How Does Your Organic Garden Grow?

By Melissa Bobbitt

February 18, 2011 4 min read

With Americans battling bulges and anemic wages, they are seeking one-size-fits-all solutions. What is a sustainable yet cost-effective method to combating hunger and obesity? Many recommend looking to one's own backyard for the answer.

Organic gardening is gaining popularity in these cash-strapped times. From the most seasoned green thumbs to horticulture dummies, growing one's own chemical-free food is becoming a coast-to-coast hobby.

According to the website Organic Gardening Guru, studies at the University of Washington concluded that "children who eat a diet of organic food show a level of pesticides six times lower than" the level that "children who eat a diet of inorganically grown food" show. In addition, the website cites "horticulture therapy" as a benefit to tending one's own garden. In other words, it can be a stress reliever.

The National Gardening Association's Susan Littlefield mentions even more perks to this do-it-yourself movement, including the economic payoff.

"A good way to start is to grow what is expensive to purchase," Littlefield says. "For example, you could go to the market and buy organic salad greens for $12 a pound. ... That's a great way to get into gardening (yourself) and save some money."

And it turns out that salad ingredients are among the easiest edibles to grow -- no matter where you call home. Littlefield explains: "People in urban areas, if they've got a rooftop or a steady fire escape, they can grow vegetables in containers. Lettuce is a great thing." Cherry tomatoes and peppers are also good to grow in containers.

It's not the amount of space that matters when launching a successful organic garden; it's the ingredients. Organic, by definition, means devoid of chemical agents in both the soil and the pest or weed control. So to start, one needs a nutrient-rich foundation for the plants.

Organic Gardening Guru says, "The ideal garden soil consists of 25 percent air, 25 percent water, 40 percent mineral matter and 10 percent organic matter." An encyclopedic resource of soil types can be found in Organic Gardening magazine and its accompanying website, at The Rodales, the magazine's publishers, have been tending to organic gardens for more than 60 years. One's local home improvement centers or nurseries will carry a variety of soils and containers for your planting needs.

Once the seedlings are placed in the appropriate soil and containers, it's time to get creative. The secret behind a robust organic garden is the mulch. Littlefield frequently refers to compost as black gold. "Any composting that you can do (for example, manure) is going to improve your soil."

Take out the trash and see what can be salvaged to grow your food. Almost any organic material is helpful, save for meat or dairy products, which could attract rodents. Cultivating legumes (green beans, peas, etc.) can provide a continuous beneficial nitrogen cycle from soil to seed. Tea and coffee grounds are great components, as the caffeine serves as a natural weedkiller.

To make one's garden extra "green," Organic Gardening Guru supports the use of old milk jugs, soda bottles and other plastic containers to protect the plants from frost and other harsh climate conditions. Furthermore, laying strips of old newspaper underneath the soil bed can conserve water for the emerging crops.

Organic gardening isn't just for the Birkenstock set anymore. During this economic stalemate, as awareness of the obesity epidemic grows, one's self-sufficiency can, too. There's something to chew on.

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