Written by: Joshua MacAran
Organic produce is often expensive and not always delicious – unless you grow it yourself! Setting up a backyard or window will garden is easy, fun, and economical.
The benefits of organic gardening are enormous and have a much greater scope than the benefits of organic eating. You get delicious, pesticide free vegetables at a low cost. You spend time working with plants and nature, which according to Floriculture Chair Dr. Charlie Hall of Texas A&M “helps people concentrate better in the home and workplace. Studies show that tasks performed while under the calming influence of nature are performed better and with greater accuracy, yielding a higher quality result. Moreover, being outside in a natural environment can improve memory performance and attention span by twenty percent.” You get gentle exercise in the comfort of your own home. Best of all, you’ll often harvest more than you can eat. The extra can be preserved for the winter or shared with family and friends. You will probably find that your children, friends, and family are curious about your gardening adventures. They’ll definitely appreciate the fruits of your labors! Remember that you can start with just a few plants, so don’t be intimidated.
The first step is to make a place to plant something. If you have a back yard, then you already have a great place to start. A front yard is just as good! If you don’t have any soil at all in your home, then you can buy or make window boxes, or use large pots. Don’t let lack of funds discourage you. All kinds of recycled materials can be nailed together or modified to serve as plant pots. Many sizes will work but for a producing vegetable, the container should be two to three feet deep, a foot and a half across or wider, and needs to have holes for drainage. Most vegetables benefit from afternoon sunlight, so put them in a west facing window or a location that isn’t too heavily shaded by trees or other buildings. Another great option if you want to do some larger plants but don’t have a good yard for it is to find a community garden in your area.
Soil is the next consideration. To keep it simple, most soil is fine for growing food. If there is an entrenched colony of grass you’ll want to take a shovel and dig up the first six inches, or until you have more dirt than root. If there are farms in your area you can often get free manure, which is a great way to add some nutrients to your soil, but it isn’t a necessity. Make sure to take some time to break up your soil so that it has good drainage. Most city soil is quite compacted. Use your shovel to break up another six inches of soil below your seeds so that your plants have room to spread their roots.
The third step is to decide what to grow and when to grow it. Each climate zone has different growing times, but the rule of thumb is most vegetables are planted in spring after the last frost and harvested in summer. There are many winter crops, especially if you’re in warm climate, including kale, salad greens, beets, peas, and winter squashes. Check http://www.thevegetablegarden.info/planting-schedules to find your planting zone and a schedule for planting specific crops in your area. They also have some great information about how many plants of each type you would need to feed your family. If you’re just starting out, tomatoes and zucchini are easy and produce a lot. Just be careful with the zucchini – they’ll take over as much as space as you give them! Swiss chard is another easy produce for beginners.
Buy some seeds at your local garden store, or better yet save and dry seeds from the vegetables you eat at home. Plant them one half inch below the surface of the soil (in rows if you don’t want a mess!) and don’t pack the soil too tightly on top. Water them every day in the beginning. If seeds are too much hassle and you have a little extra money, you can also buy seedlings from a nursery or farmer’s market.
As they grow larger, you can spread your waterings out. All soil falls somewhere between sand and clay. If your soil is heavy clay (when it dries, it’s in a hard clump like dry clay), then you can give it a large amount of water once or twice a week, and the soil will retain the moisture. If you have a lot of sand in your soil you will need to water more two or three times a week because sandy soil has much faster drainage. Neither type is better – they’re just different.
How much should you water your plants? Leave them in a small puddle, let it drain, and then water them enough to leave another small puddle. If you’ve been watering the same area for 10 mintues, then you’ve watered enough and you probably have very sandy soil.
Take a little time each week to remove unwanted grass and plants that don’t look like the rest of them. This should take you less than 20 minutes. Don’t worry too much about the little clumps – go for the more mature weeds! Try to pull them out at the base and get as much of the root as you can. Grab some gardening gloves so you don’t mess up your hands too badly. In a few months you’ll have the proud experience of eating your very own organic produce!
There is a lot to know about growing plants, but at its heart organic gardening is very simple. It’s fun to get out and get a little muddy, and having a backyard garden is a great way get a little more green in your life. Plant, water, and nurture your vegetables, and they will grow for you.