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I am very interested in organic gardening, but know nothing about it. I went to wal-mart yesterday and bought some seeds, but I don't know the first thing about gardening! Any tips?

--- Cassi from Indiana

On the small scale, organic gardening is actually pretty easy.  Here are a few tips to get you started:

Leaf lettucePick easy plants to start with.  Some plants are notoriously difficult to grow without chemicals, so skip the eggplant until you're more experienced.  You're bound to have good luck with greens (spinach, swiss chard, collards, kale, and mustard) no matter what you do and can't go far wrong with leaf lettuce either as long as you grow it in the cool season.  Try a summer squash (we like the hybrid straightneck yellow bush squashes which don't take over the garden) and a winter squash (butternut is our favorite for flavor and disease resistance.)  Throw in a few tomatoes and that's probably enough for your first garden.

Find a good source of organic matter.  I like to make free raised beds by mounding the topsoil from the paths up onto the beds --- this doubles your depth of good soil and prevents soil compaction.  You'll also want to start a compost pile and find some friends with chickens or horses to round out your compost needs.  If possible, mulch is a great addition to your garden since it'll smother out weeds and slowly break down and feed the soil --- but don't mulch tomatoes with straw and skip the walnut leaves!  In general, it's impossible to add too much organic matter to your garden.

Garden planMake a garden plan and keep notes.  It's important not to grow the same type of plant in the same spot in your garden year after year or diseases and insects will build up in the soil.  I label each raised bed with a number and letter on a grid system and keep a spreadsheet giving information about each bed.  Download my 2007, 2008, and 2009 garden spreadsheet (203 KB, Excel format) to get an idea of how I plan and then record information about each year's garden.

Pay attention to your garden.  Little weed, disease, and insect problems become much bigger if you don't catch them early.  I walk through my garden every day to nip problems in the bud.  And to nibble on those snow peas and tommy-toe tomatoes which never make it into the house....

Don't be daunted by the idea of organic gardening!  So what if a few caterpillars nibble your cabbage?  It'll still taste ten times as good as the head you'd buy in the store.

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