My First Organic Garden Adventure – Spring and Summer 2006

Growing up as a kid in the country, some of my fondest memories of my grandparents where simple things such as, sitting under an apple tree with my grandpa, with a salt shaker and a fresh ripe cantaloupe that he had just pulled from the vine. Thinking back, of watching him peel that melon with his pocket knife, and the two of us eating the whole thing while enjoying the warm morning sun, still to this day, makes me smile from ear to ear. Or the way that many of us grandchildren would spend the night at my grandparents farm on weekends, to wake early in the morning and go to the garden with my grandma and sneak cherry tomatoes to eat while she was busy picking various other vegetables with her back turned to us. She always knew what we were up to and would simply grin and tell us not to eat too many of them and make ourselves sick. My mom and dad also raised a garden every year. To this day, the wonderful smells in the kitchen at canning time are vivid in my mind. Wether it was fresh vegetables being canned, or fresh fruit for jellies and jams, the kitchen was as busy as a bee hive during the late Spring, Summer, and early Fall seasons as harvest time was a big deal in my family.

The “family garden”, has been a big part of country life for hundreds of years now for many people, even though supermarkets have become the modern “hot house” farm markets for most people. However, the home garden is really making a come back with many people in many locations all over the U.S.

If taken care of properly, home-grown vegetables just can’t be beat for taste, and a sense of accomplishment as the opportunities for experimenting are almost endless.

The garden is not just a project for older folks and grandparents as some would think or remember from their past. Many young people starting in their teenage years are now taking part in gardening. Men and women alike are potting seeds and planting seedlings in hopes of raising their own tasty crops.

I personally have had many seasonal vegetable gardens throughout my life, but for the past several years, my work, and business interests has taken me away from home and required too much of my time to devout to raising a garden. About three years ago, the wife and I bought a small farm of 30 acres in southwest Missouri, and now have made our home there in cunjunction with my home of many years in Arkansas. Even though living in town, close to work for the past few years was convenient, I had grown weary (“sick and tired“) of seeing pavement and cheap landscaping as I would leave our condo for work or whatever reason. I just had to get back out in the country, long drives to work or not.

This year is the first since we have been on the farm that I have raised a garden. Now I am not in any way, one who is impressed, or even cares a bit about anything labeled as organic. I never really gave it much thought I guess, and figured it to be just some goofy sales tactic, or weird vegi-cult influence. Once that I did take a minute to think about it, I realized that “organic” simply means “produced without chemicals or non-natural products”. It also means that canned or packaged foods contain only natural preservatives such as salt rather than man-made chemicals or coloring. The idea really didn’t sound too bad. As a kid, I could eat tomatoes right off of the vine without worry of pesticides, heck, we just wiped them off on our shirt and ate. Same thing went for apples and other fruits back then. My folks as well as most folks back then, fertilized with manure and used simple tactics to rid plants of bugs. So, I though if that was good enough then, why not good enough for now.

In late April, I set out my tomato plants and zucchini plants followed by cucumber, cantaloupe, green beans, and bell peppers a week or so later. I kept the rows clean and watered the new plant dailey during slack times of rain. This was a small garden being only about 12 feet wide by 45 feet long. I didn’t want too much garden for the time I had to spend on it. I used some nitrogen and natural fertilizers before the first tilling and again three times through the season, and that is it. Over the years I have found that, plenty of water, and keeping weeds and grass to a minimum is the biggest part of making a garden grow lushly, and fruit well.

When mid June arrived, I knew that the bugs were not far behind. I had always used pesticides in the past for insect control with usual success, but wanted to try to get by without them this season, but how?
I have read of several home remedies, from spying soapy water on the plants to putting molasses on the stems of plants. Rather than trying some of these methods which may indeed work, I simply kept the watering heavy and kept the rows clean. I found that the grasshoppers were abundant at mid-summer but really didn’t seem to do much damage excepting that they were attracted to my green beans. The beans still done exceptionally well and are still bearing. I only had two cantaloupes eaten by rabbits. I have also found in the past that wild rabbits really don’t care for the smell of green bell peppers and if they are placed strategically, can help deter rabbits as well as deer.

By far, the nastiest and most vigilant pest have been the “tomato worms” as we always called them. They are those really ugly, green caterpillars that will get as long as 3-5 inches and bigger around than a grown mans thumb. These creatures are actually larvae from eggs lain by “Sphinx moths. In many internet forums you will see them listed as Sphinx-5-maculata. These tomato worms grow quickly. They have incredible appetites and seem to love protein laden tomato plant leaves. They can strip a plant of leaves in a very short time and then move onto another to continue their over indulged feeding. I remember seeing these worms all through the past years in previous gardens, but they have been reported to be very abundant in many parts of the country this year.

Many gardeners have there own methods of ridding their plots of these worms, however, since I was not using chemicals, I resorted to the age old proven method of getting them away from my plants. I would simply pick or knock them from the plant and onto the ground, and my sweet wife would step on them and crush them flat and dead under cute feet or I should say, under her sandals. My wife, like most women, cannot stand bugs at all and hates tomato worms! She will not think twice about crushing them into the ground under her feet. She is a cool gal, and I think that she secretly likes to hear and feel them pop under the sole of her sandal as she presses down hard with her toes, as most women seem to like to do. I capture the critters, put them on the ground, and the crunching is her part of the job, ha! We have killed around 40 of them in all for the season which is not too bad considering a total of 18 plants which are quite large.

About half of our garden is now harvested and finished for the year, but the tomatoes and bell peppers are still growing strong. The tomato plants have produced several bushels of hearty, great tasting fruits and the peppers are now bearing their heaviest crop of the season. This year’s yield has exceeded my expectations by quite a lot. I have been able to give much of the harvest away to family and friends and still plan to put a lot more fresh vegetables in the freezer and on the canning shelves at home.

I have had a blast with this year’s garden adventure, and I have done it successfully without one single chemical! So when someone says the word “organic” to you, don’t be so quick to turn up your nose as I was, it simply means food that has no man-made chemicals or pesticides shoved into it. It has been really cool this years to eat tomatoes right off of the vine while picking others to take to the house. My “organic garden adventure” has been a lot of fun and I have learned some really neat gardening tricks, but more so, it has taken me back to some of my best childhood memories!

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