SFC's Grow Local program offers the resources and education to enable children and adults in Central Texas to develop skills in food production and organic gardening as well as an understanding of the importance of local food production for the health and well-being of themselves, their families and community, and the environment.
Basic Organic Gardening
Spring is not the only time to plant in Central Texas. Many people are unaware of the wonderful fall planting season made possible by our mild winters. Some even claim that fall is the best time to plant in this region. January-March and September-October are the two primary planting times, but you can plant and harvest something nearly year-round here! In order to make the most of both planting seasons, below are some helpful suggestions on how to start and manage an organic food garden. Suggestion #1: start small! You can always expand when you're ready. Click here to learn more about gardening classes offered by Grow Local.
Preparing Garden Beds
- Choose a site that gets at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day and where water is easily accessible.
- Do a rough sketch of how you want to lay out your beds and what you will plant where.
- Make sure soil is moist before beginning; it's easier to work when the ground is soft.
- Loosen the soil with a spading fork (also called a garden or digging fork; this is different from a pitchfork). Be careful not to step on the turned soil, so you do not compact the ground you have just loosened.
- Remove grass roots and weeds with seedpods from each forkful as you dig it up and break it apart.
- Decide where to place pathways. Be sure you can comfortably reach all areas of the bed from the pathways.
Compost is the end product of a natural process that turns leaves, weeds, grass clippings, food scraps, and other organic matter into a dark, crumbly, soil-like substance. Compost provides numerous benefits for the garden by adding nutrients to the soil. It enhances soil aeration and water retention and helps prevent erosion.
A compost pile needs four elements to successfully decompose: carbon, nitrogen, water and air. This can be achieved by layering green matter (e.g. food scraps, lawn clippings) in between layers of brown matter (e.g. leaves, paper, yard waste) and then watering it. A successful compost pile will be 30-40% green matter and 60-70% brown matter.
If you want to speed up the decomposition process, be sure to turn (stir) your compost pile often, and add water as necessary until the pile is as damp as a squeezed-out sponge. You may also choose to have a "slow" compost pile, which requires little maintenance, but takes longer to produce finished compost. Compost is ready to add to gardens when its ingredients are no longer identifiable. It is best to sift compost through a screen before spreading it on your garden beds.
- Follow recommendations on the seed packets for seed spacing and sunlight. For gardening intensively in small spaces, check out the books Square Foot Gardening (Bartholomew) and How to Grow More Vegetables (Jeavons).
- During germination, keep the soil in your garden beds moist.
- Once plants emerge, thin your garden by pulling out plants that are crowded together.
- Water plants and seed immediately after planting and water them daily until they germinate.
- Once plants are established, watering less often and for longer is better in order to help plants develop deep roots.
- Water beds gently using a spray nozzle so that you do not wash your seeds away or damage your plants.
- Water needs vary depending on the plant.
- A layer of organic material such as compost and mulch around plants will help to prevent evaporation.
Mulch is a layer of nonliving material that covers the soil surface around plants. Mulch helps inhibit weed growth and improve soil moisture retention. It also helps insulate plant roots from cold in the winter and heat in the summer. Materials such as compost, hay, leaves, chopped up wood, newspaper, or burlap sacks can be used to mulch.
- Hand-pull weeds as much as possible.
- Feed your soil with compost to improve soil health. Healthy soil helps prevent weeds.
- Mulch all bare soil in beds to prevent weeds from growing in those areas.
- DO NOT use synthetic herbicides.
Controlling Pests and Diseases
Not all bugs in the garden are bad. Observe your garden frequently to find out what changes are occurring and what bugs might be living there. Often insects and diseases are signs that a plant is not growing in the ideal condition. If you start to notice the following symptoms on your plants, your garden may need attention.
- Chewed up leaves, or leaves with holes in them
- Black spots, mildew, or yellowed leaves
Consider handpicking harmful insects off of plants, try soaps and sprays, or introduce beneficial insects. The best method for dealing with pest and disease problems is to improve the soil. See Gardening Resources for help distinguishing between harmful and beneficial insects.