A Beginner’s Guide to Starting your Own Organic Garden

It’s time for us to take back control of our health – and that begins with the quality of food we consume as a nation. Scientific evidence is revealing that GMOs, herbicides, pesticides and other toxic chemicals are not only canceling out any nutrients in our food supply, but are also posing long-term health risks.

Many Americans want to incorporate fresh, organic produce into their diets, but they feel it is out of reach for them due to cost.  Dr. Piazza asked me to write this guide as a way to especially help the growing base of concerned mothers who ask him for advice on how they can serve their families the most nutritious and healthy foods available, within the constraints of a weekly food budget.

As someone who has planted, tended and harvested produce on farms and gardens here in the states, as well as in Italy, Ireland and Japan, I would like offer some practical and affordable tips on how to start your own organic garden, regardless of space limitations or even if you feel you don’t have a “green thumb.” You will be surprised and proud of what you can accomplish with a little time, effort and patience.

Image via organicgardening.about.com

Weigh Your Options and Set Realistic Goals

Whether you will be using a few pots on a patio or you have the luxury of a sunny backyard, most of the steps are the same. The first and most important step is to be honest about your ability to maintain what you are planting.  If you are new to gardening, I would suggest starting small with two or three different tomato plants and two basil plants.

As your confidence grows, you may want to expand to include more varieties of plants and/or heirloom varieties of plants in the next season. You also may wish to buy organic seeds and start them indoors in containers so that the seedlings are ready to plant outdoors when the weather warms up.

If you compare the cost of organic soil (about $8 for a 15 lb. bag at Target), several pots (about $5 each) and the plants (often less than a dollar each) with the cost of store-bought produce, you will see you are getting value for your investment.  For example, one healthy tomato plant can produce 15 pounds of tomatoes over the course of the summer.

Image via moneypitlove.blogspot.com

A Solution for Those With Space Limitations 

I live in a house that is surrounded by concrete, and the only spot for a garden gets afternoon sun, but these limitations did not deter me from starting a garden of my own.

For those with space restrictions, consider starting a container garden.  Many plants and herbs thrive quite well in pots and containers. Some options to consider include:  pea shoots, beetroot, mint, courgettes (squash and cucumbers), dwarf French beans and onions.

Follow these easy steps for starting your own container garden:

1. Choose a location

Even though you can move the containers, it is best to start with a location that gets proper sunlight and protection from the elements.

2. Consider what you would like to grow

How about some basic staples such as basil, oregano, Roma tomatoes and green pepper?

3. Select your containers

Make sure pots can accommodate the growing root systems of your plants. Get creative; you can use almost any type of container as long as you make holes on the side or the bottom for drainage.  Don’t count out hanging baskets. Strawberries thrive in hanging baskets and can add a dash of color – as well as nutrition — to your porch or patio.

4. Add organic soil to your containers

If you are using sprouts, make sure to give them a few inches of space around the roots. If you are using seeds, scatter them evenly across the planter.

5. Water your plants regularly around the base of the plant rather than the leaves

Herbs thrive in damp soil while tomatoes can easily be over-watered, so make sure to feel the soil before you water.

Image via vancouversun.com

Add More Variety If You Have Space to Spare 

One way to incorporate healthy greens into your family’s diet is by planting different varieties of lettuce. Depending on your space, you might even be able to grow the ingredients for a whole salad: romaine lettuce, green onions, tomatoes and Swiss chard, for example.

Follow these easy steps for starting your own organic garden:

1. Look for a location

If you have room for an in-ground garden, there are some factors to consider. For example, herbs and vegetables need a site that gets at least six hours of sun each day. Also consider the soil and the drainage in the area. Grab a handful of soil, give it a firm squeeze, and then open your hand.  If the soil does not maintain its shape, consider adding organic soil to your garden.

2. Plant

With starter plants, dig a hole just as deep and at least twice as wide as the root ball of your plant. Place the plant in the area and fill it back up with the soil you removed.  Pat the soil firmly and then water thoroughly.

3. Mulch

Adding a three-inch thick layer of organic mulch is helpful in preventing weeds as well as in maintaining soil moisture.

4. Fertilizer

Plants need food to grow and to thrive. If your potting soil does not already have some fertilizer mixed in, you will need to add some every few weeks. Look for fertilizer products that are labeled “natural organic,” and be wary of products that have a nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (NPK) ratio that adds up to over 15.

Image via pyramidgarden.com

Aeroponic Gardening

There have been some exciting developments in gardening, one of which is pyramid gardening, an aeroponic way to grow vegetables, herbs and flowers up to 30 percent faster and with 80 percent less water.  Pyramid gardening uses no soil and no pesticides or chemicals.  And what makes it so universally appealing, especially for those with space restrictions, is that you can grow multiple plants in one 4’ x 4’ location.

In fact, the O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, the world’s fourth busiest airport, uses Aeroponic Towers to grow enough vegetables to feed over 10,000 hungry travelers a year that are locally grown, GMO free and chemical free.

Visit pyramidgarden.com for more information.

Image via Patricia Merino Fotografa

In addition to providing fresh food for your table, gardening also provides nourishment for your soul. It is soothing to work the soil and to tend plants after a hectic day at work. If you have never grown your own food before, you will feel a real sense of accomplishment when you harvest your first fruits or vegetables. You will also be spending time outdoors in the fresh air – which can give you greater energy and enhanced clarity of mind – and sunshine — which helps your body get vitamin D, which is essential for bone health.

Gardening is a great activity to do with your children. Kids are natural gardeners. They love to dig in the dirt, to water plants and to see the fruits of their labors grow. Children are also more inclined to try new fruits and vegetables when they have grown them themselves.

Plan to get your children started in the process from the beginning. Let them help you choose the plants, prepare the soil and do the planting. Provide them with child-sized tools – not the toy kind – so that they can do “real” work. Not only will you learn and have fun together, but you will be encouraging a life-long love of organic gardening in your kids that they can pass down to their own children.

Now that you know the benefits of starting your own garden – no matter how big or how small – it’s time to get out there. Nothing tastes better than the fresh fruits and vegetables you grow yourself.

Kelly-MGuest Contributor: Kelly Mundell, PTA 

Kelly Mundell’s background in both physical therapy and organic gardening makes her a natural fit for NYCPT. She obtained her B.A. in Sociology and her A.A.S as a physical therapist assistant from Montgomery College in Takoma Park, Maryland and is licensed and certified for CPR, HIPPA, OSHA and PTA in New York and Virginia.

With clinical experience in therapeutic exercise, trigger point and soft manipulations, dry needling assistance and Pilates, Kelly completed clinical rotations with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente and Elite Physical Therapy & Wellness.

Kelly has hands-on knowledge and experience with organic gardening from her time working as a volunteer on farms in Italy, Ireland and Japan through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and brings an enthusiasm for NYCPT’s focus on whole body wellness.