Welcome New Master Gardeners! I hope that for many of you, the Master Gardening Course is the beginning of an adventure that lasts for the rest of your lives. Perhaps something in the course will be the spark that gets you into some new gardening areas that you have not previously considered. With the current economic and environmental situation in this country and the world, many gardeners are moving to a more natural or organic approach to grow their own vegetables. Many of the steps and processes in organics are parallel to the conventional systems. Simply avoid using chemical pesticides, highly processed fertilizers, genetically modified seeds, and raw manures, and you are on the way to the organic approach. There is no reason to be intimidated by the natural system for growing any crop. The model in Nature has been here a long time and it continues to serve us well.
What are the components in organic gardening? In the 10-hour Organic Gardening Course that I teach, I break the natural system into four interrelated components – compost, soil biology, soil minerals, and energy. By understanding the basics of these components, you begin to see how the whole system works. When you employ the holistic approach, the gardening processes become clear, and gardening becomes more enjoyable.
It is also exciting to see how the health of the soil affects the health of the plants, as well as the produce and the consumer. In my garden, and in my teaching, I work to understand how vegetables can be grown so that they are dense in nutrients (healthy). If you follow my recommended protocol, in a few short years, you will see that the soil has improved. That means improved tilth, fewer weeds, fewer insect and disease problems, and increased production with better taste and longer shelf life.
How big should I make the garden? Many factors will influence that decision. If you are just getting started, keep it small but do it right. A few hundred square feet will give you a lot of vegetables. I keep rough production figures,
and you can expect 1-4 pounds or more per square foot, depending on the crop. Sometimes the decision of size is just a matter of how much time you have to spend in the garden. My vegetable garden is over 2,000 square feet. In addition I have many perennials, i.e., blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, asparagus, rhubarb, figs, apples, peaches, plums, pears, and 10 soft shell pecans.
How much work is involved? I have been gardening for more than 50 years, so I have developed a lot of work-saving techniques. The original bed preparation generally takes the most time, but doing it right will pay off in the development of a healthy soil and future garden maintenance. I use and recommend double-digging, raised beds, minimal tilling, mulching, cover crops, and close spacing. The harvesting, freezing, drying, and canning, also takes considerable time, but knowing that the produce is free of pesticides, rich in minerals, and tasty, makes it all worthwhile.
Gardening Partners. If vegetable gardening is a new venture for you, I recommend you find a friend or neighbor who has similar interests. You can share information, seeds and some produce. Start by growing a few of the standard, easy-to-grow crops, and then expand each year. Try some crops you know little about. Look for enjoyment, surprises and good eating. I am always available to answer questions.