Few pursuits are as rewarding as growing your own organic garden. Not only do you get to enjoy the fruits of your own labor, but you have the satisfaction of knowing that the produce you are eating was grown free of chemicals, pesticides and herbicides. Growing organically produces healthy, more diverse ecosystems which are better able to resist significant pest damage… naturally!
Easy to cultivate with a long storage life, home gardeners are growing onions more than any other vegetable! Records indicate that they were grown in Ancient Egypt, and eventually arrived in Rome and became known as the word onion (from the Latin word UNIO, which means large pearl).
Onions grow best in full sun and deep, fertile well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. Work in a generous amount of compost prior to planting. Onions are shallow rooted and need constant moisture near the surface.
Onions form bulbs in response to day length. If you choose a type inappropriate for your area, it may make small premature bulbs or not bulb up at all. Long-day varieties, Sweet Spanish included, need 14-16 hours of daylight and are grown in northern climates. Short day varieties, Bermuda included, need 10-12 hours of daylight. These start making bulbs early in the year. Select an onion that is suited to your zone for best results. (more…)
Sweet and succulent, melons, such as cantaloupe and honeydew, can be a challenge in to grow in areas colder than zone 4. A warm season crop, they require hot, relatively dry summers and steady heat for at least 2-4 months. Growing melons in colder climates can be rewarding, but requires short season varieties and plenty of frost protection.
Choose a warm site that gets plenty of sun, such as along a south-facing building or wall. Make sure that the area is protected from strong winds as melons are vulnerable to cool temperatures. The planting area should be well drained and loose textured with lots of organic matter. Each spring, work plenty of compost into your growing area.
Tip: Use black plastic to warm the soil 2-3 weeks prior to planting heat-loving crops. After all risk of frost has passed, simply cut holes in the plastic sheet and plant seeds or seedlings through the holes. (more…)
A cool season, fairly hardy, annual, vegetable gardeners are growing lettuce for its edible foliage, which is 90% water, but offers plenty of vitamins A and B. A member of the Asteraceae family, it has been cultivated for ages, perhaps longer than any other vegetable crop. Young lettuce leaves are delicious in salads.
Lettuce will require partial shade in warm climates, rich, sandy soil and regular water. Work the soil thoroughly (break up any clumps and remove debris) prior to planting. If using seeds, rake the surface smooth. Transplants can tolerate a rougher planting bed. Dig in plenty of compost and soil amendments rich in nitrogen to promote good leaf development.
Tip: Consider adding kelp meal to planting beds. It’s chock-full of micro-nutrients and is especially good for supplying trace minerals to crops that will be consumed. (more…)
A member of the Brassicaceae family, kale is related to broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. It is a cool season biennial that is grown as an annual and is harvested for its tender foliage. Reliable and quick to harvest, growing kale is relatively easy because cold weather doesn’t bother it. In fact, cold weather makes it taste…well, a whole lot better!
Kale grows best in full sun and cool moist soil that is enriched with compost. Incorporate a legume cover crop, or work in 30 pounds of compost per 100 square feet before planting. Kale requires moderate amounts of fertilizer rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
Tip: Before you grow your organic garden, grow your soil. Consider adding soil amendments, like alfalfa meal (5-1-2), rock phosphate (0-3-0), greensand (0-0-3) and kelp meal, to your garden to improve the structure of the soil and provide a slow-release mix of nutrients to plant roots. (more…)
A cinch to grow from zone 3 south, horseradish is known for its hot, mustard flavored roots. Mankind has been growing horseradish for centuries, Records indicate that the Egyptians cultivated this plant prior to 1500 B.C. It was also used by the Romans as an aphrodisiac. Although, what didn’t they use as an aphrodisiac?
Horseradish prefers rich, fast draining soil and full sun. However, the perennial will grow in almost all conditions, except deep shade or constant wetness. Prior to planting, choose a spot far removed from any other plants you care about. Horseradish spreads quickly and can soon take over your garden.
Tip: The best way to control horseradish’s rampant nature is to grow it in containers.
