Winter is creeping up for the year. Now is a good time to start planning a spring garden.
Planting and growing food is very rewarding and is a great way to supplement in better food grown your way.
Instead of roosting up inside, you get to stretch your legs and get some fresh air and sun. It is also oddly satisfying to watch changes in the garden day to day.
When everything is set and producing you can have a wonderful harvest right from your yard. The food is also picked when you can get peak nutrients and since you control pesticide use and fertilizer it is often better for you.
A growing concern aside from the cost of food is how that food is grown. A lot of people are wanting “clean” food that they know has minimal chemical use.
My first interest into permaculture topics showed that I’m not the typical person who falls into those discussions.
Such folks usually fit a certain type. Where we did overlap that I could see where I 100% could align with them was that people should make an effort to be more aware of our impact on how we work land and create food.
There should be a focus on sustainability and workable solutions so we can live comfortably and our children’s children and so on.
Gardens thrive and become abundant when worked using the natural ecosystem that works via compost and beneficial soil bacteria. Even insect damage can be mitigated without resorting to the more harsh chemical controls large fields seem to require.
Building your high quality natural topsoil and putting your yard on a chemical diet is also a lot cheaper to maintain.
Fertilizers get expensive to buy all the time. Compost, however, can be generated local at home and can keep a greedy garden plot built up.
Industrial fertilizers get depleted over time and also harm the soil ecology in various ways where it requires even more fertilizer to make up for the soil degradation. It isn’t sustainable.
A factor that sold me was I can guarantee less pesticides or chemicals in my food. Even if the amounts are considered low a concern for me has to been conscious of my ongoing health.
If your goal is also to go with organic gardening then poke around and learn. You can find most everything you need these days online. Also be sure to find methods that work for your location.
I have a couple of gardening spaces I’m in the process of expanding. I used to work an old 1 acre homestead and now have to build out a new garden in a new yard.
The old yard had over half the property being worked either with permanent or seasonal crops and overall had high yields.
The nice thing is every year that goes by the soil improves. In turn my plant health and output were also getting better and better.
Every winter I spend some time going through seed catalogs or online seed vendors to see if there is anything I want that I can’t acquire locally.
No-Till Raised Beds
In the older days I would have the old tiller pulled out to get my garden rows ready. These days I’ve found the lazier, easier, and some claim healthier way is to do some no-till raised beds.
I just blanket my beds with food scraps leaves and other organic things and ignore them for a while to let them rest and turn the organic matter into something useful.
An extra step I sometimes do is to burn a top layer of dried leaves or sticks to help minimize all the unwanted plants that sometimes blow into the garden beds then add another layer of leaf mulch.
I usually order my seeds sometime way before Christmas then plan on having them in around December or February. The seeds need to be started right around the end of February and beginning of March to be ready for May planting.
Zone 4 it is usually around May when it is time to get seedlings in the beds. I use grow lights and various containers to start them off. It is also good to try to use tools to help protect plant from any late cold snaps or frosts.
I use cloches that I pick up sometimes from the Dollar Tree, many people like to use empty plastic milk cartons to act as a guard for seedlings instead.
Doing my own plant starts usually performs better for me than direct seeding as I can cull weaker plants.
For watering I’ve experimented with usual garden hose with attachment, though found when drought was really bad it was soaker hoses and mulch that made a lot of difference.
Soaker hoses will put the water right down by the roots and the water will get delivered a lot more efficiently. You can also modify the hose around to sweat the water to the places and roots you desire.
It also helps to set the watering to a timer though you don’t want to water too much or too little.
When I walk out and see leaves all drooping and notice the ground is really dry then I give them a good drink.
Crops to Try
A good usual first crop people try out is tomatoes. I encourage people to get a sampler pack of many different varieties or heirlooms and see what works really well for their climate.
A couple of years in the south the only tomatoes that gave me any significant harvests were my Super Sweet 100 and a special variety of Roma tomatoes. A lot of my non-cherry varieties kept dropping blossoms or just not doing well over the oppressive heat and dryness.
But with tomatoes there are hundreds of varieties and tomatoes each have different taste profiles. You also have to decide if you want determinate or indeterminate tomatoes and also have to figure out if you want to use tomato cages or stake them up.
Some tomatoes are a little wild so the cages won’t help much. My Super Sweet 100 plants were a good 11ft example of such an out of control monster.
Admittedly if I could only choose between peppers or tomatoes I would choose peppers each time. There was a little while there I was growing so many varieties I lost track.
Peppers are more forgiving of a lot of soil conditions, have a pretty good resistance to drought, and don’t fuss as much about what soil I stuck them in. They also have a lot of variety where you can grow them for the heat (like Thai chili) or you can grow them for being large and mostly mild with a lot of flesh (poblano).
Another neat trick to them is they can be overwintered in many locations as long as frost doesn’t kill the roots. I had many 3-5 year old plants for a while and each year they made me more peppers during the growing season.
Another crop I like is bush beans. I could fill them in all along my fence row and they were very quick to start producing.
A nice thing about beans is they are usually fast maturing, produce pretty well over a several week period, and a lot are okay with container gardening.
Even if I’m waiting on some of my slower developing crops to finish up, I’ll have beans coming out of the garden pretty quickly.
Beans usually tend to not like much fertilizer as they have a neat ability to do their own nitrogen fixing and help add it to the soil.
Carrots are another easy crop to get going with so long as your soil is very loose. Carrots are also a very comical crop because if the soil is too dense or has rocks the carrot will grow in very odd looking ways.
Cole crops include things like broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale, collards, or kohlrabi. These are usually considered more cold weather crops that are best planted late summer and harvested during the cooler fall conditions.
In some growing zones the kale in particular is farmed all year. In zone 7 my kale chugged along during the mild winters. Now I don’t have such luck in zone 4.
I love garlic and use a lot of it. One good thing about the fall season is that is when my garlic used to go into the ground so they could get that little zap of cold before coming into next spring. Then would begin the wait to harvest them some where in the middle of summer.
The resulting crop would then get braided up, or pickled, set aside for more seed cloves, or would be frozen.
The main way I choke weeds out of my garden beds is with deep mulch or occasionally pulling straggler weeds out manually. In any case the weeds have to go as they can compete with the plants you want to farm.
The weeds will soak up all the spare water and deprive the desired plants of nutrients. But I’m super lazy and just periodically keep adding leaf mulch to keep smothering the would be young weeds.
My own fertilizer mix for when I get fancy is almost exclusively worm tea which is liquid strained out of worm castings. Some other things I might add are things like bone meal or kelp meal which are the only things I buy special.
Good luck with your first try at organic gardening. It can be a lot of work or even a lot of stress at first as you have to figure out a lot of unknowns. It gets easier each year and also cheaper as you have all the tools to last you a while. Spring and summer will become a much anticipated time of year as you get all of your seedlings ready.