This is the absolute minimum amount of information you need to know about growing your own organic food. Keep your family safe and healthy by following these 14 steps and you'll be on the right track!
- Think about the vegetables and herbs you enjoy eating. Make a list of those you enjoy most, and think about which are hardest to find or most expensive to buy in stores – those are the ones you’ll want to grow. Winter squash, hot peppers, herbs, tomato and watermelons are the usual popular choices. Don't be afraid to try new varieties. Growing your own food is a fun and rewarding experience.
- Divide the crops you want to grow into cool-season crops (which do best in the spring and the fall) and warm-season crops (which do best in the summer). Common cool-season crops include beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, lettuce and other salad greens, peas, radishes, spinach and turnips. These crops can survive cold weather (even some frost).
Popularwarm-season crops include beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, peppers, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, and watermelons. These crops need very warm weather to grow and cannot survive frost at all.
- Further divide the crops you want to grow into crops that can be grown from seed in the garden and those that are usually planted in a house or greenhouse and moved (or transplanted) into the garden as small plants.
Of the crops listed above in step 2, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, eggplant, kale, peppers, and tomatoes should almost always transplanted by new gardeners. Cucumbers, pumpkins, and watermelons are sometimes transplanted and sometimes not.
- Using your lists from steps 2 and 3, above, figure out which seeds you want to start with. Late winter, is usually the best time to buy the seeds you need.
- In April, or as early after that as you can, find a garden spot. Use containers, build a raised bed, dig up your front yard, or whatever else you can think of. If you have a choice, your garden location should be flat and exposed to full sun all day.
- Use whatever tool(s) you have handy to break up the soil throughout your garden. If at all possible, add some fertilizer and soil amendments. Talk to an experienced person at a good garden store for suggestions about what to buy, emphasizing that you want to grow organically. You can even have them test your soil and provide recommendations for special soil amendments.
- Mark off the areas you plan to grow in with sticks. Leave paths in between that are at least 12 inches wide.
- Use your tool(s) to prepare smooth beds where the topmost soil is very fine (no large lumps).
- Start planting seeds of cool-season crops (again, this can happen as early as the beginning of April for many crops). Leave space for the warm season crops, which will not get planted until late May or early June (or plant very quick growing crops that will be finished by early June).
- Weed your garden regularly (at least once a week), and put down leaves, straw, newspaper, and/or cardboard around your crops to keep weeds from growing. Harvest crops as they mature.
- When all danger of frost has passed (in late May or early June), it's time to start your warm-season crops and plant them in the garden as quickly as you can.
- Continue weeding and harvesting through the summer, watering your garden thoroughly (for one hour or more) once a week if it has not rained.
- As cold weather approaches in October, begin replacing warm-season crops with cool-season crops as the warm-season crops begin to die.
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