How to Plant:
Start by planting horseradish in the fall or very early spring. Set plants or root pieces 1-2 feet apart, with the crown – the top of the root and the start of the top growth – about 4 inches below the soil surface. Add a shovelful of compost to each hole and water thoroughly after planting. (more…)
One of the first cultivated fruits, there are written descriptions of growing grapes and making wine dating back thousands of years. Grapes have the reputation of being fragile and difficult to grow. In fact, many backyard gardeners are convinced that they are too tender to even consider trying to grow them, yet a variety of species will do well in regions of every state and in several Canadian provinces. Once established, well-tended grapevines can be productive for 40 years or more.
All types of grapes require a warm planting site in full sun, moderate water and pruning during the dormant season to control growth and produce abundant fruit. Consult with a nursery professional to select a variety that will do well in your area. The soil at the planting site should be loose, rich and deep. The roots of grape vines go deep into the earth. Amend to a depth of 24 – 36″ with organic compost to improve existing soil.
Tip: To lessen the chance for disease, make sure drying breezes are not obstructed by fences, shrubs or buildings. (more…)
A member of the onion family, garlic (Allium sativum) has been cultivated for thousands of years and was most likely brought to this country by European immigrants. Today growing garlic has become popular in many home gardens. The plant is valued for its pungent flavor and many health benefits.
Each spring, work plenty of compost into your growing area. Garlic thrives in all zones and does very well in raised beds, except in very dry areas. It requires full sun, sandy, fast draining soil rich in organic matter and regular water during the growing season.
How to Plant:
Plant garlic in spring in cold winter regions, in late fall in mild winter areas. To plant, break the bulbs apart into individual cloves, plant with the pointed end up, 1 inch deep in rows 1 foot apart. (more…)
Eggplant is a member of the Solanaceae family which includes tomatoes, peppers, ground cherry and potatoes. A warm season annual, growing eggplant is relatively easy and it is one of the prettier vegetables found in the home garden. Numerous varieties are available.
Eggplant should be planted in full sun and requires ample water and fertile soil with lots of organic matter. The plants are easily injured by frost and will not do well with long periods of cool weather (see Eggplant Requires Heat, Patience).
Tip: Use plastic mulches to warm the soil and increase eggplant yields.
How to Plant:
Eggplants should be treated like tomatoes, the only difference being that eggplants like it warmer. Plant them from nursery stock, or starts, after the soil has warmed in the spring. Set plants 20-24 inches apart in raised beds or double rows 20-24 inches apart. Apply an all-purpose organic fertilizer throughout the growing period. (more…)
Cucumbers are one of the most popular plants in today’s home garden. Before you plant, consider how much space you can devote to growing cucumbers. The regular varieties require about 15 square feet per plant. However, they can still be grown in small gardens by training vines onto a trellis or wire fence. They may also be grown in containers.
Cucumbers require a planting site in full sun and even soil moisture. Mulch around plants to prevent soil from drying out between waterings. A straw mulch works best and will help keep them off the ground. Allow plenty of room for each plant, making sure that the soil is rich in organic matter and well drained.
How to Plant:
Cucumbers need warm soil and do not tolerate frost. Wait for warm spring days and soil temperatures above 60 degrees. Grow trellised plants 6-10 inches apart. When planted in hills and allowed to run, grow three plants to a 2 foot wide hill, with the hills spaced 6 feet apart. Apply an all-purpose organic fertilizer in early spring; then provide supplemental light feedings (side-dressings or foliar spray) monthly throughout the growing season. (more…)
Native to North and South America, corn (or maize) was cultivated some 4,000 years before Columbus first set foot in the New World. Today home gardeners know that the flavor of a fresh picked ear of heirloom corn delivered directly to a pot of boiling water is worth all the effort, fertilizer and space required for growing corn.
Corn requires full sun, ample water and deep rich soil to perform well. Prepare the planting site by working in generous amounts of compost. Corn needs to be well protected from frost.
Tip: Cover the growing area with plastic for two to four weeks prior to planting to warm the soil. (more…)