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.
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.
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.
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.