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Our garden plans are well under way already this year. We have onions and lemongrass started and growing, some herbs planted, and other seeds will soon be on their way to starting and growing into big, bountiful plants (I hope).
My girls and I throughly enjoy gardening. Something I used to loathe entirely, truth be told. I didn’t know what I was doing or why I even wanted to do it. Then, after I had kids, I quickly realized how important it is to know where your food comes from. Often, we have no idea where our food came from, what it was treated with, or how it was grown. I got sick of the not knowing pretty quick, and decided to venture out on my own and start growing as much of my own food as possible.
Our organic garden is also incredibly therapeutic. I love getting out there and working the earth, digging in the dirt, and seeing what my hard work can produce. We all enjoy going and picking the fruits of our labors and using them to cook some fresh meals or to preserve and put away for later.
As I work toward getting this years garden ready, I think back and realize that many people are probably in the same position I was in. They want to grow their own food, but have no idea where to start. I know there are plenty of people that need tips to start their first organic vegetable garden. There will be lots of fresh gardening how to and inspiration content going up in my facebook group over the next few weeks and months, so if you haven’t joined in yet, please do!
So, if you’re finding yourself in the I want to grow my own organic vegetable garden, but I don’t know how boat, don’t fret. I’ve compiled a list of how to’s and plan to add a whole series on how to start and maintain your own organic vegetable garden. So, stay tuned for all of that goodness. But for now…
How to Start an Organic Vegetable Garden
First things first, no matter how much you want to grow all of the things, do yourself a favor and start slow and start small. Gardening is fun and can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also get super overwhelming really quickly. So, just keep that in mind while you read through knowing that you can always expand next year.
1. Make Some Goals
Goal-setting in any facet of life is essential for numerous reasons. It helps you stay focused, and gives you something to work towards. Starting a garden is no exception. To ensure your garden is prolific and fulfills your needs, you need to set some goals.
What do you want your garden to provide for you? How much of those things do you want it to provide? Do you want it to be aesthetically pleasing, or just serve a purpose? Do you need to raise your garden beds or can you just amend the soil you have?
2. Pick A Sunny, Well Drained Spot
A garden can’t just be in any old place. For instance, we have a north facing front yard. I can’t exactly grow tons of food in a spot that never gets sun. In the back we have an area where water loves to stand. I don’t want to grow in the swamp, either.
Keep your goals in mind, whether they’re short-term or long term and place your garden accordingly. If you eventually want to have a large garden to provide your family with most of your produce, leave room for that. If your land is laid out like mine and sun is an issue, don’t put your garden in the front yard where there isn’t any sun.
You’re ultimately looking for an area with well-draining soil (no standing water) and a good amount of daily sunlight. While some plants do great in shaded areas, most vegetables are going to need an average of 6 hours of sunlight.
A couple of other things you may want to consider are: the distance to your closest water source. Our nearest hose is far from our garden, but we make it work by dragging a hose over there until we get some drip irrigation installed. If you’re not wanting to drag hoses, you may want to rethink where it is going to be, if possible. The other thing is: proximity to your house/windows. If you’re like me, you love to look out at your gorgeous food that you nurtured with your own two hands. So, put it where you can gaze out at it if you can!
3. Make the Garden Bed
Once you’ve decided what you want your garden to achieve and where you want it, it’s time to actually make the garden! The first thing is to decide how big you want it. Keeping in mind that you can always expand it later (or add more beds). Because, like I said, you do not want to be overwhelmed.
If there’s something where you want to put your garden, you’ll need to dig every last bit of it out. It’s hard work, but worth it. You could alternatively decide to do raised bed gardening, or containers/vertical gardening… but for a traditional garden, you are going to want to get rid of what’s covering your garden space.
If you’re lost on how to create a garden bed, you can read this post on how we made a garden bed from scratch in the spring!
4. Test the Soil
While this step is technically optional, it’s well worth the time it takes to have it done. To get your soil tested, you’re going to contact your local extension office to see if they charge and where you can drop off or send in your sample.
You are going to want to collect your sample of dirt after you have completely watered your garden area with whatever water you’ll regularly be using to water your garden with. Send it in and wait on the results.
5. Amend the Soil
Once you have your results back, you should have a great idea for what nutrients are in your soil and in what amounts. They should recommend what you need to do, and you can amend it accordingly.
If you didn’t get your soil tested, just make sure you add a nice layer of organic compost from home or another source. This will ultimately help the health of your soil and without soil health, you won’t have very healthy plants.
6. Pick Some Seeds
If you want to start your plants from seed, it will give you a lot more options for what you can grow. If you don’t, you can find already started plants at the local nursery. However, many times, these plants aren’t treated in an organic fashion. So, be aware of what you’re purchasing.
For seeds, I personally use and love Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seeds. They have an amazing variety of open-pollinated, heirloom varieties of seeds (these are varieties you can save seed from). They have reasonable prices and their shipping is super quick. They also have an absolutely stunning free catalogue that they send out right around Christmas time that I love browsing through to decide what I want to grow.
7. Start Your Indoor Seeds
You’ve picked out what you want to grow, now it’s time to start growing them! You’ll want to check out this guide on how to start and tend to your seeds indoors. You’ll want to be sure to start these seeds inside for the best possible harvest. You’ll want to tend to them and then once it’s time to put them outdoors (usually after the threat of frost is long gone) you’ll want to start hardening your starts off.
What exactly is hardening off?
To harden off starts, you’re going to place them outside in their start containers for a little bit of time each day and then bring them back inside. This helps your starts acclimate to outside elements like wind, real, direct sunlight, and fluctuating temperatures. You’ll start by putting them out just a few hours a day in a sheltered location, and continue increasing the time outside over a 7-10 day period.
8. Plant Your Starts
Once you’ve got great, established, starts and hardened them off, it’s time to put them in the ground! This is my second favorite part. Harvest is my absolute favorite.
You’ll want to plant your seeds on an overcast day and ensure that your plants are nice and watered. Dig a hole, place the plant in, backfill. Label (so you know what’s what) Easy peasy. Once you have everything planted, go ahead and put a nice layer of hay on top to help with weeds. If you need more weed help, you can see this guide here.
9. Direct Sow Your Other Seeds
Not everything gets started indoors. For the other plants you’d like to grow, you’re going to direct sow (or plant directly into the ground). These are also easy. Start with wet soil. Then, just follow the package instructions and make sure you label everything!
Your package should also tell you when to start your seeds. Some will say 2 weeks before frost, or after threat of frost is over. This is referring to your average last frost date. You can find that date by looking here. You’ll just enter your zip code and it will tell you when your expected last frost is!
10. Tend to Your Plants
Keep track of everything by ensuring you label as you plant and then, just keep everything happy, watered, and weed free (as much as possible). Once you see that first sprout out of the ground from a seed you direct sowed and then see the first flowers and finally, see those first fruits develop and ripen you’ll be in gardening heaven.
Maintenancing your organic garden can be hard work, but it’s worth it. Your garden will help provide you and your family with fresh, organic produce that you know exactly how it was grown and where it came from. And for that, there are no substitutes.
Do you have any questions for me about organic gardening and getting started? Feel free to leave a comment below or shoot me an email!