What’s not to love about organic food? There’s the nutritional value, the environmental benefits, the price tag…Well, you might not love the last one. Buying ethically might be good for you in every other way, but it can also induce a bad case of sticker shock.
Luckily, if you don’t want to spend a little extra money, there is a way out: grow your own organic food! Sounds hard? Though starting out can be a little tricky, you’ll quickly wonder how you ever got along without your garden.
Why should we eat organic?
Plenty of organic food skeptics wonder about why should they organic foods rather than any other type. After all, food is food, right?
But in today’s hectic modern world, that’s not always true. The ingredients of a bag of non-organic tortilla chips might include corn that is genetically modified to grow larger than Nature ever intended, preservatives that aren’t remotely digestible, and residue from pesticides that can wreak havoc on your endocrine and immune systems. On top of all that, the farming and transportation practices that went into creating that snack are environmentally problematic. Genes from genetically modified crops regularly turn up in wild plants, doing damage to natural ecological balances. Fertilizer runoff from massive farming operations sickens entire water systems, and while that’s certainly not good news for human health, the damage farm runoff can do to the environment can be simply devastating. Let’s face it: modern farming practices aren’t sustainable, either for our personal health or for the health of the rest of the planet.
Organic food is your ethical alternative. Made from products that aren’t treated with chemicals and don’t undergo genetic engineering, organics are grown with the health of both the consumer and the environment in mind. They’re tastier, more nutritious, and better for everybody.
Why grow organic?
The single largest drawback to organic food is that it tends to cost more than its mass-produced counterparts. Though we all know that cost shouldn’t be a barrier to good health, economic realities, unfortunately, often decide what we eat. Luckily, there’s an affordable alternative: growing your own organic food!
Having a garden is a great way to produce organic food on your own terms. You’ll never question the origin of your food again – you’ll know exactly where it comes from! Ever since the days of the Victory Garden, people have taken intense personal pride in their own vegetables. When your friends and family ooh and aah over your tomatoes, you’ll understand why! Growing your food is a great way to spend time outdoors, connect with neighbors, and give yourself a break from your work routine. In fact, research strongly suggests that mere physical contact with dirt can improve your mood! Weeding and hoeing is a great exercise, and without those pesky pesticides on your growings, you’ll feel better after every meal.
When you think about it, the question isn’t so much “why grow organic” as it is “why not grow organic”!
How to start your very own organic garden?
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There’s a lot of information out there about how to start a garden. In this part of the article, we’ll give you some good information and resources for your very own organic vegetable plot.
The basics of growing a plant are simple: the seed goes in the ground, the roots go down, and the little green stalk comes up. Believe it or not, growing a robust vegetable garden isn’t that much harder than making a batch of sprouts.
Your first step is to learn about your soil. Different types of soil are good for different types of plants. The University of Florida has posted a very handy chart that explains which plants grow best in which soil. For example, if you happen to have acidic soil, blueberries might be a better option than apple trees.
Determining your soil type can be as easy as a trip to the hardware store. Many mainstream garden outlets sell home soil testing kits that are available for as little as $11. You can also get professional help, often from university farming extensions. Testing services often charge a fee, but may be able to tell you more about your soil and how to take the next step.
The next step, of course, is to make that soil exactly how you need it to be! Mixtures of compost, leaves, and composted manure can alter the pH of your soil so to accommodate a wider range of plant cultivation. The University at Illinois Cooperative Extension has a good guide on which organic mulches to use to alter soil chemistry to both suit your needs and to respect the Earth.
The most exciting part of starting a garden, of course, is picking out the plants you want to grow. Use the USDA Hardiness Zone map to choose; some plants are more sensitive to heat and cold than others are. When you buy your seeds or seedlings, you may be able to check the package for hardiness zone information, but if you’re buying from a Farmer’s Market or organic nursery, there’s also a pretty good chance that the person selling you the plant knows what kind of climate it needs to survive. Never be afraid to ask! Many people like to start out with tomatoes, but zucchini and sugar snap peas are also good options for novices in the practice.. Remember, you don’t need to start out large – a few healthy plants and a single armful of vegetables may represent a good beginning. It’ll take you a few seasons to get the hang of gardening anyway, so you may as well experiment.
