Vegging Outdoors: Planting Organic Vegetable Gardens

Recent studies have proven that vegetables grown organically are more nutritious because they are less coddled. Since they have to fight harder for their survival, they produce more antioxidants.

That may or may not imply anything about how your neighbor’s spoiled kids or grandkids are likely to turn out as compared to your own more hard-working ones! But it should at least encourage you to start or keep growing your own vegetables. All you need is a well-drained plot of land which receives at least 6 hours of sunlight per day—preferably 8 or more.

The best time to start an organic vegetable garden actually is the autumn before you intend to plant it. At that time, organic gardeners often till the ground and sow a cover crop which can suppress weeds, break up compacted soil, and add microbes and matter to that soil as it decomposes. A legume-type blanket, such as hairy vetch or red clover, also will “fix” nitrogen in the soil.

Any cover crop should be sown at least a month before your first hard frost. If you choose one that will survive the winter, you’ll need to mow it off and till it under before it makes seeds and at least two or three weeks before you intend to plant your garden in the spring. (Some gardeners deliberately choose a non-hardy cover that will die over the winter, so that it will have naturally decomposed by planting time.)

Should you not be able to sow a cover crop in autumn, you can tuck in your cleared plot for its winter’s nap by topping it with two or three inches of compost instead. That compost should gradually incorporate itself into the soil before spring planting time. If you have “blown your cover” by not getting around to one, you can till or spade compost into the garden just before you plant in the spring, but it won’t be as well incorporated as if it had aged there.

When setting out seedlings in your plot, add 2 to 4 tablespoons of liquid kelp to each gallon of water you use for them to help prevent transplant shock. You can get those babies off to a good start by tossing about a half-handful of worm castings into each transplant hole. Also, work an organic fertilizer such as Dr. Earth Tomato, Vegetable, and Herb Fertilizer 4-6-3 or Espoma Tomato Tone 3-4-6 into the soil, using about 1 cup for every 10 square feet of garden area.

Because microbes are considered a good thing in organic amendments, wear gloves when handling those fertilizers and wash your hands thoroughly afterward. You also should damp down any that are dry before pouring them out of their bags, so you can avoid inhaling their dust.

After watering your transplants, mulch them with straw, chopped leaves, or grass clippings while their soil still is damp. Since persistent weeds can work their way up through loose materials, you may want to place layers of biodegradable newspapers or cardboard under the other mulch. That way, you can rest assured that your papers and boxes really are helping the earth.

Although you will need to water your transplants frequently while they are becoming established, it’s best to cut back on the water once they are sending up new growth. Too much moisture and/or fertilizer can encourage lots of the soft foliage which attracts harmful insects at the expense of flowers and fruits.  Besides, as mentioned above, you want to make those plants work their way up—in antioxidants, that is!