Edible Gardens

How to Start an Organic Garden

Growing your own fruits and vegetables

An organic garden has benefits that far surpass the simple salad you may serve with lunch, or the delicious potatoes you prepare for a family dinner. Knowing what nutrients are going into the food you harvest (and what chemicals aren’t going into the food on your plate and into your body), creates a wonderful peace of mind.

While many think that starting their own organic garden can be complicated or require special skills, the truth is, anyone with a little time on their hands, a small growing area, and a passion for good food can grow a garden!

1. Know your growing season

Honestly, Growing Zones can be confusing. However, knowing how many frost-free days you have in your area and planning accordingly is easy. Dave’s Garden has an amazing tool to help you figure out how many frost-free days you have on average in your growing season based on your zip code. Plug in your five-digit zip code and take note of your number as it will go a very long way to helping you plan what you can grow.

Two interesting vegetable planting, growing and harvesting calendars for Zone 5 are Urban Farmer Planting Calendar and Community Crops Planting Calendar.

2. Track the sunshine before you design your garden

It’s important to keep in mind how the sun hits your property throughout the day. The number of hours of direct sunlight your growing space gets will determine what you can actually grow.

For example:

  • With 6+ hours of direct sun each day, you can grow things like corn, tomatoes, peppers, beans and peas, summer and winter squash, melons, potatoes, cucumbers and a wide variety of culinary herbs.

  • With 4 to 6 hours of direct sun each day, you can grow things like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts.

  • With 2 to 4 hours of direct sun each day, you can grow greens! Spinach, Swiss chard, lettuce, endive, mesclun, arugula, bok choi, mustard greens and parsley.

  • If you have less than 2 hours of direct sun per day, you’re in for a challenge, but it’s still worth a shot! Try loose leaf lettuce or radishes.

3. Build and prepare your beds

Above all else using the best edible garden soil in a 15-inch high raised bed is the key to a bountiful harvest. Whether you live in a home that already has established garden beds, will be building the beds yourself, buying a raised bed kit, planting in pots or buying a fully installed cedar raised bed with soil from Deep Roots Project depends on your time, your budget and your skill. If you build your own raised bed Deep Roots can deliver top quality soil right to your yard. If you have the time and interest there are several ways to make your own top quality soil yourself. Learn more about soil here.

4. Support healthy soil microorganisms

Just as the microbes in the human body both aid digestion and maintain our immune system, soil microorganisms both digest nutrients and protect plants against pathogens and other threats. Soil bacteria and fungi serve as the "stomachs" of plants. They form symbiotic relationships with plant roots and "digest" nutrients, providing nitrogen, phosphorus, and many other nutrients in a form that plant cells can assimilate.

For over four hundred million years, plants have been forming a symbiotic association with fungi that colonize their roots, creating mycorrhizae (my-cor-rhi-zee), literally "fungus roots," which extend the reach of plant roots a hundred-fold. These fungal filaments not only channel nutrients and water back to the plant cells, they connect plants and actually enable them to communicate with one another and set up defense systems.

Deep Roots store sells an organic fertilizer – Soil Alive – that restore soil microorganisms along with the their nutrients and foods.

5. Water

Think about your water sources and how you will water your growing plants. Depending on whether you have raised beds ground level beds or are planning to grow in pots, all seeds must have water and all established plants require even more water.

Your options for getting water to your growing space might include hand watering, using a hose, drip irrigation or letting nature take care of it (if you are lucky enough to live in an area that isn’t faced with drought, but it must be thought about and planned for. Depending on the size of your growing space, watering by hand can take a lot of time and must be factored in to your daily routine.

6. Seeds and seedlings

Once you know how much sun your plants will get, how long your growing season is and where you’ll be planting your glorious veggies, it’s time to think about purchasing some seeds or starts.

If you have the space and know-how to build your own set of grow lights, you might not ever have to purchase starts from your local nursery or farmer's market. However, if you are limited on space, time or confidence in your building abilities (practice makes perfect!), ensure that you are purchasing organic vegetables that were started from organic seed and not treated with any chemicals before they get to you. Your pollinator friends will thank you first, your body will thank you later.

Start small and work your way up. If you’re passionate about growing your own organic fruit and vegetables, you probably want to start with as many varieties as possible, right? While this is not without its merits, you will do yourself a huge favor by picking just a few things to start and learn with now. Then, next year (and every year after that), you can expand. It’s always better to have a few successful varieties than a ton of failing varieties. Trust me.

7. Try companion planting on a small scale.

Companion planting
and organic gardening easily go hand in hand. Planting a tomato in a big pot? Strategically place 10 carrot seeds or three basil seeds around the base of the tomato and watch them grow together. Planting some cucumbers to climb up a fence? Plant some bush beans in front of them to shade their toes and add nitrogen to the soil.

Companion planting, when done intentionally, can help your fruits and vegetable grow healthier and more nutrient dense as well as help protect each other from pests. 

8. Be prepared for “failure” and take pride in the small victories.

Every single seed will not germinate and despite your best efforts, not every start will survive. Pests will find your beautiful plants and rip them to shreds. Hail or whipping winds will damage your fruits and veggies right before harvest time. As hard as it is, it’s really just part of the process. Some years are better than others, some years you just can’t seem to do anything right in the garden. Like life, take every lesson and each heartbreak and pour the knowledge gained from them into next year’s plans and each year in the garden will get a little bit better.

Harvesting 10 carrots from a small pot for the first time can feel like winning a gold medal. Eating a still-warm-from-the-sun tomato is one of the most satisfying experiences ever. Allow yourself to feel the pride of your harvest and then enjoy each of that carrot or that tomato like it’s the best thing on the planet because it is and because you deserve to!

Organic gardening is full of rewards, both for your own health, and for the health of the planet. By following a few easy steps on how to start your own organic garden, you can be well on your way to harvesting your first meal straight out of your very own garden!

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Register for our workshops, sign up for our Newsletter and contact us with questions. We welcome all into Deep Roots Project. Please contact David Murphy at djmurphy1967[at]gmail.com or 773-502-5600 if you have questions or if you are interested in exploring ways you can become involved.