How To Start An Organic Garden (Part 1)

If you are like me, you realize that the type of food you put into your body is very important for physical, emotional and mental health. Starting your own organic garden is a great way to get nutrient rich food without the added toxins from weed and bug poisons, which are common in produce purchased at most grocery stores. As an herbalist and avid organic gardener, here are a few recommendations for starting an organic garden from scratch.

What is Organic Gardening?

A basic definition of organic gardening is gardening without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, yet organic gardening is more than replacing man made chemicals with those from natural sources. It is a way of gardening that supports the health of the whole system.  In an organically managed vegetable garden the emphasis is on cultivating an ecosystem that sustains and nourishes plants, soil microbes and beneficial insects rather than simply making plants grow. By giving our garden what it needs to grow and be healthy we are growing vegetables which will nourish ourselves in the same way.

Understanding Soil and Organic Matter

Almost all soil can support some kind of plant life, but for a good yield of garden vegetables the soil must provide lots of basic nutrients, plus water, air and minerals.  Soil fertility means the ability of the soil to provide the nutrients required by plants.  Fertility can be adjusted to the needs of vegetables by adding soil amendments (materials added and worked into the soil to give nutrients, such as manure or composted vegetable matter). Organic soil amendments are some type of non-toxic vegetable matter (such as leaves, wood ash, bone and blood meals or seaweed) and rock powders.  These amendments release nutrients slowly and maintain a high level of nutrients. As organic matter decomposes it improves the nutrient and water holding capacity of the soil.  Organic matter should be added to very sandy soils to increase water and nutrient holding capacity and to clay soils to improve drainage and aeration by building structure. Organic matter releases many plant nutrients as it decomposes, so it is essentially a fertilizer. Most of all it has a very important advantage over purchased, synthetic fertilizers: It releases minerals slowly over a long period of time. This reduces leaching and decreases the risk of throwing the soil system out of balance.

Here are some common sources of organic matter:

  • Farm manure is one of the best sources of organic matter and can supply the bulk of the fertilizer elements that vegetable gardens need.  The general rate of application for cattle, hog or horse manure is 300 to 500 pounds per 1,000 square feet of garden.  A simple way to estimate this is to apply a layer 2 to 4 inches thick on top of the soil and work it in to a 6-inch depth.  Poultry, sheep, goat and rabbit manures should be applied at half this rate because of their higher nutrient content.
  • Green Manure maintains or increases the organic matter levels in soil. Green manure is a crop grown with the intent of turning it under while it is still green. In addition to adding organic matter, green manure also returns nutrients accumulated in the plants to the soil.  Legumes make particularly good green manure because they possess deep roots that draw up minerals from the subsoil. Sow a green manure either as a winter cover crop or if your garden is big enough, in a different portion of the garden each season.  Some common green manures are: oats (planted in early fall for a winter cover or grown in the summer), buckwheat or red clover (grown in summer).
  • Compost is an excellent source of organic matter and nutrients. In its finished form it contains the major plant nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as all the minor nutrients that plants need. In addition, compost releases these nutrients slowly, thus minimizing run off and leaching. A compost pile may be made of leaves, weeds, hay, manure, waste vegetable matter, coffee grounds or pretty much any vegetable matter. Avoid using items that decompose slowly and attract unwanted animals such as meat, bones and fat.

Choose your garden location wisely

Most vegetables require “full sunlight,” defined as at least 5 or 6 hours of sun directly on the plants during the middle of the day. Too much shade makes the plants weak, susceptible to disease and they produce little fruit. If you have no sunny sites, do not give up. A few vegetables, although they may grow slowly, will still produce in partial shade. These include beets, carrots, kale, lettuce, peas and spinach.

If possible, the garden should be close to the kitchen, not only for convenience, but because rabbits or other wild animals in your area are a little less likely to come so close to the house. Consider starting small and expanding when you are sure you can maintain a larger garden. A first year garden often has many weeds from leftover seeds in the soil so start small and expand next year.

It is important when choosing the spot for your garden to consider the soil at that spot. Gardening works well in many types of soil, but common vegetables (the ones we eat the most of) do best, and with the least work by the gardener, on easily crumbled, porous soils. A deep soil with lots of decaying vegetable matter, like leaves and grass, will provide good aeration and allow root growth.  A soil that is too sandy will not hold water well and will allow the nutrients to be carried out of the root zone by water. On the other hand, a soil with too much clay will hold nutrients and water, but will have poor aeration (plants need air just like we do). If the roots are waterlogged the plants will drown.

