It’s Time to Bring Back Gardening!
One of my most satisfying and rewarding passions is to grow things - fruit, veggies, flowers, herbs, plants of all kinds. No matter what size of space I've had over the years, I've managed to find room for a compost bin, hanging baskets and various size/shape containers with worm laden soil for growing whatever I could. It is in my blood for my grandmother, aunts, mother, sisters and brothers all had the same love - produce our own food and brighten up our spaces with flowers.
Conserving a local food source is important and working in a garden is good for the body and the soul. This season, do something great for the Earth and your family and consider testing out your green thumb and try organic gardening on your deck, dock or backyard!
Here's a few tips to get you started if you're new to gardening:
1. Decide What to Grow
The first year especially, it can be tough to know how much of each variety to plant. When I started gardening on my deck, I planted way too many zucchini's and wished I had more tomato's. My strategy now is to grow foods a) that we eat the most, b) are the most expensive to buy organically. This means ever bearing strawberries, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, blueberries and raspberries. Don't get overwhelmed by buying too many seed packets or seedlings. It is best to start small and use your growing space in various ways with crop rotation. This is done by planting a small amount of one type of seed and when that has been harvested you plant another type in that space. Most importantly, grow what you enjoy eating and sharing when you harvest more than you need.
2. Start Seeds Indoors Early
Starting seeds indoors lets you get a head start on the garden and a longer growing season. For plants like tomatoes and peppers, starting them inside is almost necessary for a good growing season. (You can of course also just buy starter plants from a local farmer or greenhouse, but growing some of your own from seed is a fun learning experience!)
You need just a few items that are easy to pick up at a local store:
organic seed starting soil mix
seed starter trays
seeds from a quality source (non-GMO and organic, preferably)
the instructions on the back of the packet
a sunny south-facing window in a warm space (or a grow light – I like this one because it comes with a way to hang it)
3. Prepare the Garden
It's important to first figure out how much space you can devote to a garden and plan accordingly. For me I use our paddle shop barge for my dock garden using raised beds to maximize space and production. Or, if you just have a few containers on a patio, make sure they get quality soil, organic fertilizer, and enough sun and water (with good drainage).
Even a small backyard can produce a lot of food:
Grow beets, radishes, lettuces and some greens on a balcony or patio
Vines like beans, peas, and cucumbers do well in hanging baskets or in barrels on a deck or patio
Peppers, tomatoes and beans need more sun (6-8 hours per day) for optimal growth
Once you have the space for the garden reserved, you need to make sure you have decent soil to work with. Getting your soil tested will help you pinpoint what, if anything, you need to add to the soil to make sure your plants grow well. These tests are offered by lawn care businesses or private testing labs. It's a good idea to do as you will know how acid your soil is so you can add lime to balance it for optimal plant growth.
It is best to add compost as it allows for beautiful, black soil that produces veggies in abundance!
Beginner Tip: Want simple? Try a DIY planter box! Here's a link to making your own. How to Build A Planter Box These are great for growing kale, herbs, and a few microgreens.
4. Make the Most of Your Space
You can easily maximise your growing space and often prevent pests with a few organic gardening methods. To make sure you get the most production from small spaces, practices like companion planting, succession planting, and vertical gardening can really help.
Companion planting allows you to grow multiple plants that help each other in the same area. A classic example is the Indian custom of planting corn, beans and squash together. The corn provides a structure for the beans and squash, and the beans add nitrogen back into the soil to feed the corn and squash.
Another example is planting basil under tomatoes. Besides tasting great together, these two help deter pests from each other and improve the growing quality of each other.
My favourite plants to plant together are:
Basil or calendula flowers with tomato to promote growth and keep pests away
Marigolds throughout the garden to deter pests and reduce nematodes
Dill with cucumber
Catnip, mint and chamomile in brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) to deter pests
Beets under cabbage to maximize space
Cucumbers with mammoth sunflowers – the sunflowers act as the trellis
5. Feed (and Weed) the Garden
Once the garden is planted, it’s time to feed and weed! If you’ve tested your soil and prepared it with compost, this step won’t be necessary for a little while at least, but I do like to use this homemade compost tea to give the garden a boost. It’s a great alternative to expensive natural fertilizers and easy to make when needed.
Organic gardening does come with its fair share of weeding since we’re not using chemical herbicides around food (shudder) but there are ways to simplify the process. Weeds can’t grow where there isn’t light, so smother them before they start by covering garden aisles with newspaper or cardboard, or use a natural paper weed barrier that will simply till into the soil when the season is over. It really works!
Beginner Tip: A simple garden hoe takes care of the rest and needs to be used between plants every few days. The kids have gardening tools that are just their size and love helping with this job.
6. Be Ready With Natural Pest Control
Think weeds are the biggest problem with a garden? Nope. No gardening post would be complete without mentioning the importance of pest control. It is so frustrating to spend hours working on your garden only to have plants destroyed by bugs, caterpillars, and even small (and large) animals like otters on the dock garden.
With organic gardening, many of the normal pesticides are off-limits, but there are still many great ways to keep the pests out! Check out this post for a variety of natural pest control options.
Beginner Tip: Learn to “scout” the garden. Agriculturalists know that constant observation is the key to success. Take your morning coffee out to the garden and observe what’s going on. That way you’ll catch any pest damage while it’s still small.
7. Enjoy the Garden!
There are sure to be some failures your first year organic gardening (or even your tenth!), but that’s just part of the package. Plenty of what you plant will grow, and nothing beats picking your own fresh produce from your own backyard garden! It tastes so different from what’s found in the store (a cherry tomato warm from the sun fresh off the vine … aaahh) and what’s more your kids will go nuts for their own garden produce.
Knowing where your food comes from (and what wasn’t sprayed on it!) is ultimately so satisfying and worth the small investment of time and effort. Plus, you’ll be getting that elusive time outdoors in the sunshine and dirt. Your body will thank you!
Are you gardening this year? What are you planting? Let me know below!