Gearing Up for Your Organic Garden

9 simple tips to create the garden you want
An excerpt from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Organic Living

Gearing up to start an organic garden this spring? Good gardens begin with good plans, and you’ll want to start your organic garden off right with careful planning. If you already have an established garden plot, your planning process will focus more along the lines of what you need to do with your soil and what you want to plant. If you’re starting from square one — no established garden — you’ll need to consider the best location and landscape for planting.

Here's nine simple tips to customize and create the healthy garden you want this spring:

Your overall goal

What do you want to accomplish with your garden? Do you want to grow vegetables? Fruit? Both? Do you want to augment an already-existing landscape by adding to current beds or creating new ones?

The lay of the land

Garden areas should work in harmony with your yard (remember biodynamics?). If you haven’t already done so, now’s the time to make a sketch of your yard. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it doesn’t even have to be to scale, but it should show the location and relative size of existing elements, including property lines, fences, trees, shrubs, structures, pathways, etc.

Your yard’s ecosystem

Every yard has its own mini-environment — its own ecosystem — that will factor into how well things will grow in it. Spend some time observing what goes on in yours. Consider how the light moves across it, where the sunny spots and the shady spots are, how the wind moves through it, if there are wet spots and dry spots, etc. In an organically planned garden, you want to work with all of these elements, not against them. In other words, you’ll want to put them to work for you.

Studying other yards that you like and which have elements similar to yours can be extremely helpful, especially when you’re first starting out. There’s always much to be learned by walking in the footsteps of those who have gone before you.

Once you have a good idea of what you have and what you want to do with it, it’s time to decide what you want to grow. The amount of space you have to work with and your yard’s ecosystem will both play key roles in this process.

What your family likes to eat

There’s no sense in growing veggies the kids simply won’t touch.

What’s easily available and affordable locally

Farmers’ markets and other local sources for organics are often heavy on the basics — tomatoes, onions, potatoes, beans, etc. — as supply and demand for these items are usually fairly steady and consistent. If they’re abundant in your area, you might want to focus on the less available choices.

What you can easily preserve/store

Putting up the bounty from gardens used to occupy people for weeks at a time at the ends of growing seasons. These days most people don’t have the time or the inclination, but there’s usually produce at the end of the summer to deal with. Did you know tomatoes can be frozen whole? Choose varieties that lend themselves well to this — paste tomatoes are the top choice, but any fleshy tomato will work — and you’ll have a quick and easy use for your end-of-season harvest. Many other veggies also lend themselves to the quick and easy approach.

What you can easily grow

If you’re new to vegetable gardening, stick to the basics — tomatoes, peppers (hot or mild), squash, beans, corn — they’re all good choices for novice gardeners.

What you can trade with others

Growing crops that complement what others have in their gardens is a great way to expand the selection of organics at hand.

Plants that fit your growing area

If you’re confined to containers, you’ll want to choose more compact varieties — even the smallest corn varieties need barrel-sized containers to do well.

When you’ve figured out what you want to grow, sketch out your garden plot. Now’s the time to draw it to scale; doing so will make it easier to determine exactly where everything will go and if you have the space to grow everything you want.

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Organic Living by Eliza Sarasohn and Sonia Weiss.

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