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July 22, 2018

What makes a seed “organic”?

Organic seeds are from plants grown by farmers following organic farm management practices, using federal organic standards for growing and processing which excludes the use of synthetic pesticides and genetically engineered/genetically modified or “GMO” technologies. Transitioning land to be certified organic typically takes 3 years, a good deal of paperwork, fees, and inspections before farmers can legally label what they grow as “organic”. Organic famers incur more costs to be certified organic than non-organic, which is why organic products are often more expensive. Organic seeds are a good choice for consumers who want to support organic agricultural practices or invest in practices that are inline with their own organic lifestyle.

Can non-organic seeds be grown organically to produce an organic product?

Absolutely! The flowers, herbs, and vegetables you grow in your home garden are a product of what you put into them. If you garden using 100% organic methods, you will grow a 100% organic product.

July 22, 2018

One of the greatest benefits of having a garden is controlling how your food is grown. Growing organically ensures your food is free of commercial pesticides–pollutants that can transfer into the soil, water, and atmosphere. Starting an organic garden is the perfect way to provide clean, healthful food to your family, and help protect the earth.

1. Right plant in right place. Don’t fight your site, rather, embrace your sunlight levels, climate, and soil type by choosing varieties that will naturally thrive in your gardens’ conditions, reducing the need for excess water or amendment.

2. Know your soil.  By understanding your unique garden site, you can know exactly what amendments are needed, reducing and possibly eliminating pests, diseases, and pollution, which can be caused by over-fertilizing. Improving soil by reaching the ideal 5–6% organic matter also helps conserve water and prevent run-off.

3. Water wisely. Conserve water by watering deeply and less frequently, encouraging plants to build deep, water-mining roots. Make sure you are watering with just the right amount; under- or over-watering can cause plant stress, which acts like an open invitation to pest and disease. To slow water evaporation from your soil, water in the evening/morning and/or mulch to insulate and protect soil. You can also improve your soil’s ability to hold water by adding organic material (see compost below).

4. Prevention is key to a healthy garden. Rotate plants in the same families (for example, brassicas) annually, so they are not grown in the same space for at least three years. Rotating reduces the potential for disease and depletion of the same nutrients year after year. You can also diversify your planting area so it isn’t all one crop. Having different crops mingled together confuses pests and looks less like an all-you-can-eat buffet for them. Scout for pests, diseases, and natural predators weekly so you can identify problems early, and decide if action is needed.

If you find a problem, first choose physical controls (e.g., row cover, plant removal, or trap crops) or biological controls (e.g., inviting beneficial insects or insect-eating birds). Invite beneficial insects to the garden by sowing flowering varieties that they are attracted to (e.g., borage, alyssum, and dill). This way, when pests arrive, you already have a hungry, resident army “waiting in the wings”. Use organic pesticide (e.g., soaps or neem) as a last option, spraying in the early morning or evening when most bees are less active and avoiding spraying flowers to protect pollinators.

5. Sow a cover crop! Cover crops enrich the soil, fight weeds, and break up compacted soil naturally. Cover crops can also be used to create an insectory (a dedicated area that provides habitat for beneficial insects).

6. Compost. Reduce landfill waste by composting yard scraps and food waste. Plant-based food scraps and yard waste create methane in a landfill environment which, unharnessed, is a pollutant. However, in your garden, this material can be converted into organic compost, which is a great soil amendment. Avoid composting any disease or pest-infested material.

See your garden as a living system and over time you’ll learn patterns in your garden habitat. For instance, it is common to see predatory insects like ladybugs quickly follow an influx of pests like aphids. Gardening the organic way has us look for a balance rather than striving for a pristine and lifeless space. Let’s embrace the Japanese principle of simplicity and the perfectly imperfect, called wabi-sabi, in the garden and enjoy the beautiful journey!

July 22, 2018

Gardening from seed has big advantages.

The experience of taking what looks like a tiny stone, sowing it, and watching it grow, seems magical; it is faith realized, and it nurtures us as we nurture it. While sometimes that inspiration is all we need to garden from seed, there are some other very important reasons, too..

1. Know what you grow.

Did you know that many of the conventionally-grown vegetables at the grocery store test positive for pesticide residue even after washing and peeling? Some of the worst offenders are spinach, tomatoes, celery, and peppers. The choice of organic foods and goods is a lifestyle path that many have adopted. Growing your own allows you to choose what goes into your family’s food, where it came from, and how fresh and nutritious it is; you simply can’t get more local! When goodness and love go in, goodness and love come out in the harvest.

2. Save money.

Growing from seed is much less expensive than buying plants or produce, especially organic choices. For example, most food gardeners I know grow green beans because the quality is so much better than the grocery store and they are a pretty easy crop (they also add nitrogen to the soil!). A seed packet of bush beans sows about 16 feet of bean plants which will yield about 7 lbs. of beans. The cost of the packet is $2.69. A six pack of plants will run you $4 and only plants 2 feet (pssst…green beans don’t transplant well so expect lower yields). Five pounds of (less than fresh) green beans at the grocery store will cost around $15. Did we mention the seeds in our example are certified organic?

3. More choices.

Grocery stores and garden centers offer only a fraction of available selections. Gardening from seed gives you the option to grow something unique, exotic, or rare. We frequently hear from gardeners that they never knew they liked tomatoes until they grew a variety bred for flavor and not shelf life. This is why we are always scouting and trying new varieties to add to the over 600 proven varieties we already carry; so you can sow and grow exactly what you are looking for.

4. Reduce plant stress.

Nature direct-sows, and in many cases sowing seeds in place versus transplanting from greenhouse-started plants leads to quick, stress-free growth, meaning faster, and often more flowers and fruit, particularly in the case of plants that are sensitive to root disturbance. This is especially true of quick-to-mature crops like mesclun and cilantro, or root crops, sunflowers, and those in the Cucurbit (cucumbers, squash), bean and pea families to name a few.

5. Perfect timing.

There are advantages to starting some crops early indoors, usually vegetables that tolerate transplanting and take a long time to mature, like peppers, onions, or tomatoes. Starting these indoors gives me a head start in my shorter growing season, as I would never see a pepper produce fruit if I sowed it directly outdoors.

I can’t tell you how many times I have wandered out to the garden saying, “Let’s see what’s for dinner.” I slow down from my busy day when I stroll out to the garden with a glass of wine and my favorite wooden bowl to see what piques my culinary interest that evening; a personal reward for all my time spent nurturing the garden!

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