I recommend avoiding areas composed of  “fill dirt.”  Fill hauled in to level areas usually consists of bottom soil  (nutrient lacking soil that was beneath the richer topsoil), stones and debris. In addition, you should avoid sites with depressions and low spots that remain wet after brief rains.  Such wet soil has little aeration and the roots of vegetables need oxygen to breathe.

Prepare the Soil and Plant

Here are the first steps :

Step 1: Take a soil test to find out your soils fertilizer requirements. The soil test kit that you can obtain at your local Cooperative Extension Service office has directions for taking a soil test.

Step 2: Turn over sod (the part of your lawn from the top of the grass leaves to the bottom of the grass roots) with a shovel in late summer or fall the year before you intend to plant the garden. Add lime, rock phosphate or manure, if recommended by a soil test, and plant a winter cover crop such as oats. Oats are winter killed (they die completely in winter even the roots), so they are easy to turn under or pull aside when you are ready to plant.

Step 3: Turn the cover crop under early in the spring, once the soil is no longer muddy but at least a few weeks before planting the garden.

Step 4: The first year plant vegetables that are fairly competitive with weeds, such as tomatoes, corn, squash, beans or cole crops ( Brussels sprout, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, broccoli, turnips), as many weed seeds will still be there.

Step 5: Keep the area well weeded all summer. The vegetables listed in step 4 above can all be mulched, which will smother out weeds.

Step 6: Cut the grass short around the border of the garden regularly so weed seeds do not end up in the garden.

An organic garden is a little work, but worth it due to the many benefits. Your organic garden will not only provide you with pure and nutritious food, but you will find the time spent outdoors and in nature is beneficial to the mind and body as well. I will write more on that later.  Happy gardening!

More to come on this topic soon!

Nature | The Holisticates

nature

At no point in our history have we been as disconnected or insulated from the Earth as we are today.

We wear insulated rubber-soled shoes that do not conduct electricity but insulate or prevent the Earths’ conduction or transmission. We drive insulated cars with rubber tires and live in insulated homes. Positive electrons in the form of free radicals can build up in our bodies, but direct contact with the grounding force of the Earth balances them out. With the high prevalence of electromagnetic waves, Wi-Fi, and mobile phone waves, many of us have a high amount of positive electrons built up in our bodies. When in direct contact with the Earth, your body becomes suffused with negative charged free electrons which balance the positive electrons.

Grounded Studies 

Studies have found that grounding provides health benefits, such as better sleep, less pain, reduced stress and tension and better immune function compared to study participants who were seldom grounded.

According to an article from the Journal of Environmental and Public Health of the National Institute for Health (link below), “Omnipresent throughout the environment is a surprisingly beneficial, yet overlooked global resource for health maintenance, disease prevention, and clinical therapy: the surface of the Earth itself.”

The article goes on to say “The surface of the planet is electrically conductive (except in limited ultra-dry areas such as deserts), and its negative potential is maintained (i.e., its electron supply replenished) by the global atmospheric electrical circuit.  Mounting evidence suggests that the Earth’s negative potential can create a stable internal bio-electrical environment for the normal functioning of all body systems. Moreover, oscillations of the intensity of the Earth’s potential may be important for setting the biological clocks regulating diurnal body rhythms, such as cortisol secretion.”

In addition it states the following: “Emerging scientific research supports the concept that the Earth’s electrons induce multiple physiological changes of clinical significance, including reduced pain, better sleep, a shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic tone in the autonomic nervous system (ANS), and a blood-thinning effect.”

Earthing: How To

We practice earthing by connecting our body with the earth by touching any bare skin to a conductive material such as grass (preferably wet), wet sand, a river, lake or sea. Grounding to the Earth changes your physiology immediately. The more you ground, the more you can benefit because you are at your most natural electrical state when connected to the Earth. Your body is immediately electrically balanced and flooded with free electrons.

If you live in a city where the actual earth is hard to find, concrete is also a conductive substance made of water and minerals. It sits on the Earth and retains moisture. So free electrons will pass through just as they will if you are sitting or standing on grass or open ground. Asphalt, on the other hand, is made from petrochemicals, and is not conducive.

Take your socks off. Get your bare feet in grass, sand or mud as often as possible. 

During the winter months, some people benefit from an earthing mat under their desk or they sleep on an earthing sheet. Both of these are connected to a grounded outlet in your home. Please note that these are good options when necessary, but nothing comes close to your bare feet or other parts of your body in the grass as often as possible.

