Saturday, July 10, 2010

Getting started growing my own food

Up until a mere 10 months ago I lived in a small, but charming, one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. My kitchen was minute, and my garden consisted of a window box in which I unsuccessfully attempted to grow basil, parsley and rosemary for the occasional homecooked meal. I spent Saturday mornings browsing the farmer's market at Union Square, eyeing the beautiful displays of luscious fruits and vegetables. Someday, I dreamed, when I have more land than a window box, I'll plant my own organic vegetable garden.

This spring, after my husband and I moved to a small town in upstate New York, I decided to act on my dream.

There is a small 20' x 15' patch of land next to our garage that at one time must have been a well-kept garden, but had long since gone to weeds. Armed with advice from friends and neighbors and a few borrowed tools, I began. The first task was to clear the land and till the soil. So far this has proved to be the most arduous step, taking three consecutive weekends in late May. I removed wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of weeds to add our compost heap. Once and a while I would discover a small sapling, buried bulbs or a patch of overgrown herbs (primarily mint and horseradish), that I would save to transplant elsewhere.

Once the land was cleared, I tilled the soil with a pick-ax and shovel. This was a strenuous task. The dirt was heavy and clay-like, and desperately needed the aeration. There were also many rocks and small boulders that had to be removed. Luckily, previous owners of our house had kept a compost heap, which provided a source of dark rich soil to be churned into the garden.
Now the soil was prepared, the fun part--planning the layout and variety of vegetable and herbs-- could begin.

--by Lindsay Kurz

Next week: Planning and Planting the Garden.

Editor's Note: On Planning what to Plant

It's already mid-summer--too late, if you live in a climate where the ground freezes to start a garden from seed. But depending on your climate, you can at least grow herbs or cultivate (and harvest from) a well-established plant, while laying in some seedlings, like eggplant and chard, for harvesting in a couple of months and into the warm, if cooling, days of fall.

For advice on what to plant in your climate, and when, contact your nearest USDA agricultural extension office.

To order organic seeds, go to Seeds of Change

To order packs of organic seedlings--right now, eggplant & Swiss chard are still available!--go to Seeds of Change.

Tools + Materials for clearing land and enriching soil
•Garden gloves

Where to order garden tools & supplies

Organic fertilizers, nontoxic pest control, composters, tools, can be got from Planet Natural or Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply
, which also has canning supplies, potted fruit trees and an irresistible henhouse (watch out or you'll order it, even if you don't have chickens!) and sends you a gift of organic seeds with each order.

For great easy, funny instruction: Talking Dirt: The Dirt Diva's Down to Earth Guide to Organic Gardening, by Annie Spiegelman.

For the dirt on pesticides and other non-organic additives, a list of the most important produce to buy organic, and conventional produce that has fewest pesticide residues, plus green food storage and cookware and tons of resources for all categories of sustainable living, see Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth through Simple, Everyday Choices, the new book by Greenerpenny editor Mindy Pennybacker, in bookstores now!

For more seasonal green living tips and news, please visit our home page,, where you can ask Mindy questions and sign up for our free monthly e-newsletter (and prizes).

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