David Tener, DC
Throughout human history, we lived closely with the land. It is only in recent centuries that we’ve barricaded ourselves in high rises, worked in office cubicles and glued ourselves to cell phones, TV sets, iPads and computers. We've done virtually all we can to keep nature out of our lives. Our disconnect with the natural world is more evident than ever, and the health of our population and the environment has suffered as a result.
Organic gardening is the perfect antidote to the modern world and is one of the most rewarding ways to reconnect with nature. In addition to being a source of fresh healthy produce, gardening can ease stress, keep you limber and even improve your mood. Gardening gets us out of the house, out of the office, off the computer and into direct contact with natural elements (fresh air, sunlight and soil) which is essential to our health and wellbeing. As the director of the Organic Garden at our Retreat Center (The Retreat at Brooks) in Brooks, GA, I can personally attest to the benefits of organic gardening and the satisfaction gained from producing our own food in a sustainable fashion.
You don't need a huge backyard or a green thumb to benefit from gardening. If you have very little space or experience, you can start out with just a few houseplants or try gardening in containers. From 2004-2008 I lived in a small apartment with limited space, yet I was able to produce enough crop to feed myself and many of my neighbors with just a few plants.
Basic Concepts from the Farmer's Almanac
- Do you have enough sun exposure? Vegetables love the sun. They need at least 6 hours of full sun every day, and preferably 8.
- Know your soil. Most soil can be enriched with compost and be fine for planting, but some soil needs more help. Vegetables must have good, loamy, well-drained soil. Check with your local nursery or local cooperative extension office about free soil test kits so that you can assess your soil type. See our article on preparing soil for planting.
- Placement is everything. Avoid planting too near a tree, which will steal nutrients and shade the garden. In addition, a garden too close to the house will help to discourage wild animals from nibbling away your potential harvest.
- Decide between tilling and a raised bed. If you have poor soil or a bad back, a raised bed built with nonpressure-treated wood offers many benefits. See more about raised garden beds and how to build them.
- Vegetables need lots of water, at least 1 inch of water a week. See more about when to water vegetables.
- You'll need some basic planting tools. These are the essentials: spade, garden fork, soaking hose, hoe, hand weeder, and wheelbarrow (or bucket) for moving around mulch or soil. It's worth paying a bit extra for quality tools.
- Study those seed catalogs and order early.
- Check your frost dates. Find first and last frost dates in your area and be alert to your local conditions.
A plethora of information is available on the Web and in bookstores. One of the best ways to get started is to meet other gardeners at local garden clubs, community gardens or a local nursery in just about any town or city.
Helpful Online resources:
1) The National Gardening Association http://www.garden.org/
2) American Horticulture Society http://www.ahs.org/gardening-resources
3) Organic Gardening http://www.planetnatural.com/product-category/organic-gardening/
Also See Dr. Goldberg's 5 Part Video Lecture "Connect with the Earth"