Youre in the produce department of your grocery store. Its almost as if youre looking at everything through a sheer curtain or veil. None of the vegetables are bright colored or healthy looking. They appear wilted and drab.
Remember when you were a kid and all the vegetables looked like they were just ready to burst out of their bins? The tomatoes were bright red and plump, the lettuce crisp and perky. When you bit into a tomato, you could practically hear it pop just before the juice ran down your chin or onto your plate. And the taste when was the last time you had a tomato that tasted like a tomato? Its probably been a very long time.
There is a way to recapture those sights, sounds, and flavors from your past. And you can get it right from your own back yard.
But it requires time, work, and some research. If youre up for the challenge, there is nothing more rewarding than eating food right out or your own garden. Food you know is grown with care and love, and is free of chemicals. Organic gardening.
Right up front, you should realize that organic gardening takes a level of commitment in time and labor many people are not prepared to invest. If you like the idea of putting safe, wholesome, homegrown food on the table for you and your family, then read on. Youll find some facts, suggestions, and tips for creating your own organic vegetable garden.
What makes a garden organic?
Most gardeners describe organic gardening as simply rejecting the use of anything chemical or artificial to control insects or to fertilize plants. Instead, they apply natural materials and methods in order to retain the health of the soil, the food, and themselves.
Why is organic gardening such a good thing?
Organic gardeners will tell you that the quality of the vegetable is nutritionally superior to anything you can get in the supermarket because the soils are kept nutrient-rich with natural materials. Not depleted and artificially fertilized. And the flavor is amazing.
Additionally, organic gardening can create a great sense of safety and relief in knowing your food is free of potentially unhealthy chemical toxins. Along with that comes the satisfaction of digging your own dirt and producing your own food. Not to mention the physical benefits of fresh air and exercise.
So, you have a yard with plenty of room for a garden. Youre committed to the investment of time and labor. Where do you begin?
1. Pick your location and make a plan
Every good project starts with a good plan. Gardening is no different. James Stephens from the University of Florida suggests you first figure out the amount of produce you want. Do you want just enough for you to eat through the summer? Do you plan to can it, freeze it or sell it?
Then find a sunny location in your yard with well-drained soil, close to a water supply.
2. Get your soil ready
Add organic fertilizer and soil conditioning material at least three weeks before you plant seeds or seedlings. It takes that long for organic material to start working in the soil. Get it worked in and mixed well to prevent interference with seed growth and development.
3. Organic materials are the foundation of organic gardening
Professor Stephens at the University of Florida suggests the following list of organic materials: animal or plant manures, compost, cover crops, or mixed organic fertilizers.
They benefit the soil in many ways, including adding major and minor nutrients, making the soil more water retentive, and improving the structure and condition of the soil -- allowing plants to grow more easily.
4. How and when to use natural and organic fertilizers
Animal manures such as cow, horse, hog, poultry, sheep, rabbit, and goat are considered to be the best forms of organic matter and fertilizer for an organic garden, says Professor Stephens. Its best if they are worked into the topsoil two to three weeks before planting.
Natural deposits such as phosphorus, potash, micro-nutrients, and lime are also recommended and applied in the same way as animal manures. Natural deposits are found in rocks, shells, and sands. They add valuable nutrients as well as aid in soil conditioning.
5. Less is more when it comes to watering
Your little plants are starting to sprout, so you proudly go out everyday to water and look over your crop. Watering every day is good, right? Wrong.
Seasoned organic gardeners recommend a good and thorough early morning soak once a week only, preferably on a windless day. This allows water to reach and encourage deep root growth. Shallow daily watering only reaches the surface inhibiting strong development.
6. Controlling damaging insects and diseases the natural way
This is no easy task once a problem takes hold. But there are non-chemical ways to control diseases and insects. Here are just a few suggestions:
Make sure plants and seeds are disease and pest free before you ever put them in the ground.
Inspect your plants regularly, checking for pests and diseases before they get a chance to take over.
Keep your garden clean and refuse-free.
Remove weeds (because they attract pesky insects).
Handpick insects off your plants.
Remove diseased plants before they infect others.
There are plenty of additional control methods such as insecticide soaps, insect traps, and other preparations containing naturally occurring materials you can try.
7. Dont let weeds steal your plants thunder (or their nutrients)
Keeping your gardens soil cultivated will keep weeds small, making them easier to control. If left to take over, weeds will steal the nutrients from your vegetable plants, leaving them more prone to diseases. Their ability to produce vegetables will be reduced too.
Mulching is also a good way to keep weeds down while holding in moisture.
These 7 points are just a small sampling of the amount of information, suggestions, and tips available to starting and maintaining your organic vegetable garden. If youre up to the work, challenge, and occasional setbacks, it is definitely a worthwhile and rewarding endeavor.
Keep the joy of the end result in sight those succulent, flavorful, and nutrient-rich vegetables of days gone by.