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Many people today are interested in raising some of the food they eat right in their own yards at home. This trend is probably inspired by many impulses, including the wish to avoid contaminated produce from distant, unknown sources, the wish to save money on food, and the simple pleasure of picking and eating delicious ripe fruit and vegetables from just outside one’s door.
An organic garden at home can also be a most pleasant means to teach children about biology and ecology and at the same time instill in them a love of tending the earth, an appreciation for the genuine flavors of fruits and vegetables in their natural state of readiness, and the invigorating spirit of independence and self-reliance.
Creating your own organic home garden is easier than you may think, and doesn’t necessarily require a great deal of space. Your garden will do best if the spot you choose receives full sun for at least eight hours a day—and certain plants, such as sweet corn and melons, will prefer even more.
There may actually be several spots around your yard that could support a few plants. A friend of mine happily harvests a steady supply of ever-bearing strawberries from a plot just three by three feet in size.
Once you have chosen your garden plots, you will want to prepare the soil. Supporting plants that produce food will require a soil that is healthy with a balanced component of minerals along with enough organic matter to retain moisture and feed soil microorganisms, and a mix of sand and clay to ensure proper drainage.
If you have a good site in mind but it is mostly clay, then you will need to spend perhaps a full season improving the spot before you plant your garden. Pure clay can be lightened with sharp sand and even small pebbles.
If you have a spot in mind that is currently covered in grass, then here is an easy way to prepare the soil for a garden. Lay down several layers of newspapers and/or corrugated cardboard from old boxes to cover the entire area you want to turn into garden. Now cover this with generous amounts of organic materials (that is, substances that will decay) such as old hay, cow or sheep manure, straw, your own kitchen compost, bone or blood meal from reputable sources, kelp, fish meal, and so on. Choose materials that will break down completely in one season; avoid leaves (especially from oak) or twigs.
Earthworms will be attracted to this mélange of decomposing goodies and will help you along underground, digesting the grass and paper layer and loosening the soil just
beneath. If there is a long dry spell while this process is underway, be sure to saturate your garden plot well at least once a week to keep the earthworms and soil organisms healthy, happy, and working for you.
At the end of the season you should be able to easily turn over this plot with a spade, further introducing the organic materials into the top layer of soil. Depending on your location, you may be ready to plant at this point, or, if the frosts of late fall or winter are approaching, you can lay down yet another layer of organic material—especially old hay, which is more nutritious than straw—and be ready to start your garden come spring.
A similar method can be done when creating raised beds, and the spaces can be simply contained with 2x4s nailed together.
If a patio or terrace is your only outdoor space, then container gardening can be a very functional alternative. Dwarf forms of vegetables, such as cherry tomatoes and bush cucumbers can be grown quite successfully this way, and most herbs lend themselves marvelously to container plantings and are beautiful and fragrant to boot. Even dwarf fruit trees can be grown in large containers in the appropriate climates.
In the case of container gardens, do choose your soil carefully. The best choices would be your own home compost, or similar living, fertile soil from another source you trust. These plantings will benefit from frequent applications of fish emulsion and kelp to maintain nutrient and mineral levels, and to ensure the microorganisms in the soil stay healthy and confer that health to your plants.
If at all possible, try to avoid the municipal water supply when watering your garden. Chlorine, fluoride and many other contaminants in the water supply will slowly sterilize your soil and compromise the health of your garden plants (most especially those in containers). Instead, install simple rain collection barrels or buckets at your downspouts to collect rainwater for your gardening needs.
Following these methods will help ensure that your garden plants are supported by healthy, fertile soil without the inputs of synthetic fertilizers. Healthy plants will of course not require herbicides of any sort—the advantage of a small garden is that any pests that might appear can be easily spotted and picked off by you!
The rewards of harvesting and eating vegetables, fruits and herbs grown this way are golden: clean, delicious and nutritious food that you tended with pride. Share some with your neighbors and inspire them to do the same.
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