Most people know the value of organic produce, and believe it’s both cost-efficient and practical to grow your own. But, do you need a green thumb or a degree in horticulture to have success? “With a little research and patience, anyone can build and maintain their own garden,” says JOHN CARLSON OF HOMEFRONT FARMERS, a company that designs, constructs and services vegetable gardens. While the logistics of setting up a garden are straightforward, committing to organic can be a challenge. “It’s crucial to feed your garden with compost rather than Miracle-Gro, and avoid synthetic fertilizers and pesticides,” says Carlson. Once you’ve gone green for good, follow these tips for the bed of your dreams.
1 SOAK UP THE SUN
A sunny spot is key for the garden’s location. “You’ll need six to eight hours of continual sunlight, and this is non-negotiable,” says Carlson. People often overestimate how much sun their yard gets, so be sure to monitor your ideal plot before planting.
2 RAISE THEM UP
“Raised beds are the way to go,” says Carlson, who recommends non-pressure-treated wood to construct them. Raised beds drain well, prevent plants from getting trampled and warm-up early in the spring, which helps crops flourish. Most important, raised beds work because you begin with new, healthy soil instead of trying to plant on an existing lawn where soil is often nutrient-deficient.
3 FENCE THEM IN
Deer, woodchucks and rabbits are everywhere and they will eat the fruits of your labor. To combat these pests, Carlson suggests building a five-foot-high, wooden-post fence wrapped in wire mesh, with holes one inch or smaller. If you’re planting herbs, they don’t appeal to most animals, so place them outside the garden or in pots near the house.
4 TIME IT RIGHT
If you plant season-appropriate seedlings at the right time, you can maintain a garden eight months a year, from mid-March to Thanksgiving, says Carlson. The idea is to plant a cool-weather garden around March or April (lettuce, spinach, arugula), a warm-weather garden in mid-May after the last frost (tomatoes, peppers), and replant another cool-weather garden at the end of August.
5 INSTALL A DRIP
“Plants need a consistent amount of water on a regular schedule to be healthy,” says Carlson. A drip irrigation system takes the onus off you to remember to water and ensures plants get enough hydration. Drip irrigation is superior to spray irrigation because it waters only the roots, uses water more efficiently, and lessens the time a plant’s leaves stay wet, which can prevent fungal infections. Carlson recommends watering plants for one hour each day; do so early in the morning.
Good seedlings cost more but they’re a smart investment. Buy organic varieties just before you’re ready to plant. “If you leave them sitting too long, they can get root-bound,” he warns. Carlson also says buy from a local grower, as imported seedlings can be disease-ridden.