Planning Your 1st Organic Vegetable Garden
Imagine the sense of accomplishment you'll feel serving a meal that includes fresh, organic veggies grown in your own garden! You have control over what goes into your garden – and onto your table – not to mention the fun and fresh air that comes with tending a garden. Read on for tips on planning your first organic vegetable garden.
Let the Sun shine on your veggies. Locate your garden in a sunny spot, as most veggies like a lot of sunlight. Make sure you read your seed packets to be on the safe side.
How does your garden grow: in-ground, raised beds or trellises? This is a matter of personal preference and available space. In-ground is the traditional, "till a patch of soil" method, while raised beds are "above-ground" gardens in box-like structures. Trellises – vertical supports – not only offer physical support to climbing plants, but you can "grow up, not out" by attaching planters, which is a real space-saver. You can learn a bit more about preparing your soil in our post "Get Your Garden Ready for Spring."
Get the ground ready for planting. Figure out your soil type: clay, sand or loam (hint: you really want loam!). Till in the appropriate soil amendments and level out your garden area.
Feed your soil to feed your plants. Fertilize by adding some organic matter like compost and/or add a blended organic amendment with starter fertilizer to increase the nutrient content of your soil. This, in turn, gives your plants a jump-start by feeding your plants and all the beneficial soil microbes. Organic fertilizers also improve soil structure, which allows more water, air and nutrients to reach your plants' roots.
During the growing stage, your plants will benefit from a well-balanced organic fertilizer made specifically for veggies. Just follow the package label for application directions. It's that easy.
Make your garden easy to access. Plan out how you'll move among your plants to weed, feed and harvest. Small paths or stepping-stones are perfect for larger gardens.
Picking plants is more than just choosing your favorites for the dinner table, though that does play a part in it. Plant size is also important. Plant taller veggies at the rear of your garden to keep them from throwing shade on shorter veggies and herbs. Some plants, such as melons, spread out. These need adequate room and airflow to grow well. For vines and tomatoes don't forget a trellis or tomato cage!
Make with the mulch! Apply a couple inches of organic material like wood chips over your garden. Mulch keeps weeds down, helps the soil retain moisture and provides nourishment as it decomposes. Leave a spot a few inches in diameter around each plant to keep the stems from overheating.
Out, out, darn pests! You will get garden pests; it's a fact of life. While organic gardening means no nasty chemicals, it does not mean you're stuck with the little buggers. Pinch them off your plants or blast them off with a garden hose. You can also apply an organic spray oil pesticide, if needed. Make sure you know your pests from your beneficial insects! You don't want to kill off pollinators.
Rotate your crops every season to protect your soil from nutrient depletion caused by having the same plants in the same spots in your garden. Plant them in the same spot only once every three years.
Increase your harvest by planting in succession. Rather than planting everything all at once, plant a new type of plant nearly every week of the growing season. In late winter/early spring, put in cold-tolerant plants like leafy greens and peas, moving on to heat-lovers like eggplants, tomatoes and peppers, once it warms up. Don't stop there! Keep planting throughout the season, ending with frost-hardy veggies from midsummer to mid-fall. Remove dead plants as you harvest to free up space for the next batch. This is somewhat easier than planting everything at once and has the bonus of longer harvests.
Write it all down so you won't forget it. Keep a gardening journal and record your wins and losses, along with anything you want to remember about growing specific plants. When the next season comes 'round, you'll be ready!
We hope you find these tips helpful. Gardening is a great way to connect with family, enjoy the outdoors and make sure you have the best, healthiest veggies for every meal.