Saturday, May 3, 2008

A Beginner's Guide to Organic Gardening

Is it just me or do vegetables from the grocery not taste as good anymore? (That's a good story, Grandma!) My husband and I were having this exact conversation last night and it made us decide that maybe we should start a garden in our backyard.

Now, I am no gardener - and we live in a part of California that if we didn't grow our garden organically, we would literally be thrown out of the neighborhood. I'm completely serious...and so are they when it comes to doing things naturally. So, needless to say, I wouldn't even know where to start when it comes to Organic Gardening. Thankfully, Martha and all her gardening geniuses have taken out the hours of research by publishing A Beginner's Guide to Organic Gardening in the May issue of Body+Soul.

So not only am I clueless about organic gardening, but I am also easily deterred when first starting a big project like this...if it looks too hard, I'm out. But Abbie Barrett, the guide's author, must have seen people like me coming from a mile away. Her intro made me feel like I could do this...and actually do it successfully.

For many of us, the idea of having an organic garden -- one grown without chemicals -- is somewhat of a fantasy. Sure, we'd like to enjoy undeniably healthy vegetables right from our own backyards. But with everything you need to know about soil, compost, and companion planting, it seems impossible to pull off without a Ph.D. in sustainable horticulture.

Not to worry. As it turns out, knowing even the basics behind this earth-friendly growing method can put you on the right path to creating your own Eden. All you need is patience and a willingness to weed, water and get muddy; we'll supply the step-by-step. Begin now, and we promise you'll have fresh veggies on your table by the close of summer.

To get the whole step-by-step, you definitely want to read the entire article, but I'll give you a quick breakdown here.

Step 1. Pick your Plot. Whether that be straight into the ground, in a raised bed, or through container gardening, you'll still end up with plants ready for the dinner table.

Since we rent and are possibly moving within the next 6 months or so, I think we'll probably stick to a container garden. That way we won't leave the next tenants stuck with a garden...or what seems, to them, a backyard with no grass.

You'd be surprised what you can get out of container gardens. Clearly herbs are a no- brainer ...and I plan on starting flat-leaf parsley, mint, oregano, and rosemary - all things that I cook with on a regular basis. But did you know that tomatoes, green onion, peppers, beans, lettuce, and squash all do just as well? Of course, you'll need to use large containers (like a whiskey barrel) and not the tiny little pots you find at Target.

Step 2. Get Growing. This will take a little bit of research on your part...but only because you need to pick the plants you want to grow. And don't you think that little bit of time is worth it in the end? Or if you want to find what grows best in your little corner of the world, contact your local cooperative extension office - you can find yours through this link.

Once you've chosen what it is that you want to plant...and someday eat...then you need to choose how you want to plant them: Seeds vs. Seedlings, using Companion Plants, and planting Quality not Quantity.

Step 3. Tend Your Garden. To me this is probably the hardest part because it's basically your Follow Through - I am certainly lacking in that area. I enjoy the excitement of creating something new, but to actually keep up with it is a whole other story.

To have a successful garden you need to Mulch, Water, and Weed. And then once your growing season is over you need to put your garden "to bed" - which basically means spreading compost all over once the plants have been pulled out. This will be worked into the soil over the cold months and will only need a little raking once spring rolls around.

The article briefly touches on making and using your own compost. This is quite a process and, I feel, needs more attention and probably it's own post. But for a quick overview, check out the Guide to Composting online. They also give great tips if you choose to buy make sure to give that a read.


Within the article, there are also several tips to help get your organic garden grow even better - most of which you can find here: Martha's 10 Quick Organic Gardening tips
My favorite is Reusing Rainwater.

If we lived in an area of the country that had consistent rainfalls, I would build this in a heartbeat. The best thing about it is the spigot attached to the bottom of the doesn't get any easier to use than that!

They make it all sound pretty simple, huh? And, really, if you think about it, it is just need to be willing to put in a little elbow grease.

*images from

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