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For any of you amateur gardeners out there wanting to venture into the foreign terrain of organic gardening, fear not. Growing organic fruits and vegetables can seem tricky if you have no training in maintaining a healthy organic garden, but the basic principles are often the same as for tending a regular garden.

A common excuse city dwellers give for not gardening is that they don’t have the room in their cramped apartments to grow their veggies. But even if you don’t have a spacious backyard, you can still go to a grocery store and find organic food produced by certified professionals. Another option is to join a local family farm, or a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), who will grow the food for you. By supporting one of these small farms, you can enjoy knowing that their land and your health are being treated properly.

Of course, it’s best if you can grow your own food, and it’s a lot easier than you might think. All you need is a small area in your backyard and a willingness to get a little dirt under your fingernails. Follow these simple steps and you’ll have a successful garden before you know it!

Step 1: Find a sunny spot. Fruits and vegetables love sunlight, at least 6 hours a day of direct sun, and there’s no such thing as a shady garden. If you have a lot of foliage in your yard, you may (reluctantly) cut down a tree or some shrubs to let the sun shine in.

Step 2: Clear your area. When you’ve chosen the spot for your new garden, wait until  the ground is neither too hard nor too wet, and then remove as much of the weeds or grass as you can until it is clear. By the way, don’t till your soil. Turn it over, chop it up, and above all, treat it gently.

Step 3: Test the PH levels of your soil. Before you begin planting, you may want to take samples of your soil to your local Agricultural Extension Agent for soil testing, so you can know if you need to enrich the soil’s texture or balance the PH level. You don’t need to do a soil test, though, and most people probably don’t, but it can certainly help you get the gardening results you’re hoping for. Also, if your soil is too sandy or rocky, you might want to amend it with some by adding organic potting soil. Check with the experts at a local garden center that carries organic supplies to find the solution that works best for you.

Step 4: Add the magic substance known as – compost! You might not be able to do this in year one, especially not if you plan to make your own compost, but other than water and sunlight, nothing makes plants grow better than nutrient-rich compost. A compost “pile” is a combination of what is called “brown and green”. You start by finding and area to put it, and then begin adding leaves in autumn (brown) and grass clippings, vegetable peels, banana peels, fruit scraps, and egg shells in the spring and summer (green). If you continue to add vegetable peelings, grass, and leaves to it, in a year or two, you’ll find at the bottom of the compost pile crumbly, newly created soil, which is rich in nutrients and garden-friendly worms. Add this compost back into your garden every year for nutrition and aeration. You may be able to find a compost farm where you can purchase it by the bag, but that is exceedingly rare. Turn the compost over every once in a while and then add it to your garden in the spring. If you have a larger garden, you can add the compost only to the holes where the plants will grow, instead of covering the entire garden.

Step 5: Take precautions to guard against hungry rodents. Sure, rabbits are cute and cuddly  and it's always nice to see deer when you're hiking in the woods, far away from any plants you've cultivated, but just wait until you wake up one morning, walk outside, and see their backsides disappearing into the woods, leaving in their wake only a few nibbled-on leaves as evidence of your once great garden. You can buy a rifle, build a lookout, and wait patiently for the little buggers to emerge from their hiding places. Or, if you want to retain your sanity, you can buy products such as fences or high frequency emitters that will ward them off.

Step 6: Buy organic seeds or plants. If your local nursery does not sell organic plants, you can always turn to seeds, the most inexpensive way of growing a garden. Or you can buy an organic plant mail order catalogue and just have them sent to you. Also, remember not to treat your plants with any chemical agents for infestations or fertilization. Bugs are a fact of gardening, and if they do invade your garden, you can always use non-toxic, organic solutions to fight them off. If your plants are strong and healthy and you have cultivated healthy soil, insects probably won’t bug you as much as you might think. Plus, in a pinch, you can always grow non-organic fruits and vegetables,  but the same rules about chemical usage will still apply if you want to stay as healthy as possible.

Step 7: There’s always room to grow fruits and veggies.  Don’t have the room for a garden? Well, guess what? You can still grow a garden on your terrace, courtyard, or window ledge in pots! Or you can grow your tomatoes upside down in specially designed pots, hanging them like baskets and allowing the fruit to grow downward.

If you have questions, experts are probably closer than you think. Look for a Master Gardener Program in your area where you can take classes on gardening techniques. People at your local nursery or home and garden center are usually more than willing to give you free advice.

Just remember: when it comes to gardening, you can’t make excuses. Just go outside and get to work. Gardening requires a minimal amount of manual effort but offers a great payoff in the end. Before you know it, you’ll be picking a luscious crop of perfect beefsteak tomatoes that you grew yourself. Bon appetit! / Issue 107 - September 2018
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