Benefits of Earthing

Grounding benefits are particular to the individual, that is, the amount of time it takes to experience relief of anxiety or inflammation-related pain symptoms differs from person to person. Some people report feeling better after just 20 minutes of grounding and research has shown physiological changes and significant improvements in the body’s electrical activity after 30 to 40 minutes.

For people with chronic conditions, it may take longer to experience any relief of symptoms such as arthritic inflammatory pain; relief may be significant, overnight, gradual, total or partial. Generally speaking, benefits of grounding are dose-related – that is, the more time spent regularly grounding, the better one’s chances of symptom relief.  Isn’t it worth a try?

Resources:

Journal of Environmental and Public Health of the National Institute for Health

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3265077/

As I mentioned in my previous post, my organic garden makes organic vegetables to help me further along my path toward a healthy and holistic life. In order to do so, my garden has to be healthy and full of nutrient-dense soil. A great way to keep your garden healthy is by enriching it with compost. So, grab those leaves now and let’s get started!

Starting a Compost Pile 

Now that the leaves are falling as we head into another season it is the perfect time to start a compost pile.  For those of us who live where there are distinct seasons, Autumn leaves are probably the most valuable single ingredient in creating compost. Either alone as rotted leaf mold or as the main ingredient of the compost pile, the leaves of October and November are the lifeblood of an organic garden.

Compost is a plant and other natural debris that has been converted into the decayed matter by a whole web of organisms that occur naturally in soil and range from sowbugs and earthworms to tiny arthropods to microbes. It is an excellent source of organic matter and nutrients.  Compost improves your soil structure and it makes it able to hold more nutrients and moisture. Compost is also rich in beneficial fungi and bacteria that help plants to grow and stay healthy.  A  compost pile may be made of leaves,   weeds,  hay,  manure,  waste vegetable matter,  coffee grounds or pretty much any vegetable matter. Again, don’t add meat, bones, or fat as they will draw rodents.

The recipe

Compost needs four elements to work: carbon, nitrogen, air, and water. Carbon, the “browns”, can be fallen leaves, straw, dried plant waste, and shredded paper. Common sources of nitrogen, the “greens,” are grass clippings, fresh garden waste, kitchen scraps, and coffee grounds.  The pile will start decomposing best if you have a mixture of browns and greens and the key is to put in more brown stuff than green stuff.

Step by Step

  • Pile the vegetable matter in layers: First an 8-inch layer of vegetable matter, then a 4-inch layer of manure (if you can get it), then a thin layer of soil (you don’t need a commercial “activator”, if you add the soil.  It has beneficial microbes to start the pile decomposing), then repeat the layers.
  • The pile needs to be quite large and built all at once before it will begin composting; 5 feet in diameter and 3 to 5 feet in height will be very good.  (Smaller piles and piles built bit by bit decompose and produce good compost, but they don’t get hot enough while decomposing to kill pathogens and weed seeds). As you make the layers, water them.  The pile should be kept moist but not wet.
  • Turn the pile with a garden fork tool 10 days after you start it (this adds the air element to the recipe)  and again two or three weeks later.
  • Over the winter the compost will stop decomposition but will restart when temperatures warm up in the Spring. In Southern areas, the compost will be ready much sooner. The compost is finished when it looks dark and decomposed and smells earthy.

Be Patient

Good compost can be made in  6 months, but it may take a year.  I take a year to make mine using the leaves and plant materials from each Fall to start a new pile and adding last year’s pile to the garden after I clean up the garden for Winter. I add a 1 inch (or more) layer of compost to the top 6 inches of my garden soil with a garden fork. Then I have dark healthy garden soil to work with each Spring and my garden is strong, healthy, and productive. Plus I know what those garden vegetables are made of, no chemicals or pesticides or any other toxins that I don’t want to eat.

If you are like me, you realize that the type of food you put into your body is very important for physical, emotional and mental health. Starting your own organic garden is a great way to get nutrient-rich food without the added toxins from weed and bug poisons, which are common in produce purchased at most grocery stores. As an herbalist and avid organic gardener, here are a few recommendations for starting an organic garden from scratch.

What is Organic Gardening?

A basic definition of organic gardening is gardening without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, yet organic gardening is more than replacing man-made chemicals with those from natural sources. It is a way of gardening that supports the health of the whole system.  In an organically managed vegetable garden, the emphasis is on cultivating an ecosystem that sustains and nourishes plants, soil microbes, and beneficial insects rather than simply making plants grow. By giving our garden what it needs to grow and be healthy we are growing vegetables which will nourish ourselves in the same way.

