How does Melissa Henrey's garden grow? Organically, thank you very much.
And Henrey, an organic gardener accredited by the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), wants to help you grow organic, too. As the proprietor of Kinglet Gardens in Cos Cob, her mission is to practice, consult and teach "the highest standards of organic, ecological gardening and land stewardship."
Henrey demonstrated some of those high organic standards recently at a "how to grow your own organic vegetable garden" workshop at the Greenwich Garden Center. The Citizen asked Henrey to share some of her tips with our readers.
How does an organic vegetable garden differ from a conventional vegetable garden? Does the taste, appearance and texture of an organic vegetable differ from a conventionally grown one?
Conventional gardens require constant intervention and store-bought materials. Organic gardening lets nature do the work. Because organically grown plants are not on life support, they are healthier and taste better. Nothing compares to the taste of a vegetable harvested from your own garden just minutes before it reaches the plate.
What are the basic steps in creating an organic vegetable garden?
Start with assessing your site. Most importantly, test your soil to find out the pH, nutrient and heavy metal levels in your garden. The results come with recommendations. If the results say you don't need to add lime or fertilizer, don't. Whatever your soil doesn't need just leaches out and ends up harming the environment. If you're planning to grow tomatoes in the beds next to your 100-year-old house, you may want to know if (and at what level) you have lead persisting from old paint that's chipped off. You can find all this out for $15 by sending a soil sample to UMASS, whose analysis I prefer to UCONN. It's all online. The home tests available at garden centers are inaccurate; spend the money on plants instead.
Look at how much sun you get, especially after the trees leaf out. Most vegetables need six or more hours of full, direct sun. Figure out how much time you have to devote to tending it. Start small and keep it simple. Connect with experienced gardeners. Grow things you like to eat.
What are must dos with organic gardening in contrast to conventional?
I work by six general principles that I've adapted from NOFA's Organic Land Care Standards: Do no harm. Restore and maintain the health of your soil. Eliminate synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Increase the diversity of your landscape. Avoid pollution and waste by recycling local organic matter (on-site if possible), nutrients and materials. Lastly, consider the social and ecological impacts of your landscaping materials, design decisions and water usage.
What plants work well with each other in a vegetable garden?
Companion planting is an important part of organic vegetable gardens. The term refers to vegetables and herbs (mostly) that are grown together for some benefit. For example, dill flowers attract many beneficial insects like hover flies and parasitic wasps (harmless to people) which, in turn, eat the bad bugs that would otherwise eat your veggies. Some gardeners will say tomatoes tastes better if grown besides the herb borage, true in my experience, but entirely anecdotal. Other companion plants, like the French marigold, have been researched and scientists have proven what your grandfather told you, that the marigold's pungent leaves repel a host of garden troublemakers such as nematodes, and even rabbits.
What is crop rotation and why does it matter?
Crop rotation is the planting of like with like and not planting members of the same plant family in the same place each season. Related plants share susceptibility to many of the same pests and diseases and also draw the same nutrients from the soil. Examples of related crops are the nightshade family (eg. tomatoes, eggplant, pepper) or the cucurbits (cucumber, zucchini, melon). By rotating crops, you give the soil a break and trick soil borne pests and diseases that might have over-wintered.
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