I'm planting a small organic vegetable garden this year. My goals: enjoy healthier and better-tasting veggies, show my young child where food comes from, and save money!
I just took a class at a local organic farm. Here are the basics of what I learned. Perhaps you'll find these pointers helpful!
- Pay closer attention to the soil (versus the plant). If you prepare the soil with "organic matter" such as compost and manure, your soil will feed the plants the nutrients they need.
- Control pests and diseases without chemicals by giving your plants a heartier start, mulching, and allowing "beneficial" insects to control harmful bugs. If needed, there are organic pesticides that are less toxic to wildlife and humans than synthetics.
- Plant the seeds in flats or shoebox-size containers, not into individual cell packs. This way, you don't have empty cells if some don't germinate.
- Look for a seed-starting mix approved for organic use (processed according to the rules of the National Organic Program). Use soilless peat moss and mix in equal parts vermiculite and perlite. I found a starter that's premixed.
- Always put in a third more seeds than you need, as germination is never 100 percent.
See the Almanac's Best Planting Dates for Seeds chart to know when to get started, indoors and out.
- For transplanting, use a potting mix with plenty of compost so the plants have plenty of nutrition when they grow.
- Transplant into cell packs (or the ground) as soon as there are two true leaves. This is the second set of leaves (not the little cotlydons or seed-leaves).
- When you transplant, hold the base of the leaves, not the stem. The stem is the stomach of the plant. If it breaks, throw it out, as it won't grow.
- If you transplant into cell packs, turn the packs each day if the sun is coming from one direction. Gently brush over plants with a stick to get strong stems.
- After 4 weeks, top with a mix of compost and "Pro-Grow" (found in many garden stores), an organic waste product that supplements the nutrient needs of plants. After 4 weeks, the plants have used up what was in the potting mix.
- As you keep the soil watered, remember that the goal is to keep it as "damp as a wrung-out sponge."
When you're ready to plant in the ground, be sure that your soil is ready. Before adding compost and organic matter, get a soil test—for a small fee—through your local extension service. Then, you'll know what your soil needs to be productive.
Hope you found these pointers helpful. To read more, see our article on A Beginner's Garden, which recommends plot size and which veggies to grow.
Have you thought about starting an organic vegetable garden? Submit your comments below!
Amy, our Associate Editor, joined the The Old Farmer's Almanac in 2009. Amy loves to travel and explore new places (and recipes) around the globe. She enjoys cooking for family and friends, country music concerts, and relaxing in the great outdoors.