Starting an organic garden from scratch.
WITH over a decade
a thing or two about organic
gardening. After several years
of requests from farmers mar-ket
customers, he designed an
organic gardening course to
teach people how to grow their
own food without the use of syn-thetic
Growing food organically is
“You are what you eat,” he says.
“And you are what you eat eats.”
In other words, what our
plants are fed is what we’re feed-ing
His full course is available via
the Humble Roots Farm website,
but Stenersen outlined the basics
Find the sunshine. A successful garden needs at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.
Plants that don’t get enough sun tend to grow tall rather than full and to yield small produce. Take
the time to observe where the sun shines in your yard over the course of a day and adjust your
plot location accordingly.
Clear the ground. Cover the garden area with an impermeable material and leave it for
several weeks. Grass and weeds will die from lack of sun and water, and can be raked away as
debris. The longer the ground is covered, the less weed pulling will be necessary. Ground pre-pared
just before growing season begins can be cleared the hard way, with a rototiller or shovel.
Whichever method is used, the goal is to remove all vegetation, including the roots, to give the
garden plants room to grow.
Create garden beds. Stenersen recommends making 30-inch wide beds with 18-inch
wide pathways between them. This uses space efficiently while allowing enough room to walk
between beds and tend the plants.
Decide what to plant. Gardeners should think about what and how much their family enjoys
eating, taking into consideration the size of the garden and what can be expected to grow well. If
there’s not much sun, focus on leafy green veggies and herbs. For beginning gardeners or gardening
with children, start with easy to grow plants like sugar snap peas, peppers, cucumbers and squash.
Soil health and nutrition. In coastal regions, soil tends to be sandy. It drains very quickly and holds less water and fewer nutrients
than denser soils like clay. Topsoil can be added to very sandy soil to improve water and nutrient retention. Organic matter should make
up between 3 percent – 8 percent of the soil. Compost or manure can be added to soil that is low in organic matter. A soil test can deter-mine
what amendments are needed. Well-balanced soil is available for purchase for raised beds or to replace soil that is contaminated or
extremely low in quality. Local sources are preferable because they contain microorganisms native to the area, and producers intentionally
harvest them to nurture a healthy microbiome suitable for local growing conditions.
Water and irrigation. Vegetables are up to 90 percent water, so it’s important to ensure they get enough of it. Soil rich in organic
matter retains more rainwater, but irrigation is necessary to get through dry spells. Gardeners can choose overhead or drip irrigation, and each
has advantages and drawbacks. For example, overhead sprinklers mimic rain and are in some ways faster and easier, whereas drip systems are
more efficient and more economical if you’re paying for water.
Seeds and plants. Many gardeners start seeds indoors or in a greenhouse.
This is economical and lets you get your hands in the soil while it’s still cold out-side.
Purchasing transplants is an option for those who wait a bit too long or don’t
have space to start seeds inside, but avoid root-bound seedlings and only buy
healthy, in-season plants. A few crops, like baby greens and carrots, don’t transplant
well and should be direct seeded. Research the best practices for success in which-ever
combination of planting methods is chosen.
Protection. Guard against weeds by using a fabric cover or organic mulch to
starve them of sunlight. When weeds do pop up, there are several methods for
eliminating them without the use of herbicides, including flame weeding (yes, with
a garden torch!) or careful application of vinegar. A healthy ecosystem with a wide
variety of plants, including flowering perennials, is the best protection against
harmful insects looking to snack on veggies. Healthy soil and a diversity of plant life
attract predatory insects that will keep pest populations under control. If there is an
infestation, choose a naturally derived treatment based on the type of insect.