It’s time to break some ground and get growing. Maybe it’s time to break out of that rut of growing four tomato plants a year, and grow a diverse garden full of strange vegetables. Or maybe this is the year to that you need to grow enough to be prepared for a zombie apocalypse or the crash of the supermarket industry.
Or maybe, sheer boredom brings you outside to the garden and a new challenge. Well here’s one: try growing an organic garden.
In some areas I have seen the term “organic” used as a curse word, as in: “I don’t eat that orrrganic” (the number of r’s tend to indicate the level of disgust). It can also be used as an identifier of high society, such as: “Suzy loves her new organic finger puppet collection, lovingly crafted by Guatemalan mystics that only drink water from above 8,000 feet”.
In reality, the idea of growing organically is actually quite simple. It is the original DIY project. In a nutshell, it means growing food using practices that involve biologically-based closed loops while relying on natural processes and controls to solve problems.
Although that sounds pretty straightforward, there is a reason that most farms use 10-10-10 in concert with pesticides that require state licensure and space suits. It works. Organic growing is more difficult, there are no shortcuts, and sometimes, despite your bet efforts, you will fail.
Can I sell this idea any harder? Are you in? Great! So how does one begin growing an organic garden? Start small, and experiment. Here are a few ideas to get started.
Compost - This is the easiest one. But it is amazing how many people never give it a shot. To grow healthy plants, you have to start with rich, biologically active soil. You have all of the basics at your disposal, just look to your trash can.
To start, save all of your vegetable waste and stack it up in alternating piles (outside!) with a carbon source. Leaves, shredded junk mail or this very newspaper article if you don’t like my tone —anything dry and crinkly will work. Stack and wait 2-3 months. That’s it. You can get fancier if you want by flipping it, but it turns out nature is really great at turning these ingredients into crumbly black earth. Apply to your garden liberally.
Mulch - Weeds, not bugs are the bane of the organic garden. Thousands of opportunistic plant stranglers lie in wait, or are dropped in via parachute or bird poop with the sole mission to steal your plant’s lunch money.
Nature’s solution is to put down a suppressing fire of leaves every year that act as mulch. Not only do they keep the weed seeds from germinating, they also break down in the soil and generate lovely organic matter. Have you ever seen pigweed in a forest? Probably not. So instead of filling up comically sized brown paper bags of leaves this fall, try layering them on your garden.
Stick and move - Carefully source your plants and move them around. Growing the same type of tomato in the same space every year is the ecological equivalent of leaving your car parked overnight in the shadiest part of town with the windows rolled down. By growing something different from the rest of the neighborhood and rotating your plants, you make it harder for insects and diseases to gain a foothold and ruin your life.
Grow food for others - I don’t mean give your extra cucumbers to your Aunt Edna, (although you really should… and would it kill you to call her once in a while?). No, what I mean is dedicate a piece of your garden to growing something that is not for humans.
Try growing a cover crop of buckwheat and be amazed by the busy highway of pollinators that arrive out of nowhere. Try growing a mix of cilantro, parsley and dill and letting it go to flower. You will delight as predatory wasps gleefully sip the nectar and then proceed to lay their eggs inside of your tomato worms, which hatch and eat them from the inside out. That is what I call justice.
Whatever portion of the organic grower adventure you choose to embark on, just remember… Take Care and Eat Well!
Cory Mosser is the founder of Natural Born Tillers, a farm coaching company dedicated to creating lasting opportunities in sustainable agriculture for the next generation of farmers. He has more than 10 years of experience managing organic vegetable farms, including five years locally in Newton County as the manager of Burge Organic Farm.