A great way to make sure you and your family have access to fresh organic fruits and vegetables is to grow them your own.
Many people are intimidated by growing organically assuming that, without chemical poisons, all of their vegetables will be devoured by ferocious pests. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. With a little diligence and a few helpful hints anyone can easily grow their own organic food at home.
If you are interested in starting a vegetable garden or planting a fruit tree at home, the first step we recommend is to identify which plant hardiness zone you are located in. Click here to view your plant hardiness zone. Your plant hardiness zone will advise you on what you can grow including what fruits and vegetables require very specific temperature ranges to grow successfully.
Next, you want to establish where on your property you want to locate your garden or orchard. You want to pick a location that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight year round and is free or as free as your landscape permits of roots and other intrusions.
Then, choose what kind or kinds of gardening systems you would like. Three very popular techniques are container gardening, raised-bed gardening and in-ground gardening. If you are new to gardening, we suggest you start with container or raised-bed gardens. Both will have reduced weeding and limit having to worry about potential issues related to using native soil. We have created a Garden Guide on how to build your own raised beds. Although this guide is specific to Alachua County, the information can be useful to everyone.
Once you decide which type of garden you are going to use, you are ready to pick out plants. The most important thing to remember when selecting plants is to choose species and varieties that are both appropriate for your location and time of year. Other things to consider are: potential for disease, how much production you are hoping for (one broccoli plan equals one broccoli head, while a collard will allow for multiple harvests over a season), and if there are fruits or vegetables that you especially love but are too expensive or difficult to find. There are many different varieties of each fruit and vegetable and sometimes the number of choices can be overwhelming. We strongly recommend purchasing from local vendors who possess the knowledge to guide you to appropriate variety for you and your garden.
Caring for your Garden
Once you have your garden planted, your adventure has just begun as you care for and watch your plants grow and interact with the world around them. Fruits and vegetables are plants that we have bred to produce delightful food for us, however, they do require our attention and care to survive. Make sure your garden is receiving adequate water. If you are using planting in raised beds or containers, your plants will require water almost daily. In-ground plants once established can often go longer between watering as their roots can travel farther and tap into groundwater.
Make sure you feed your plants. Fruits and vegetables are often heavy feeders and require additional nutrients than those natural present in the soil. There are many organic fertilizers now available, just be sure to use as recommended.
Compost, compost, compost. Composting is a wonderful way to divert waste from the landfill while creating healthy soil for your garden.
Check for bugs. If you live in Florida you are likely to see a lot of insect life in your garden. Not all of it is detrimental to your garden. A lot of the bugs you will find are eating the bugs eating your plants, so become familiar with common garden insects.
Gardening can be as simple as seeds, soil, water, and sunlight. However, in those four words are countless research studies that have looked for better ways for us to grow our own food. The important thing to remember is anyone can do it. Don’t get discouraged. Meet people in your area who are already growing. Learn from them. The best fertilizer is a gardener’s shadow.
If you are looking for more resources, be sure to check out our GIFT Garden Guide and for more comprehensive information, consider checking out this book, Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida, written by our friends, Ginny Stibolt and Melissa Contreras.