With what is hopefully the last frost behind us, it’s time to kick your Minnesota vegetable garden into high gear. Growing your own veggies is a fun and fulfilling experience that allows you to try something new and gives you control over how your food is grown.
Keeping a backyard vegetable garden is the epitome of eating local—you can measure the distance your food has traveled in steps, not miles! For a bountiful, organic vegetable garden, follow these eight tips.
- Know When to Plant
As we experienced this week, spring temperatures in Minnesota can fluctuate 40 degrees in a matter of hours. It can be tricky to know when to start sowing your crops.
Research the plants you wish to grow to learn if they are cool crops or hot crops. Cool crops, such as root veggies, can resist frost, while tender hot crops, like tomatoes, cannot. Plan your planting schedule so you’re putting hot crops in the ground toward the end of May.
- Select Natural Plants and Feed Them Naturally
Once you have a plan for your garden, purchase organic seeds and seedlings. Organic plants are grown without the use of harmful chemicals and are not genetically modified.
Feed your organic plants naturally with organic compost and aged manure. Garden centers sell compost rich in manure. You can also buy separate bags of cow, chicken, rabbit, horse, or sheep manure.
- Mulch Your Plants
Mulch does wonders for your organic garden. It keeps weeds at bay, helps your soil retain moisture so you can water less frequently, and provides nutrients as it breaks down in the soil.
If you’re planting from seed, wait to mulch until after seedlings crop up. Choose dye-free, natural mulch. You can also mulch with straw and even grass clippings from your lawn (as long as your lawn is not chemically treated).
- Weed Early
The best tools to combat weeds in your vegetable garden are your own two hands. Stay on top of weeds by weeding early and often. As you weed, also pick up any dead leaves or other foliage, as they can harbor disease.
- Water Wisely
When you water in the middle of a hot, sunny day, you lose a lot of water to evaporation. Instead, water your plants in the morning, before the sun really heats up. Try to focus the water at the base of the plant to avoid getting the leaves wet. Wet leaves can create an environment for disease. Better yet, invest in a soaker hose. This permeable hose allows water to seep out and into the soil, avoiding foliage and saving you time.
- Plant Flowers to Attract Good Bugs
Veggie plants have many pests, but your organic garden will be home to many beneficial insects, too. These bugs eat pests and help keep your garden healthy. Certain flowers, such as nasturtium, black-eyed susans, purple coneflowers, sunflowers, and zinnias attract beneficial insects and keep pests at bay.
- Rotate Your Crops
When harvest time comes, take note of where you planted your vegetables. When you plan next year’s garden, avoid growing the same plants in the same spots. Some plant diseases lay dormant in the soil over the winter and can make veggies of the same type sick the next year.
- Don’t Expect Perfection
Organic gardening is an exercise in balance. Vegetable plants raised organically will not be spot-free or even disease-free. But allowing nature to take its course will create a healthier garden on the balance. Embrace the little imperfections!
Here’s to breathing easy and living life to the fullest!
Gene Wood, Life’s Pure Balance