How to grow an organic vegetable garden

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What does it mean to grow vegetables organically? Scott Meyer, editor of Organic Gardening magazine shows how to plant and nurture an organic vegetable garden.

How to grow an organic vegetable garden

Buying organic vegetables is great - growing your own is even better! Scott Meyer, the Editor of Organic Gardening magazine shows us how to get started.

Why Organic?

Organic gardening methods ensure that the food you grow is safe to eat and free of chemicals. It is also very satisfying to work in concert with nature to produce a great result. Nutritionally, the product is better for you and tastes better than produce that you can buy. Chefs know that organic food is better food and are responding to the demand by seeking out organic produce or by growing their own.

What's the first step in planning the garden?

What else? Location, location, location! Your garden needs full sun, which is 8-10 hours of sun per day, at the peak of summertime. The soil must have good drainage - the water should not sit or settle when it rains. To test soil drainage ahead of time, pour water on the ground where you are planning your garden. If the water disappears into the ground, you are good-to-go.

How do you determine the size of your garden?

One of the most common mistakes gardeners make is to create a garden that is too big. A good size to start with is a 4-foot by 8-foot space or a 4-foot by 10-foot space, if there's more room. A 4-foot width allows you to reach into the center of the garden to pull weeds or harvest without stepping on the soil. Tip: You never want to compress the soil once you have turned it over.

What materials do you need to start a garden?

You may be surprised that everything you need can be found at your local garden center or hardware store: 4 wooden stakes, garden twine, large garden spade, garden fork with tines that are spaced widely.

How do you start the garden?

  • Mark off your space with the garden stakes and garden twine. If you have sod, remove it by working the garden spade underneath the sod to remove the sod and its roots. Then, use the gardening fork to turn over the earth and break up any big clumps of soil.
  • If you don't want to dig up your grass, you can try the "lasagne" method, instead. After marking off your garden with the stakes and twine, layer newspaper followed by straw, glass clippings or shredded leaves. The newspaper does a great job of killing off the grass, and the organic material on top becomes part of the organic matter that enriches the soil. When using this method, there is no need to use the garden fork to turn the earth over - you can cut holes directly through the "lasagne" layers to plant your seeds or plants.

Compost

Add compost to the soil. Plants are fed by the micro-organisms in the soil, which are killed by chemical fertilizers. Compost nourishes the microbes, which, in turn, fertilize your plants.

Mulch

A gardener's best friend is mulch. Who knew? Mulch not only helps to suppress weeds, it also helps conserve water by retaining moisture in the soil. The best materials for mulch in an organic garden are glass clippings, straw or leaves. These materials are handy and they break down and feed your soil as they go.

Is late summer or fall too late to start a garden?

Good news! Late summer is a fine time to plant full-gown warm weather vegetables. Mature vegetables and herbs will do well if planted in late summer. Fall is a great time to start greens, such as lettuce, spinach or kale. You can start the greens by seed or small plants.

 

Transcript RON: Hi everyone, I'm Ron Corning with howdini.com Buying organic vegetables is great, but growing your own is even better. But how do you get started? Well Scott Meyer is the editor of Organic Gardening Magazine, he's the editor. And he's joining us now with tips on how to get the ball rolling. Scott, thanks for being here.

SCOTT: It's great to be out in the garden with you today, Ron.

RON: All right. First of all, Scott, why organic?

SCOTT: As you said, you get great produce, better than you can buy. But it's also just satisfying to be outside; the fresh air and the sunshine, and working in concert with nature to produce a great result.

RON: Nutritionally?

SCOTT: You get better food, and it's fresher and tastes better than any food you could buy.

RON: Yeah, a lot of chefs are going that way.

SCOTT: All the chefs know that organic food is the best kind of food. It's also cool; when you're talking about your garden, you're going to tell people, 'I'm an organic gardener; not just a gardener.'

RON: So take us through the first step.

SCOTT: You're looking for a place that gets full sun to grow those great summer vegetables everybody loves. That means eight to ten hours of sunlight a day at the peak of summertime. You also want to make sure that it has good drainage. That means the water doesn't sit there when it rains. When you leave water on the soil, sitting there, it can cause all kinds of other problems. So make sure the soil drains well. Just put a little bit of water on top, and if it drains away, you're great.

RON: In terms of the amount of space you need for the plot, what would you recommend? Some people don't have a lot of space.

