Becoming a Natural Gardener in a Chemical Age

Good Morning,

I am excited about our Guinea Pig to Green Thumb Virtual Series!. Matt Heblon, a Starkvillian who works with my husband Mike, has always wanted to grow a vegetable and herb garden, but has never known how to get started. I remember that feeling. My challenge is to help him succeed with his first garden. I wanted to tell you a little bit about our learning process and share some great information here.

As I have said, Mike and I understood that growing our own food was important because we were worried about what we put into our children's bodies. As a physician and a special education teacher, we knew the research about how food impacts health and learning. We also had a strong yearning to reconnect to "real" knowledge. We both had years of school knowledge, but neither of us knew how to do many "real" things. It doesn't get much more real than growing your own food.

We started by buying the biggest, most expensive tiller on the market (total waste of money). Mike cranked it up and it promptly sunk into the clay we are famous for in this part of Mississippi. It took him and entire day to push and pull that thing through a plot of about 10 by 10 feet. Then we planted all the things we thought we would want to eat. We knew we wanted to grow without fertilizers of pesticides for our health and the health of the soil, so we just put the seeds in, watered and waited.

That first year we got about a hundred zucchini one or two sickly looking tomatoes, and not much else. Because we are generally successful people, we took our failure as an affront! Mike and I spent the next two-three years studying natural gardening like we had studied medicine and education. We read every book, subscribed to every magazine, went to every conference we could find. We would stop at old-timer's gardens on the side of the road and ask questions. We tried, and failed, and tried and failed, and tried and finally, I can say we know how to do this: we know how to grow food without chemicals in the buggy, humid, South.

Its not that it is so hard. Not at all. In fact, we made it way harder than it should have been. What was hard was finding information on growing naturally in an age of chemical convenience. We could have grown a great garden the first year if we had purchased fertilizer and poison. When I called our Extension office and asked about growing organically, they said, "It can't be done here. Too many bugs and the climate is too tough."

I can tell you, it can be done here. I pulled in enough tomatoes yesterday to make 12 quarts of tomato sauce, along with eggplants, squash, green beans, and melons. But there are certain methods that work in our climate, and certain principles you need to know.

  1. Feed the soil. You plants are only as strong as your soil. We use the Complete Organic Fertilizer Formula twice a year. Here is a link to the Formula. Worms are a good sign that your soil is healthy.
  2. Build up above ground, instead of tilling into hard clay. Raised beds, lasagna gardens, and double dug beds are all great options for our soil.
  3. You do spray in organic or natural gardening for pests, just not sprays that are harmful to you or the environment, and you do it judiciously. Here is a link to OMNI approved products. There is controversy about these, but as I said, we use them wisely.
  4. Rotate what you plant where to decrease diseases, feed the plants, and confuse pests. There are hundreds of different rotation guides. I like short, simple, and easy to remember. This is the one I use. Legumes, Roots, Leaves, Fruit.
  5. There are effective fertilizers that feed your plants and your soils. We use two locally made organic fertilizers once our plants flower. Mighty Grow Organics and Suma Grow.
  6. Start dates are important. The good news is, we can grow food year-round in Mississippi! Here is a link to start dates in our area.

These are the basic topics we will cover in out Guinea Pig to Gardening Virtual Series. I also want to make sure we answer all your beginning gardening questions. Please list your top worries or fears in the comments below and we will be sure to include them!

Have a good one!

Alison