Understanding Soil and Organic Matter

Almost all soil can support some kind of plant life, but for a good yield of garden vegetables, the soil must provide lots of basic nutrients, plus water, air, and minerals.  Soil fertility means the ability of the soil to provide the nutrients required by plants.  Fertility can be adjusted to the needs of vegetables by adding soil amendments (materials added and worked into the soil to give nutrients, such as manure or composted vegetable matter). Organic soil amendments are some type of non-toxic vegetable matter (such as leaves, wood ash, bone and blood meals or seaweed) and rock powders.  These amendments release nutrients slowly and maintain a high level of nutrients. As organic matter decomposes it improves the nutrient and water holding capacity of the soil.  Organic matter should be added to very sandy soils to increase water and nutrient holding capacity and to clay soils to improve drainage and aeration by building structure. Organic matter releases many plant nutrients as it decomposes, so it is essentially a fertilizer. Most of all it has a very important advantage over purchased, synthetic fertilizers: It releases minerals slowly over a long period of time. This reduces leaching and decreases the risk of throwing the soil system out of balance.

Here are some common sources of organic matter:

  • Farm manure is one of the best sources of organic matter and can supply the bulk of the fertilizer elements that vegetable gardens need.  The general rate of application for cattle, hog, or horse manure is 300 to 500 pounds per 1,000 square feet of garden.  A simple way to estimate this is to apply a layer 2 to 4 inches thick on top of the soil and work it into a 6-inch depth.  Poultry, sheep, goat, and rabbit manures should be applied at half this rate because of their higher nutrient content.
  • Green Manure maintains or increases the organic matter levels in the soil. Green manure is a crop grown with the intent of turning it under while it is still green. In addition to adding organic matter, green manure also returns nutrients accumulated in the plants to the soil.  Legumes make particularly good green manure because they possess deep roots that draw up minerals from the subsoil. Sow green manure either as a winter cover crop or if your garden is big enough, in a different portion of the garden each season.  Some common green manures are oats (planted in early fall for a winter cover or grown in the summer), buckwheat, or red clover (grown in summer).
  • Compost is an excellent source of organic matter and nutrients. In its finished form, it contains the major plant nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as all the minor nutrients that plants need. In addition, compost releases these nutrients slowly, thus minimizing runoff and leaching. A compost pile may be made of leaves, weeds, hay, manure, waste vegetable matter, coffee grounds, or pretty much any vegetable matter. Avoid using items that decompose slowly and attract unwanted animals such as meat, bones, and fat.

Choose your garden location wisely

Most vegetables require “full sunlight,” defined as at least 5 or 6 hours of the sun directly on the plants during the middle of the day. Too much shade makes the plants weak, susceptible to disease and they produce little fruit. If you have no sunny sites, do not give up. A few vegetables, although they may grow slowly, will still produce in partial shade. These include beets, carrots, kale, lettuce, peas, and spinach.

If possible, the garden should be close to the kitchen, not only for convenience but because rabbits or other wild animals in your area are a little less likely to come so close to the house. Consider starting small and expanding when you are sure you can maintain a larger garden. A first-year garden often has many weeds from leftover seeds in the soil so start small and expand next year.

It is important when choosing the spot for your garden to consider the soil at that spot. Gardening works well in many types of soil, but common vegetables (the ones we eat the most of) do best, and with the least work by the gardener, on easily crumbled, porous soils. Deep soil with lots of decaying vegetable matter, like leaves and grass, will provide good aeration and allow root growth.  A soil that is too sandy will not hold water well and will allow the nutrients to be carried out of the root zone by water. On the other hand, a soil with too much clay will hold nutrients and water but will have poor aeration (plants need air just like we do). If the roots are waterlogged the plants will drown.

I recommend avoiding areas composed of  “fill dirt.”  Fill hauled into level areas usually consists of bottom soil  (nutrient lacking soil that was beneath the richer topsoil), stones and debris. In addition, you should avoid sites with depressions and low spots that remain wet after brief rains.  Such wet soil has little aeration and the roots of vegetables need oxygen to breathe.

Prepare the Soil and Plant

Here are the first steps :

Step 1: Take a soil test to find out your soils fertilizer requirements. The soil test kit that you can obtain at your local Cooperative Extension Service office has directions for taking a soil test.

