how to start an organic garden

Time to Spring Into Action

With spring upon us—well, some of us, anyway—it’s time to finalize your garden plans. Getting a head-start on the growing season will ensure you have a bountiful harvest. After my fall tomato experience (thank you, late winter!), I’m certain spring is going to be EVEN better. Remember: positive thinking will get you everywhere!

By being positive and prepared, you’ll be certain to be ready for YOUR first day of planting, when all threat of frost has passed. While this day varies from region to region, most gardeners can plan on March-April to begin their outdoor festivities.

But why wait? Get those seeds started now! Which brings us to the first item on the checklist:

1 – Order seeds. Grow what you’ll eat—not what’s easy. I know it’s tempting, but there’s no sadder day than the one when you witness perfectly good food withering on the vine because no one wanted to harvest it. The “excitement” factor was missing. The “ah-ha” moment, if you will. Rule number one: Gardening should be fun! But it should also be productive.

2 – Design layout. If building container beds, get your lumber now. (I don’t know about you, but my husband likes a bit of notice before he’s asked to perform.) Getting your creative juices warmed and flowing now will help speed the process later. “Oh, hunny bunny! About that little favor I mentioned… “

3 – Sharpen your tools. Or simply clean them off, know where they are, organize them. You get my drift. The last thing you need is to be searching for that trowel when you need it. Mine is indispensable, because it weeds (its primary function), digs, buries and levels. You gotta love a multi-tasker. My other essentials include gloves, hat, sunscreen and water bottle.

For you serious gardeners, you might want to add a long-handled hoe (I prefer the triangular-shaped head) for the job of cultivating your rows. Not me. I’m a busy gal with a bad back — “till as you go” is more my speed.

4 – Turn your compost.   You do have a compost pile, don’t you? It’s too easy not to—just toss, pile, and turn. Easy as 1-2-3! Seriously, composting is easy and productive. Why, just look at these gorgeous potatoes my compost served up for me.

Love a generous compost pile.

5 – Organize your rows/containers based on companion planting. Like people, plants do have their favorites, so keep them close. Besides keeping the harmony, companion planting provides a natural pesticide which eases your workload later. The sooner you break out the excel program (my preferred garden journal), the sooner you’re planting seeds and keeping track. Bear in mind your crop rotation as well—unless this is your first time playin’ in the sunshine then the sky is the limit!

6 – Check your water supply. Now’s the time to fix those leaky drip hoses, or grease any squeaky sprinkler heads. And if you can’t fix them–replace them–before they’re scooped from the shelves by other eager beavers. Note: lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency in the eyes of the store manager.

7 – Gather your mulch. Discarded newspapers, lawn trimmings, hay, pine straw and bark… All of these lend themselves well for use as natural mulch, though be sure to wet your newspaper down (or layer it with another form of mulch for a good thick cover).   Trust me. Your neighbors will not be happy when your “mulch” blows across their lawn.

8 – Prepare soil. Remove weeds and add compost. 100% organic, it provides an excellent soil amendment, rich in the nutrients your plants need. Also, till your beds ahead of time. This will introduce air into the soil and accelerate bacteria activity, which in turn helps release nutrients into the soil. Word to the wise: after you’ve taken the time to remove weeds from your soil, be sure to cover your beds with row covers (or a hefty dose of mulch). Otherwise, you’ll be wedding again before your seeds/seedlings arrive on scene. In my house, that’s call for mutiny.

Also, consider ordering a bag of corn gluten now so you’ll have it on hand come season. Once your seedlings have sprouted and are on their way, you’ll want to sprinkle corn gluten on the soil around them to help keep the weeds at bay. Those tiny golden granules are amazing.

9 – Soil test. If you’re not sure what shape your soil’s in, take a sample to your local garden store.   I take mine to the seed and feed and they test it on the spot. You do-it-yourselfers will prefer a home test kit. They’re simple to use and give a good idea where you stand soil-wise. Then, depending on what you’re planting, you might want to adjust the pH (acidity-alkalinity) by adding lime to raise pH, or peat/pine/sulfur to lower it. Maybe you’ll even want to dump a bag of mushroom compost into the mix. The stuff is magical!

10 – Dream. Until your seedlings are ready to hit the garden, sit back and wistfully dream of the day when your beds will be lush and full, and flourishing with life.

It helps to pass the time until planting season really begins!

Goodbye Mandy, Hello Tami!

No, this isn’t some kind of late night drama show—it’s garden coaching.  And while Mandy has done a great job with her edible landscape, it’s time to take on a new garden enthusiast and this spring, Tami has signed on for the job.  And this woman is gung-ho, let me tell you.  She’s already bought her seeds, planned out her site, started her sprouts and decided on her summer crop—all in a week’s time.

Talk about enthusiasm, Tami has it coming out her eyes AND ears (we do like that in a garden gal, because enthusiasm is the name of the game).  So where do we begin?  We begin by taking one last look at Mandy’s garden.  While Tami is all enthusiasm, Mandy is all progress.  Her front porch is no longer “lounge only,” rather it’s become a veritable vegetable garden.  Kohlrabi, cabbage and rosemary up above with carrots, beets, lettuce and radish down below.  Did you notice Mother Nature’s layer of natural mulch?  (She can be so helpful when she wants to be.)

How cool is that?  No longer sitting, whittling the time away in her quaint old rocker—this woman is admiring her bounty.  Just beyond the porch she has created a haven of fruit trees.  From apple, peach and pear to olive and blueberry, she could conceivably claim her own orchard.  Okay.  Technically blueberries grow on bushes, but you get the point; this woman is growing some fruits, and lots of them!

And I find gazing upon the fruit blossoms to be very relaxing (more so than wasting time sitting idle in a chair, thinking about all the things I could or should be doing—I mean, who does that?). 

Aahh… back to my lovely image.  Remember the gorgeous peach blossom?  Simply divine…hmmm.

Now, enough lolly-gagging, we’ve got work to do.  Or Tami does and she’s been busy!  She’s purchased the wood for her plant beds.  Bought a couple of pavers to keep down the weeds and give her a nice space for tending her garden.  It’s downright homey if you ask me.  I use hay for such purposes but pavers?  Jiminy Cricket, that’s a good idea. 🙂

Just to get a head start she’s filled seedling trays and placed them in a makeshift greenhouse (aka covered cake stand).  Did I tell you she’s the creative type?

She is.  And you can guarantee we’ll see more of this as the weeks progress.  So hop to it and grab your garden bag (watch for great fashion bags set for Monday’s post) cause we’re going gardening!  Share the adventure with a friend…