since not much room in the sun.

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