Organic Gardening Series: How to and Benefits of Traditional Gardens

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A big welcome to Rene of Budget Saving Mom! This is the first of her organic gardening series. I’ll let her impress and intimidate you in this post, but I promise she’ll show you (we?) newbies something totally doable, baby step style, in tomorrow’s and next week’s posts. Rene wanted to make sure she showed how to set up gardens before it was too late, and we’ll start her regular feature in June.

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There are four different types of gardening that I use: traditional, raised bed, landscape, and container gardening. Gardening is really something that can fit every lifestyle and home.

Our traditional garden is the biggest garden we have. A traditional garden is in the ground. We have about ten 100 to 200 foot rows in our big garden. These gardens are great if you have space. They do take a lot of work; however, you can have a great crop as well.

The Soil

Plants love loose, rich soil. Unfortunately most soil around people’s homes is not the richest soil. Usually when a house is built, the topsoil is scraped off to flatten the land, and all of the good nutrients are removed. As the equipment drives over the soil, it becomes compacted and hard. However, the good thing is that with time and work, you can loosen your soil and return nutrients to it.

Gardens that are planted in the ground tend to not do as well the first couple of years as the soil is being established. However, you can still get a great crop, it will just be better in future years. So, don’t get discouraged, keep gardening and adding compost and tilling and your plants will do better and better. (Katie here: aha! Now I have something to blame for my relative un-success my first two years…)

The Fertilizer

I do not suggest adding Miracle Grow to your garden or fertilizers if you can help it. You can add earthworms that will loosen and enrich your soil, plus compost each year. This is the only real way to maintain healthy soil. Other additives can damage the beneficial bugs and worms that your garden needs to thrive.

When you plan your garden, make sure that you choose an area that gets plenty of sun, and where water is accessible. (Katie kibitzing again:  my grandfather would remind you that tomatoes in particular need at LEAST 8 and preferably 12 or more hours of sunlight. Just so ya know.)

The Tilling and Weeds

Till your soil in rows until it is loose. I like to have 18 inch to 24 inch wide rows. You can still reach all the way across the row, but you can also fit more plants into the row since you can plant in a triangle formation rather than just in a straight row.

We have actually been slowly turning our traditional garden into more of a raised bed garden. Every year we add a few dump truck loads of topsoil, plus our compost and chicken manure. Our rows are actually several inches high now. If you have really poor soil, you might want to consider adding some compost and top soil to your rows as you till so that your plants can receive more nutrients.

Once you have tilled your soil in rows, make sure that you don’t step onto the rows, as that will compact the soil. I also suggest leaving enough room between the rows for a wheelbarrow to get through. If you have a large garden you will need room for wheelbarrows to go through to collect your produce. Also, I recommend putting down weed barriers between the rows in the gardens. We have used carpet, old roof shingles and dark plastic sheets over the years between the rows.

The Diseases

One advantage of a traditional garden is that you can spread your types of plants out further to prevent cross pollination so that you can save your seeds from year to year. You are also able to rotate your crops each year. This is important since your plants can get diseases if the same class of plants are planted in the same location year after year, particularly your cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.

A traditional garden takes more work. You will have to weed, till, hoe and get lots of exercise maintaining your garden. But, I do love to be out in my traditional garden, and almost prefer this method because I can spend hours out there rather than the few minutes that I spend in my other types of garden that are more self maintained. I just love seeing plants stretching out all around me. It is a pretty amazing site. I can happily spend 6-8 hours outside picking all of the produce for my family while my kids run around the corn stalks and up and down the rows or help me pick.

Next in the series: raised bed gardening (tomorrow, so you don’t even have to practice your patience too very long!), landscape gardening, container gardening. Thank you, Rene!

*Rather go to the Farmer’s Market than grow your own? Jenny of Nourished Kitchen, a Farmer’s Market manager herself, would love to teach you how to approach your farmer and then what to do with the food. She’s teaching an online cooking class starting June 1. See more details here!*


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All photos are Rene’s.

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7 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. says

    We haven’t room for a “traditional” garden. Nor have i the expertise or energy. I should know how, my parents had one of these large gardens every year, but they didn’t teach me why we were doing things, nor how to know when to do them. They just said, “Plant.” “Weed.” “Harvest.” In their defense, i didn’t try or want to learn, either.

    We’re doing raised gardens. I’m a slow learner. Probably something along the lines of “square foot” gardening will work for me. I’m inspired by Little Homestead in the City where they grow 6,000 lbs of produce on 1/10th of an acre every year. Of course, they have a year-round growing season. I only live 100 miles from there, but our growing season is only about 1/4 as long.
    .-= Kathryn´s last blog ..I’m so confused! =-.

  2. says

    My grandma taught me that tomatoes like eggshells. So I always toss mine out in the garden. I toss whatever other vegetable scraps I have out there too. Believe me, it’s healthy — wildly overgrown. Mostly with weeds, but also several tomato plants. :) It’s on my list, to get out there and do something about it!
    .-= Kate´s last blog ..Do Your Research!: Antibiotics =-.

    • Katie says

      They also like banana peels! I bury one with the plant whenever I put them in the ground.
      😉 Katie

  3. JenZ says

    re: the barren, compacted soils on home sites…

    I just read an article in Acres USA this month about using raw milk as a fertilizer for pastures. The bottom line was that they found that 3 gallons (mixed with 17 gal. of water) per 1 acre increased the plant yield and increased the soil’s porosity, most likely because the milk introduced more microbes to the soil along with sugars to feed them and the microbes already in the soil. When they tested, they sprayed that mixture one time (they tested other stronger concentrations as well and found no difference among them), and then 45 days later they found a substantial increase in plant matter in the treated areas.

    So I have been rinsing out my milk jugs when they are empty and pouring the resulting liquid out on my barren, weed-filled lawn. I might even buy an extra gallon from the farm, because even though it’s not cheap, it’s less expensive than going to get other organic fertilizers, and I don’t even have to make an extra trip! I figure that 1 gallon should be plenty for our suburban plot of land, and it certainly can’t hurt. I have some earthworm castings to put down too.

    Just thought that others might be interested – the article is interesting and worth the purchase of the magazine (it’s in the May 2010 issue – they probably still have it at Tractor Supply).

    • Katie says

      That is fascinating! I love the idea of rinsing the jar onto the lawn – that’s a real baby stepper strategy, to be sure!!
      :) Katie

  4. says

    Jen – that is pretty neat about the raw milk. I will have to keep that in mind. We have planted our garden and I’m going to get a few other things for our pots like some more herbs and maybe another tomato plant. I’m super excited about the gardening season and to see what will produce this year. I love my raised garden beds. Here’s to planting and sustainability!
    .-= Raine Saunders´s last blog ..The Joy of Gardening – A Call to Sustainability =-.

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