My dad grew up on a farm and learned the trade as a means of necessity. What they grew on their farm were mostly what they ate. He always had a green thumb where everything he planted grew and flourished. My siblings and I were pretty lucky growing up in my parents house and our backyard was always abundant with fresh and delicious fruits and vegetables. As I grew older I got to appreciate the scrumptious bounty and I told myself that once I have my own house, I would indeed need to grow my own garden.
Now, as a volunteer at my son’s school I was given the opportunity to run a garden club at his school. With only a handful of experience based on what I learned from my parents, I built an organic garden for the students at his school. And what a delight it has been learning and teaching at the same time, watching the kids run excitedly to the garden center during the meetings and enjoying the harvest at peak picking times. Just as much as the kids love to pluck off a sweet fresh strawberry, I too love tending to these plants, nurturing them and helping them flourish into something delicious and rewarding.
Gardening doesn’t have to be intimidating or time-consuming. In fact, it can be one of the most relaxing ways of spending time with yourself or with your kids. Teaching your children the wonderful benefits of gardening can help them flourish and learn to appreciate nature and a healthy lifestyle. With the idea of Farm to Table, we can teach our kids that what we grow is what we eat. Similar theory applies to grocery shopping in stores but when you grow your own produce, it is much healthier and the flavor indeed better than the store bought versions!
Start with an organic garden where it’s healthier for you and for the environment. Organic means not using any type of toxic pesticides or herbicides in your plants and ensuring that the soil is organic as well.
Here are some easy and basic tips to help you start your own organic garden:
Decide where you are going to have your organic garden. If you’re a novice, start small whether it’s in a raised garden bed or a few larger-sized planters. Use only organic soil and have proper drainage such as hole on the bottom of the planters and soil that’s a good blend of nutrients. Go to your local nursery and pick up a few bags of organic soil and mix them in the planters thoroughly. If you’re planting directly into the ground, be sure to test your soil as original soil may not have enough nutrients or the proper amount. Amend the soil if necessary.
Choose your plants by deciding first what you want to grow and the purpose of growing them. Do you want an abundant garden of fresh vegetables? Or fresh herbs? Or a mixture of herbs and vegetables? Do you want to grow easy fruits such as strawberries and citrus? Write down what you think you would like to eat on a regular basis and visit the local nursery for seasonal ideas. Make sure that what you grow is actually right for your region. If you’re buying seedling plants from the store, they are most likely ready for your region. If growing from seeds, read the packet to determine if the plants are appropriate for your region and the season. Oftentimes stores will have year-round seeds as it’s most cost effective for them, but can be a headache for the consumer who doesn’t understand the exact growing season. And when buying seedlings or seeds, make sure they are organic.
Proper fertilization is necessary for a healthy bounty of fresh plants. You can either buy the necessary compost at your local nursery or make your own. For homemade compost, check out this article: https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home. Organic compost, the most popular type of fertilizer, enriches the soil, retains moisture and suppresses pests and diseases.
Pest control is probably the most time-consuming process of growing and maintaining a healthy garden. At first when we grew lettuce and cabbage at my son’s garden center, we saw aphids and ants practically taking over the plants. I was so frustrated as I didn’t devote enough time during growing season to properly prevent and get rid of these pesky plant eaters. Later I learned that not only do natural pest controllers such as ladybugs can benefit the garden, but that planting certain types of “companion planting” and “ally planting” can help prevent or reduce pests. Companion planting is planting certain vegetables next to each other. The plants enhance each other’s flavor and growth, and healthy plants are less susceptible to pests. Conversely, there are certain plants that should never be grouped together. For instance if you’re growing beans, good companions are cucumber, celery, carrot and radish, but never plant beans near garlic or onion or you’ll stunt the beans’ growth.
Ally planting is planting specific herbs or flowers near vegetables to repel or confuse insects. Plant summer savory near your beans to discourage bean beetles. Chives deter aphids on peas, and basil repels flies and mosquitoes on tomatoes, while also improving growth and flavor. Marigolds deter beetles on cucumbers, and mint and sage deter cabbage moth.
Controlling weeds are a necessity in maintaining a good garden. Weeds are a hassle for any type of gardening but you don’t have to let them run your life or your garden’s life. To stop weeds before they start, you can cover the garden’s surface with an organic mulch; not only will it reduce weed-seed germination and suppress weeds trying to emerge, the right mulch can also retain moisture and act as an insulator, keeping the soil cooler in warm weather and warmer in cool weather. Popular organic mulches include hardwood and softwood barks, crushed corncobs, spent hops from local breweries, peat moss and pine needles. You can also pull weeds with your hands but make sure you pull out the entire root.
Now it’s time to enjoy your harvest! Pick your plants at the peak of their ripeness so that you’re getting the freshest, sweetest, and juiciest plants. Once the plants are past their peak, plants can be tougher and drier on the inside. You can still eat them but they won’t taste as fresh. If you’ve grown too much to eat, try giving them to your neighbors or freezing them, canning, or fermenting.
For more info and helpful tips on growing your own organic garden, please visit the Delicious Living website: http://deliciousliving.com/green-living/how-start-your-own-organic-vegetable-garden?cid=nhbc.
Organic Consumers Association: https://www.organicconsumers.org/, Organic Trade Association: https://www.ota.com/
Editor’s note: Parts of this post were taken with permission from Delicious Living magazine. Sources are directly from Delicious Living magazine.