More and more U.S. consumers are buying organic produce. In fact, in 2000, shoppers spent $7.8 billion on
organic food – and the numbers keep growing. Those who are willing to spend the extra money buying organic do so for a number of reasons, from avoiding pesticide residues in their food to appreciating the better flavor and texture of organically grown food.
If you’re reading this and thinking “I already knew all that, that’s why I buy organic,” then perhaps you’ve already taken the next logical step – growing your own organic food.
Organic produce has become more readily available in recent years, so you don’t have to grow your own; but there is something magical about putting food that came from your garden on the table for your family.
“Growing your own organic food really puts you in touch with your food source,” says Glenda Lehman Ervin of Lehman’s, a company specializing in old-fashioned, high-quality merchandise. By cooking with fresh produce, you can avoid using a lot of chemical-laden processed foods lacking in nutrients.
Growing an organic garden will take some thought, preparation and care, but isn’t that what gardening is all about? It will also give you an excuse to spend time outdoors, get your hands dirty and get a feel for the soil. “Organic gardening is all about working in harmony with nature,” says Lehman Ervin.
If you’re new to organic growing, you’ll need a good source of advice and information. Lehman Ervin recommends Straight-Ahead Organic, a step-by-step guide to growing great vegetables by Sheperd Ogden.
This includes information on designing your garden; improving the soil; tools and equipment; seeds and seedlings; and planting and cultivation.
Another favorite is This Organic Life, Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, by Joan Dey Gussow. “It is part recipe book, part autobiography and part memoir,” says Lehman Ervin. It is a gardening book for those who want to grow their own food but don’t want to read another “how-to” book.
Armed with your new-found knowledge, you’ll need to set to work improving your soil. Adding organic matter to your soil improves its ability to hold water, improves the structure of the soil and adds valuable nutrients.
You can find organic fertilizers to jump-start your soil, or use compost you make yourself. Simply add grass clippings, leaves and kitchen scraps to a compost bin and let nature do the rest.
You can use a simple home-made compost bin, or opt for a kit that you assemble; tumbling compost bins spin for easy aeration of the compost. Lehman’s also offers a selection of handy compost accessories, such as a compost thermometer and an aerator.
Chances are if you’re gardening organically, you’ll want to protect the environment by avoiding gas-powered gardening tools that spew noxious fumes. Lehman’s offers a wide range of human-powered digging and cultivating tools, including a broadfork to break up compacted soil and push cultivators to help keep your soil in top condition.
The cultivators turn in fertilizers, root out weeds, make furrows and break up the soil, letting in vital moisture and air. These implements are authentic and highly effective. Since well tended soil is the first step in growing a healthy garden, it makes sense to prepare it thoroughly.
Before you lay out your garden, you’ll want to consider where, what and how to plant. For example, you’ll want to rotate your crops from year to year so you don’t deplete all the nutrients from the soil; think about planting cover crops in the fall, which will help renew the soil for spring planting; and look for seeds that are not genetically modified.
Get a jump on the growing season with garden tunnels or portable greenhouses that warm the soil and protect tender young plants, allowing you to get your crops in earlier in the season.
Once the seeds are in the ground, you’ll need to protect them from garden pests. Gardening organically means using tried-and-true pest control methods such as building a bat house in your yard to encourage bug-eating bats to visit your garden.
Companion planting is another low-maintenance way to combat pests. For example, some gardeners swear that using marigolds as a border around their vegetable garden helps repel pests.
When harvest time rolls around, you’ll want to think about preserving the bounty that you can’t eat right away. Lehman’s has a full range of canning equipment, food mills, dehydrators and other kitchen tools to make it easy to preserve the fruits and vegetables of your labor.
Growing your family’s food organically is an act of love, but it really isn’t more difficult or more expensive than a traditional vegetable garden.
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