Just four years ago I was a self-described brown thumb. It wasn’t because I had definitively proven my inability to grow anything but more because I had given no effort to the task. Until 2008 my gardening was limited to a sunflower grown in Vacation Bible School one summer and a pitiful tomato plant in one of those “As Seen on TV” upside down contraptions. But as I moved from Brooklyn, NY to my family farm in middle Georgia I quickly realized that without bodegas on every corner, street vendors, amusing cab drivers, and dive bars to keep me occupied I was going to need a hobby.

As I walked around the land a few times with my Dad I found myself falling in love with stories about my grandfather clearing the land and sending lumber off to the mill so as to build both a home and a working farm. I dug my hands down into the cool soil that he, too, had once allowed to pass through his callused fingers. As if the voice of Kevin Costner had spoken out to me I began thinking that this part of the Earth needed attention. If I tilled it, the plants would come.

For almost three months my wife and I scratched, tilled, and turned the dirt. We amended it, watered it, mulched it. We plowed out rows and strung up dividers. We researched plants in our zone and read up on potential seeds. With as much passion as I had once given my photography when on assignment in NYC I was now analyzing the sunrises and sunsets and rain showers in between. By late spring I felt confident enough for us to plant.

We had long since decided to grow organically for a number of reasons. Having lived in a culturally rich and aware area just months before I was very much in tune with sustainability, the plight of “BIG” agriculture, and harms of pesticides on food sources. But deciding how to grow organically was something that took more than just a passing thought. It took planning, research, determination, and discipline to figure out. From that first season came these tips that I hope to share with you.

  1. 5 Steps to Getting Your Organic Garden Started
  1. Plan Before You Plant Your Vegetable Garden. We started by reading up on the Farmers’ Almanac. While they have a timeless print edition they also offer a host of resources online now. You can also go to your local Ag Extension office or even the National Climatic Data Center to research the average last frost date in your area. From this point check out the back of your seed packet to determine the number of days until germination and harvest. Plant as the weather allows and be familiar with which varieties are hearty and which require more TLC.
  2. Recycle, Reuse, and Repurpose Potting Equipment The best way to start your seeds is to purchase seed starting flats or use cut down milk cartons, chipped pots, empty plastic containers, etc. that are two to three inches deep. I love this post from Mr. Brown Thumb with a number of DIY ideas. Fill the containers with potting soil, gently firm the surface and water until moist. Be careful not to make the soil muddy and wash out the seeds.
  3. Take Cover There are a number of benefits to starting seeds indoors. The right seed starting supplies and methods can improve the germination rate. But you have to remain vigilant about caring for your seeds. Once they are planted, cover the container with plastic and place it in a warm spot in your house. Check the container every day and remove the plastic once the seeds have germinated.
  4. Let the Sunshine In… After the seeds have germinated, move the containers to a sunny location. You may remember being told back in grade school that (insert Charlie Brown voice here) plants require water and sun. Well, it is true. Water only when the soil becomes dry, preferably from the bottom, to prevent flooding the seeds.
  5. Push Them Out of the Nest When your plants are ready to be placed in your garden, dig a small hole for each plant, insert the plant, cover the roots, and water. In just a few weeks or months (who I am kidding? It is never fast enough), depending on the variety, you will be ready to harvest some incredible organic veggies!