Nobody likes social distancing, but one of my personal favorite “silver linings” to this moment in time is how many people are turning towards home gardening.
Starting a home garden is great for so many reasons—it’s good for your mental and physical health, it gets you outside, and it helps you feel a sense of control and responsibility over your food.
I’ve written about how to start a home garden before—and I highly recommend checking that blog out first, as it’s an excellent starting point on what you need to get a home garden started, including what soil and tools you’ll need.
But my newest post (below) is more about the specific benefits of starting an organic garden. It can help you reduce toxins, protect your health, and even save you money. It also saves money, reduces the environmental cost of factory farming, and gives the whole family an “agri-education.” How do you make your new home garden organic? Read on to find out.
That last one might sound like a head-scratcher to you—after all, doesn’t organic food always cost more? Maybe you’re one of the many people who say organic food costs too much and that’s why you don’t buy it. But consider this: the way food is grown, processed, and distributed affects both variety and quality (color, taste, nutrient density). In turn, the quality of the food affects our health.
Conventional farms can use antibiotics, subsidized genetically modified grains, and toxic pesticides, all of which degrade the quality of the soil, water and, ultimately, our food. This cycle contributes to antibiotic resistance, affects climate change, and spurs continued reliance on fossil fuels.
When thinking about the cost of organic, think again. Weigh it against the cost of doctor visits, medicines, time lost from work and school, as well as global economic and climate impact. You’ll discover that the ounce of prevention in organic foods is actually inexpensive by comparison.
Where do I start?
Here are five keys to a successful organic garden.
Organic soil. The difference between how an organic and a conventional gardener treat their plants? From a 40000 foot level, here’s one view: the conventional gardener feeds and treats the plant while the organic gardener nourishes the soil, which requires air, nutrients, microorganisms and water to thrive. A local university agriculture department can test soil for a nominal fee and will tell you if you are starting with nutrient strong or nutrient weak soil. From there, they will guide you on how to build up your soil before you drop in any plants. When buying potting soil, read the label and look for a large percentage of organic matter (e.g., manure, leaves, feathermeal). Here’s a great site on building your own soil: Soil Food Web
Compost. Avoid using synthetic fertilizers (quick-release high nitrogen fertilizers actually damage plant roots). Composting is the ideal way to fertilize naturally and gently with nutrient-dense matter. Compost reduces waste sent to landfills by recycling unused food and yard matter that would have been put in the trash. To lock in soil nutrients, use mulch from natural sources once your plants are in the ground. I use compost as a mulch too: just a half inch to an inch thick, 6″ from the tree trunk.
Alternative, Food Safe Pest Control. The best defense against garden pests is prevention. If you plant appropriately for your climate zone and water early in the day (not at night), you will reduce the pest and disease burden on your garden. Neem and certain essential oils (such as thyme, rosemary, basil, tea tree oil) can be used to create a botanical spray that is toxic to plant predatory insects. Use netting or chicken wire to keep out larger pests.
Right Plant, Right Time, Right Placement. Learn about the climate zones, micro-climates, and seasonal variations for planting in your geographic area. An organic farm or seed shop can advise you on native plants that grow successfully in your region. The National Gardening Association has great resources. Always read the plant or seed packaging to understand the shade/sun/watering requirements for the crop. Plants with similar needs should be grouped together with adequate spacing between them for growth and to prevent leaf or root disease.
Money Saving Organic Plants. The following plants are easy to grow and fun to pick. Some come in hardy, disease-resistant varieties. Growing these plants will reduce your grocery bill, too!
Black magic eggplant
Cherry sweet pepper
Italian sweet pepper
Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries
Tomatoes: Jet Star, Jackpot, Supersteak, Cherry, Cherry Presto
Yellow wax beans