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how to start an organic garden for beginners

The Question about how to start an organic garden for beginners always puzzles me. Why do we have to mention the word organic in combination with the word gardening?
For centuries gardening was a normal thing for most people. About everybody had a garden or at least a neighbor or family member that had a garden.
Many times neighbors exchanged vegetables with each-other that they had too much of and in that way kept the grocery bill low. Organic was the norm. By using the word organic gardening nowadays when we talk about vegetable gardens means that organic is not the norm anymore.
GMO and treated with herbicides is now normal for several decades with all the bad things that come with it.
One note about organic. You cannot name it an organic garden officially. There are strange enough many regulations for that. But since we have nothing but cattle around us and no use of chemicals and do not sell our vegetables, I take the liberty of calling it our organic garden.

How we got started with organic gardening

Although we live in the country and have a Mennonite and Amish community in our area, where we buy a lot of our food like eggs and naturally raised beef, my wife and I decided to start a vegetable garden our-self.
Money was not the main reason behind it but our health. Although you might not believe it but eating organic is better for our economy.

There was a problem that we had and we needed to find out more about. The house we are renting is built near an old town dump and we had no idea how far away and how long ago.

By talking to some people who lived here their whole lives and were a little older we found that it was over 60 years ago that the dump was used.

There are now cows grazing in the back of our house in the field and up the hill that used to be a dump.
These cows looked very healthy and all they ate is the grass and in the winter season the hay that came from that same pasture.

what vegetables to grow in a garden

We figured that with all the rain in the last 60 years all, or most of, the dirt would be probably clean and good to use.
In our research, we found that most vegetables grow shallow roots up to 12 inches.
That made use decide to start with a 12 inches high raised garden bed.

What vegetables to grow

Easy to grow veggies was in our opinion the best way to start and get some experience under our belt.

  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Squash

We did however not make it to easy and added a few veggies that need a little bit more attention.
Little harder to grow veggies we choose were:

  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Kale
  • Spinach
calculate garden space for vegetable garden

How much garden space

Now we had determined what plants to grow, the next step was to find out how much room we needed.
for the easy to grow garden we calculated:

With the rule of thumb that you need 9 square foot per tomato plant we planted 4 tomato plants
For zucchini and squash we need to place them 24″ apart and this made it for us to use 3 zucchini and 3 squash.

for the little harder to grow vegetables we figured.
Brussels sprouts need 18″ in between and we planted 3 of them.
Spinach needs about 9 inches room in between and we planted also 3 of these.

All together we needed 48 square foot of garden space.

since we love fresh tomatoes I also looked into growing these in self-watering 5-gallon buckets. That is something for another day and another post.

How I made our raised garden bed

Doing some research on how to build a raised garden bed and the available wood I decided on a 4 by 12-foot garden bed.

4 foot wide was a tip I read to make it able to reach from both sides and get the weeding done.
12 foot because I could buy 16-foot x 1-foot pressure treated wood and cut this in 12 and 4-foot pieces. Meaning that I only had to buy two boards.

I still had some old 2 by 4’s that I used in the corners and every 4 feet on the long side for support.
These two by fours I made longer than 12 inches to dig them in the dirt for better support.

wood prevention with woodchips

Our yard has a little slope so I had to dig a part of it to make our garden horizontal. I thought that would be better for watering.

Weed prevention

For weed prevention and to stop the grass from growing through the raised garden bed we added a layer of cardboard to the bottom an filled it up with a mixture of organic dirt and the compost we had made already for a while.

We also added some store bought compost. You can read about the Charlie’s compost we used here if you like.

I read that wood chips are great to prevent weeds in the garden.
We are lucky that our landlord is also the owner of the pasture in the back of our house. He had a big pile of wood chips sitting there on the edge of a sinkhole.

He did not mind for us to get what we need and I climbed over the fence and added a 2-3 inch thick layer of wood-chips on top of the (in my opinion) great soil we mixed together.

Keeping A Garden Diary

I am a strong believer in keeping track of the steps you take. In my professional career, I was so used to tracking changes and performances, that it was natural for me to keep a simple diary of all the things we did. The purpose was to learn from our mistakes and learn from them.

We did all of this at the end of the summer for multiple reasons.

  • Soil and garden timber is usually a little cheaper.
  • The garden could sit over winter.

This would also give us the time to read more about when to plant in our hardiness zone and decide on starting seeds inside or wait till it was better to seed them outside.

In my next post, I will write about the seeds we got and how we started in the spring with our new garden.


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