Step 2: Turn over sod (the part of your lawn from the top of the grass leaves to the bottom of the grass roots) with a shovel in late summer or fall the year before you intend to plant the garden. Add lime, rock phosphate or manure, if recommended by a soil test, and plant a winter cover crop such as oats. Oats are winter killed (they die completely in winter even the roots), so they are easy to turn under or pull aside when you are ready to plant.

Step 3: Turn the cover crop under early in the spring, once the soil is no longer muddy but at least a few weeks before planting the garden.

Step 4: The first year plant vegetables that are fairly competitive with weeds, such as tomatoes, corn, squash, beans or cole crops ( Brussels sprout, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, broccoli, turnips), as many weed seeds will still be there.

Step 5: Keep the area well weeded all summer. The vegetables listed in step 4 above can all be mulched, which will smother out weeds.

Step 6: Cut the grass short around the border of the garden regularly so weed seeds do not end up in the garden.

An organic garden is a little work, but worth it due to the many benefits. Your organic garden will not only provide you with pure and nutritious food, but you will find the time spent outdoors and in nature is beneficial to the mind and body as well. I will write more on that later.  Happy gardening!

More to come on this topic soon!

Herbs have played a major part in medicine for thousands of years. Every culture and every medicinal system, from Ayurveda to Traditional Chinese Medicine, has used herbs for therapeutic purposes. There are thousands of herbs with thousands of different uses. But why in today’s world, with all the myriad modern drugs, would a reasonable person continue to use medicinal herbs?

The Transition from Herbal Remedies to Pharmaceuticals

Although many people may dismiss herbal medicines as quackery, the use of herbal botanicals is well established in medical practice. Ancient doctors methodically collected information about medicinal plants and developed well-defined pharmacopoeias to treat a variety of ailments. Despite this and over time, much of Western culture abandoned this people-plant relationship, and turned its’ faith toward modern pharmaceuticals.

Abandonment of herbs was a gradual transition, during which the medical system experimented with everything from bloodletting, trepanation, administration of mercury, and other “cures.” By the dawn of the modern era, gone were the days of hands-on home visits from physicians who had known us since birth, replaced by the efficient, sterile, and often de-humanizing model we currently have. In this model, doctors spend more time looking at our computer records than at our body, despite their best intentions.

Herbal Remedies vs. Pharmaceuticals

Herbal remedies and pharmaceuticals each have their place and purpose. We should empower ourselves to understand the pros and cons of each and use them appropriately. One old adage states “Herbs treat people; pharmaceuticals treat disease.” A pharmaceutical treatment is often prescribed solely based on lab numbers and this treatment relies on distilled chemicals to suppress only the symptoms of a problem. In contrast, herbal remedies work to restore balance and build strength to the entire body.

Herbs can build your immunities and prevent disease. Pharmaceuticals most often act to mask or relieve just the symptoms and do not address the underlying cause of the disease, which often continues to persist. Many people report negative side effects from the use of pharmaceuticals; however, as herbs are easily absorbed into the body and blood stream, leaving very minimal residual effects or side effects. In addition, our bodies can build up a resistance to antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceutical science isolates one compound within an herb then chemically reproduces that one compound to sell for disease treatment. Herbs are very complex substances with many varied constituents. It is much easier to develop resistance to one substance than to a complex combination of substances.

Another especially favorable aspect of herbs is their ready availability. Most herbs are readily available to the public and available at a very reasonable price. In fact, many commonly used herbs can be grown in your own backyard, are easily processed for use and are just as effective as those purchased. It is possible to have a readily available source of remedies for your family for free! As opposed to herbs, pharmaceutical medicines are only available by doctor visit, an expensive thing in itself, and by prescription to a pharmacy, usually at a very unreasonable price.

A Shift in Perspective

Despite all of this, pharmaceutical drugs, medical doctors and hospitals do have their place, especially in treating injuries and acute and severe illnesses. Many health care practitioners are starting to incorporate natural healing alternatives and herbal remedies into their practices. These practitioners are viewing their patients from a holistic perspective and prescribing pharmaceuticals only in very severe cases. We can do our part by taking good care of ourselves on a daily basis and educating ourselves on all of the various options to support our healing journey. By taking responsibility of our own health and wellness and deciding to work in partnership with our health care providers, we can use critical thinking and our own inner wisdom to decide what is best for our bodies. Together we can help facilitate a shift in perspective and bring balance to the modern approach to healing.

References:

*http://www.collective-evolution.com/2013/11/20/how-pharmaceuticals-came-to-be-the-4th-leading-cause-of-death-in-america

**http://articles.latimes.com/1993-03-30/news/vw-17041_1_herbal-remedies