18 August 2009

think less, do more: growing a green thumb

With the first-ever National Community Garden Week starting in just 5 days, now seems like a good time to consider developing your own (organic) green thumb. It may seem hard to cultivate an organic garden if you’re living in a crowded metropolitan area, but it’s way easier than you think – not to mention a great way to cut your grocery bills, reduce energy dependence, and add a little flora to the concrete jungle!

This year, I grew heirloom Tuscan kale, two heirloom tomato plants (Black and Yellow Plum), and a whole mess of herbs (epazote, lavender, Greek oregano, lemon thyme, and rosemary), all organically. Nothing makes the importance of organic produce more apparent than growing your own food and watching chemicals go from their leaves, into their soil, and finally onto your plate.

What does “organic” mean for the independent gardener? It means using natural solutions to control pests, cultivating your plants without chemicals, and enjoying delicious, homegrown and handpicked fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Getting started is easier than you might think – here are a few tips for getting your organic garden growing.

Chuck out all the weed killer, synthesized soil, MiracleGro, and/or other chemically derived products that might be lurking around your home. (In the last year alone, the Scotts MiracleGro Co. had over twenty products pulled from the shelves
by order of the EPA due to unregistered chemicals or “mislabeling”.) These products contain unpronounceable toxins such as chlorothalonil (a carcinogen) or fertilizers derived from CAFO chickens and cows, things you don’t want going into your food (I contacted Sharon Newell of Scott MiracleGro Co’s customer service center to enquire as to where Scott gets its fertilizers - she refused to disclose their sources). Natural (and more affordable!) alternatives to gardening aids abound: plain old vinegar is a great weed controller, and the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides has a wealth of information on how to treat almost any pest problem.

Get Yer Gear
If you aren’t sure what your home can sustain, speak with your local nursery. They can help you grow the best garden for your home’s specific conditions, no matter how dank/dark/musty/haunted it may be. You can also bring in a small sample of your yard’s soil, to test it for any pH adjusting you it might need. If you’re potting (like me!), you can pick up all the natural soil you need right there are the center. This year, I picked up a slew of
these great eco-friendly planters at Sprout Home in Williamsburg (there's a store in Chicago, too, for all of you out there rockin' the Windy City). Cute planters, green sources, fresh food – what’s not to love?!

Go on and get dirty! Enrich your soil with homemade
compost – you’ll reduce the amount of waste you put out into the world and grow happier, healthier plans. You can learn lots more about composting at the Lower East Side Ecology Center (who accepts unwanted kitchen scraps, in addition to offering classes on composting and sustainable living).
Control pests via natural alternatives

Above all else, enjoy it! Gardening is one of the best ways to relax, save money, and increase your veggie intake - not to mention your bragging rights.

Photo 1 via gammablog.com
Photo 2 via re-nest.com

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