Next, choose where you want to plant. A profitable garden yield requires about six full hours of sunlight every day. Look for places where the grass grows thick and healthy. This indicates that the natural soil drainage in that area is generally good for plants. Plan your garden so that you won’t need to step on or over your crop. Raised beds are a popular idea, since they not only keep plants safe from your boots, but waste less water and discourage weeds. However, if you want to plant right in the ground, mark the area where you want your garden with stakes and string. Then comes the fun part: tearing up your lawn! Use a hoe to break up and remove the grass and weeds that inhabit the area that will be your garden. (You can compost that old lawn, too. We’ll talk more about that in the next section.) Once your lawn is gone, congratulations! You’re ready to plant organic!
Plant your seeds and seedlings according to the instructions on the packet or from the seller. When you water your fledgling plants, use room-temperature water and aim for the roots – a regular deluge can injure tender new leaves. Check your garden often. If the soil is dry to the depth of half an inch, it’s time to break out the watering can. Remember, weeds can sprout in a matter of hours and choke your plants out within weeks, so while you’re checking on the dryness of your soil, pull anything that you didn’t personally plant. When your plants produce fruit, pick them ripe: picked plants are more likely to give you high yields!
Obviously, all of this applies to those of us who are lucky enough to have access to some sunny land for gardening, but there’s good news for renters, too! If you live in an apartment and still want to grow your own organic food, your solution is the Miracle-Gro AeroGarden 7, the ultimate indoor herb and vegetable grower. Your gardener friends may find themselves envying this compact and efficient little gardening system, which is particularly ideal for chefs who want to cook with the freshest food possible.
In case you need some fresh seeds to plant in your new home herb grower, here’s the ultimate pack of certified organic herb seeds on Amazon.
What kind of fertilizers and stimulants to use?
Plants will often grow fairly well on their own, but there are many options for encouraging them to get bigger and tastier. Fertilizers are easy to make and acquire, and among the most popular of them is mulch.
Home composting is a great way to get good organic fertilizers.
Picture credit: Pinterest
Look for a compost bin or build one. Make sure there’s plenty of room for air to get in through the sides, since decomposition won’t happen without oxygen. Next, just add what you want to compost. A good bet is to alternate layers of brown material, green material, and dirt. Brown material is dry, dead plants. Leaves, garden trimmings, and the lawn that you have dug up for your garden are ideal. Green material includes kitchen scraps (veggies only) and manure. (When you use manure, make sure it’s strictly from vegetarian animals!) Your dirt layer should be four to six inches deep. Turn the compost over regularly and add just a little water to keep it moist, and in mostly eight weeks, you could have a healthy, workable garden mulch. If this sounds too intense for your little city apartment, then don’t despair: a handful of worms can reduce your kitchen scraps to fertilizer with minimum hassle.
Bio stimulants are another good way to make sure that you have a large, healthy crop. These are concentrations of minerals and naturally-occurring compounds that give plants a leg up. Using these compounds on your vegetables makes them hardy against the elements, more likely to grow large, and brings them into better balance with the environment around them. Ocean water concentrate and humic acid are both good options whether you’re an experienced organic farmer or just starting out. Be sure to check out our post on fertilizers and stimulants for more information!
If you’d like to learn more about how to grow food at home, make sure you check the books below.
Best rated organic gardening books for beginners
- Organic Gardening Beginner’s Manual
- A Beginners Guide to Organic Vegetable Gardening: Introduction to Composting, Worm Farming, No Dig Raised & Wicking Gardens Plus More…
- The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control: A Complete Guide to Maintaining a Healthy Garden and Yard the Earth-Friendly Way
Organic gardening is healthy, enjoyable, and a great way to put real food on your table. Good luck and have fun!