SCOTT: You don't need a lot of space, and you also don't really want to start big. A lot of new gardeners make the mistake of planting too much and making too big of a garden that they can't maintain. So I recommend starting smaller, and working with a space that's about four by eight, maybe four by ten. The four feet width allows you to reach into the center of the garden to pull weeds or to harvest or whatever you need to do without stepping on the soil. You never want to step on it once you've turned it.

RON: So Scott has put together a garden cart that has all the materials and tools you need to get your garden plot ready, and I'm impressed with how little you need to really get started.

SCOTT: It's great. You don't need a lot of machines or fancy tools to get started. Everything you need is really available at your local hardware store or home center. Beginning with, really, a wooden stake. Wooden stakes, you'll find in any hardware store, and these are great for just marking off the area and giving yourself a feel for how big it is, and how it's going to work with the sun and the drainage.

RON: And this is a large-sized spade, right?

SCOTT: It's a large-sized spade, and it's different than a shovel because it's square at the bottom, and it has these foot spots here that you can use to push the spade into the soil. It's important that you get a sharp spade. Most of the tools that you buy don't have an edge on them; this one needs an edge so that you can cut through the sod and lift it right up. And then you have to sort of work that soil over, and this is what you need for that.
A fork, and a garden fork is the right tool for working that soil. You want one that has a wide spacing between the tines. You'll see some forks that are closer together for other purposes; you want this one because you're going to put it in the soil and break up the clods that are underneath where the grass was.

RON: So we're talking about the hardest way, which is to mark the plot, take the sod up, beginning working the soil. But there's another process that people might be able to begin, let's say earlier in the spring or in the fall, which doesn't involve any of that, and you call it lasagna, which is sort of layering. Explain that for people.

SCOTT: It's really an easier way to do it because you're not removing the sod at all. In fact, the sod is breaking down, and it becomes that organic matter that's feeding the underground microbes. In this method, you layer some things on top; newspaper, straw, grass clippings, shredded leaves - again, all natural things you have. The newspaper's very effective in killing the grass off, and then the other things start to break down and begin to create rich, fertile soil. In fact, you don't even need to work it with the pitchfork. In that case, you're just cutting holes into it, and planting right through it.

RON: All right. Let's talk about exactly what goes into the soil to get it ready for planting. What do you recommend there? Because we're going organic here and no chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

SCOTT: Absolutely correct. And one of the most important reasons to do that is because plants are fed in a, by the microorganisms in the soil, and those chemical fertilizers and pesticides, herbicides can kill them.

RON: Mm-hmm.

SCOTT: In an organic system, you're really nourishing those microbes, and they're doing the work for you. That really begins with compost. You can make it, or you can buy it. You work that into the soil, and again those microbes are working with them, they're breaking them down, and turning that into fertilizer for your plants.

RON: So when it comes to weeds, no chemical weed killers. How do you deal with it?

SCOTT: The gardener's best friend is mulch. If you keep the garden covered throughout the gardening season, it will keep weeds from coming up 'cause they're not getting any sunlight, and the weeds that do come up are going to pull out relatively easily. And also conserves water in your soil when you're doing this; mulch is a great helper. The materials that are best for mulching in an organic garden: grass clippings and straw or leaves. Those things are handy, and they break down and feed your soil as they go.

RON: And this may be news to a lot of our viewers; that it's never too late in the summer to start, right?

SCOTT: It's not too late to start to grow the hot weather vegetables; you go to the garden center and find the plants full-grown there. So start with those green beans, plant from seed. You can do that in mid- to late summer, and all of the herbs are also well planted in mid-summer.

RON: What about the fall, moving into the fall?

SCOTT: Fall is a great time for gardening. It's a great time of year to grow the salad greens that everybody loves and are the easiest things to put on your table. Lettuce, spinach, kale; those are all great planted in the fall. Start those from seed, or you could start those from small plants.

RON: All right Scott, thank you. We appreciate it.

SCOTT: It was my pleasure.

RON: All right Scott we appreciate it. Scott Meyer is the editor of Organic Gardening magazine, and I'm Ron Corning with howdini.com
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  • Scott Meyer

    Scott Meyer Organic Gardening Expert, Editor of Organic Gardening Scott Meyer, Editor of Organic Gardening, has been with the magazine for nearly 20 years, serving in a variety of roles including product tester and Website producer. more about this expert »

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