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Updated 7-Sep-2014

Your Organic Garden

Jenny Hall, Go Green La Grange!

    Fall

    Fall is the perfect time of year to start planning an organic vegetable garden.  As the growing season winds down, look around your yard and consider where you might establish some vegetable beds for next year.  Here are a few simple things you can do over the next two seasons to prepare for spring.

  • Pick a location with at least 6-8 hours of sunlight, preferablyFall Colors with a good southern exposure to maximize sunlight during spring and fall.
  • If possible, carefully remove any existing plants or shrubs and donate to a neighbor or friend.  Otherwise, chop up what you can with your lawnmower and add it back to the beds as mulch, or put in your compost pile.
  • If the area you plan to garden has grass, turn it over now before the ground freezes so the sod can break down some before spring.
  • Don’t put your leaves to the curb!  Layer on as much organic material as you can to enrich the soil – grass clippings, chopped leaves (run them through the lawnmower), compost, straw and manure are all good.  If you have a straw bale as part of your fall display, spread it as mulch when the season is over.

 

    Winter:

    Now for the fun part – making a garden plan and dreaming of all the delicious veggies you will grow next year!  Two good seed companies to check out are Seeds of Change and Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Organic seeds can also be found locally at home improvement stores, garden centers and Whole Foods Market.  Some easy and productive crops for the beginner include lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, green beans and herbs.

Winter twigsFor the best variety, you might want to grow some of your own seedlings – all you need are pots, potting soil and possibly a grow light.  Go to www.motherearthnews.com for many useful gardening articles, including this one on starting seeds.  If seed-starting is not your thing – you can find a limited selection of organic seedlings at your local home improvement store, garden center or Whole Foods Market.

Taking these simple steps during the colder months will go a long way to preparing you for planting season next spring.  Check back early in the year for more seasonal gardening tips!

    Spring

    When Spring is in the air, it’s time to start thinking about gardening!  These last few weeks of winter will pass more quickly if you spend some time planning and preparing for the growing season.

    According to a survey done by Mother Earth News, the Top 10 crops to plant in the Central/Midwest region (based on ease of culture, efficient use of gardenSprout space and time, ease of storage and desirability at the table) include:

  • Slicing tomato
  • Sweet pepper
  • Cherry tomato
  • Onion
  • Bush snap bean
  • Carrot
  • Garlic
  • Paste tomato
  • Snow/snap pea
  • Lettuce
  • Some other recommended crops include broccoli, cabbage, cucumber, squash, pumpkin, pole bean, potato, and spinach.

    Many of these crops can and should be sown directly into the ground at the appropriate time, but some, such as tomatoes, peppers and broccoli, benefit from being started indoors several weeks before planting time.  For some tips on starting seeds yourself, go to www.motherearthnews.com/grow-it/seed-starting-tips.aspx

    If you are a beginning gardener, start by growing a few of your favorite vegetables.  You can easily grow lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers, along with some basil and parsley for great salads.  Or, plant a few rows of bush snap beans (green beans) and potatoes.  They grow well together and keep for a long time (the beans can easily be frozen).

    In my garden, we have gradually added fruit crops over the years, as organic berry prices are usually out of sight at the grocery store.  Raspberries and strawberries require little time investment after the initial planting, and you reap the rewards for years to come.

    Vegetable-Garden1Whatever crops you choose, make sure your garden is located in a sunny, sheltered spot with at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day.  Easy access to water is also a good idea.  Consider installing a rain barrel or two (you can buy one locally from Green Scene Chicago) to conserve water.  Don’t forget to set up a compost pile or bin to utilize fruit and vegetable scraps from your kitchen as well as yard waste.

    Make sure to mulch your plants well with grass clippings, chopped leaves and/or straw.  You should not be using chemical pesticides on your grass if you use the grass clippings.  By putting lots of material back into the soil, you will minimize the need for additional fertilizer and have the added benefit of reducing the amount of yard waste that must be removed from your property.

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