Tom Taylor has been the master gardener at GYV for the past 20 years. He often invites GYV youth to join him in the gardens for community service and is a featured guest speaker in the Green Your World Workshop offered in previous years.  Right now at GYV, we have lettuce, arugula, parsley, and green onions ready to eat.  If you’ve been trying to eat more organic foods both to decrease the amount of pesticides you and your family consume, and to help protect the environment from overloading with toxic chemicals, you know it can be expensive. Below are some tips on starting your own garden.   Luckily, there’s a way to grow your own delicious, fresh produce, while having fun and learning at the same time: organic gardening!

 Dreaming of Your Spring Garden

Step 1. Choose your location. A vegetable garden requires at least six hours of sun a day. As you consider locations around your home, don’t discount the sides and front of your property. If you live in a condominium or apartment, ask your management company if there is a place you might be able to start a garden if there isn’t already one. If not, you may be able to plant a garden on your patio or balcony, if you have one, or you could even simply put some herb planters in your kitchen window. You may also consider one of the new indoor hydroponic gardening systems available now.

Step 2. Test your soil. If you are going to use your native soil, be sure to get a soil test (skip to step 3 if you are going to bring in soil). Not only will that tell you exactly what nutrients may be missing so that you can amend accordingly, but it will let you know if the soil contains lead or any industrial toxins that you simply don’t want in your food. Contact your county’s agricultural extension service for help with this. Ask to have your results converted to organic recommendations if your extension service doesn’t already do this.

Step 3. Build your beds. Determine the size and shape of your garden and then build your planting beds (or you can purchase them pre-made). These can either be mounds of soil right on the ground or raised beds made out of untreated wood, cinder blocks, stone, coconuts, or whatever non-toxic material you have available or can afford to purchase. Having some sort of border will help prevent erosion during storms, help your soil warm up in the spring and fall, and enable adequate water drainage. If you are using pots, be sure they have drainage holes. You may need to drill them in ones you purchase.

4. Add and amend your soil. The ideal growing medium for plants and vegetables is what’s called loam, and it is a combination of soil; organic matter, such as compost; nutrients, including potassium, nitrogen, phosphorus, and trace minerals; and air. (If you have good, healthy, non-toxic soil, the earthworms this attracts will dig holes that give your soil air.) Follow your soil test results to create this perfect mixture, or consider buying a pre-mixed version. An easy-to-do pH test, which you can buy at a garden center, will let you know the pH level of your soil. Most veggies like the pH to be a little below 7. You can “sweeten” it with lime or “sour” it with gypsum or coffee grounds if you need to adjust it a bit.

(Tips provided by Darren Joffe.