There are many benefits to growing your own food, and the benefits grow exponentially when your garden is organic. Eating foods that are pesticide free and grown in nutrient-rich soils is so much better for you, (the way that God had intended us to eat), and you have the satisfaction of eating the fruits of your own labour. Plus you are doing your small part to enrich the earth around you. But, the most noticeable difference will be the taste of the food. Once you have eaten organically grown mouth-watering fruits and vegetables, I guarantee you will never go back to store bought!

2012-05-couplandGrowing your own food will not only be healthier for you, but also save on your grocery bill. The cost of seeds is very little compared to the cost of buying fruits and vegetables from your grocery stores.

A garden does require a lot of work and effort to maintain. But an organic garden should be therapeutic, and should be enjoyed, rather than thought of as a chore. It truly is getting back to nature.

When talking about foods that are organic, whether it be animal (beef, chicken, etc.) vegetable, fruit, or herbs, we need to understand what organic means. With animals, they must not have been treated with antibiotics, growth hormones, or feed made from animal byproducts. They must have been fed organic feed for at least a year, and have access to the outdoors. Food is considered organic if it hasn’t been genetically modified or irradiated, does not contain sewage sludge or synthetic ingredients and has not been contaminated with synthetic chemicals used as pesticides.

So what do we need to know about organic gardening, and how do we get started?

The first thing to be considered is the choice of produce. Research your crop choices; make sure they are ideal for your climate and region. Plants that are adapted to your climate will not only thrive better, but will require less care. First-time gardeners might want to begin with easy-to-grow varieties, such as beets, carrots, garlic, herbs, kale, potatoes, tomatoes and zucchinis.

When considering a location for your garden, choose an area that will have a minimum of six hours of sunshine, preferably as much in the morning as possible. This will dry the leaves of the plants quickly after the morning dew, which tends to help stifle disease.

Start with a smaller garden, one that is an easy size to maintain, allowing yourself room to expand in the future, if desired. Loosen the soil with a shovel first, then a garden fork or tiller 6 to 8 inches deep to break up all of the clumps. The most important thing for your organic garden is to feed the soil with nutrients that will in turn feed your plants. It is important to remember that plants are fed by the microorganisms in the soil, and that pesticides can destroy them. In an organic garden, you are nourishing these microorganisms.

An alternative method is to build upon the grass, rather than digging into it, creating a layered effect. Use newspaper as the first layer, then straw, grass clippings, shredded leaves, etc. All of these items break down to create rich, fertile soil. No need to dig, just cut holes into it and plant right through it.

Composting is an easy way to get your plants the nutrients they need by continuously adding organic matter to the soil, rather than feeding plants directly. You can purchase compost in bulk or build your own compost pile away from the garden.

The 2 main components of a compost are carbon-rich “brown” materials, such as those listed earlier in the raised garden, and nitrogen-rich “green” materials, such as vegetable peelings and fruit rinds, pulp from juicers, etc. (but no meat or dairy products). Manure from cows, horses and chickens is also very rich in nitrogen. The other two important ingredients are water and air. Your compost needs to be kept wet, (but not dripping) and air is absolutely necessary for the bacteria doing the hard composting work. You will know when the compost is working, digging into it you will find it alive with worms and your leaves have turned to crumbly black material.

Keep the soil in your organic garden covered throughout the gardening season with mulch, and once again grass clippings, straw, leaves and shredded bark are ideal for this. Mulch continues to feed the soil as it decomposes, preserves moisture in the soil, and also blocks the sunlight from reaching the weeds, preventing most weeds from coming through the surface. Be sure to keep the mulch away from the plant stems as it can burn the stems.

Plant mint or spearmint herbs around your garden to keep insects away naturally.

Keep in mind this is just a general overview of organic gardening. Some gardeners might prefer different methods than the ones I’ve discussed. If you want to start your own garden, be sure to do a little research on your own first.

For those people who can’t grow a garden, for whatever reason, make an attempt to buy organically whenever possible. Some foods, such as fruits: apples, cherries, peaches, raspberries and strawberries and vegetables: celery, potatoes and spinach are foods you should avoid unless grown organically. No matter how well you wash them, it is nearly impossible to eliminate the pesticides they have absorbed.

Readers have expressed an interest in writing to Rick Coupland. He can be contacted at health@kingston.net