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Plant an Organic Vegetable Garden by: saronson
I`ve always wanted to grow my own vegetables. Now that I have a small piece of land I`m going to give it a shot.
This is my plan | 35%
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  • img_check out our video introduction.  http://www.vimeo.com/6137263
    Step 1: Check Out Our Video Introduction. http://www.vimeo.com/6137263

    1
  • img_identify a receptive plot.  growing your own food does not require a lot of space.  a 250 square foot plot can provide your family of four all their vegetables during the growing season.  growing food does require a lot of sun, optimally, 6-8 hours a day.  rooftops are an excellent space for growing food, but keep in mind that you’ll have to get a lot of resources up to the roof.  you do not want to go over a couple hundred square feet without asking an engineer to assess the structure.  if you do not have a green roof, you can grow in children’s pools or containers.  wherever you grow, make sure you get permission from the landlord, if necessary.
    Step 2: Identify a Receptive Plot. Growing your own food does not require a lot of space. A 250 square foot plot can provide your family of four all their vegetables during the growing season. Growing food does require a lot of sun, optimally, 6-8 hours a day. Rooftops are an excellent space for growing food, but keep in mind that you’ll have to get a lot of resources up to the roof. You do not want to go over a couple hundred square feet without asking an engineer to assess the structure. If you do not have a green roof, you can grow in children’s pools or containers. Wherever you grow, make sure you get permission from the landlord, if necessary.2
  • img_set a budget.  if you buy everything new, you can expect to spend $5-$6 a square foot. this includes soil, compost, manure, soil amendments, seeds, seedlings, irrigation system, mulch, and planting boxes. depending on the size of your site, additional costs may include a compost bin, rainwater harvesting system, and a greenhouse. if you are on a tight budget and are willing to put in sweat equity, you can often find abandoned or donated materials.  for example, you can build a compost bin from abandoned wood pallets, some hardware, and wire mesh for about $100.  a rainwater harvesting system can be built from a repurposed olive barrel and some plumbing components for under $100.  you can build your own greenhouse from recycled windows. your maintenance cost will be approximately $100 for every 300 square feet per year to cover soil amendments and seeds.
    Step 3: Set a Budget. If you buy everything new, you can expect to spend $5-$6 a square foot. This includes soil, compost, manure, soil amendments, seeds, seedlings, irrigation system, mulch, and planting boxes. Depending on the size of your site, additional costs may include a compost bin, rainwater harvesting system, and a greenhouse. If you are on a tight budget and are willing to put in sweat equity, you can often find abandoned or donated materials. For example, you can build a compost bin from abandoned wood pallets, some hardware, and wire mesh for about $100. A rainwater harvesting system can be built from a repurposed olive barrel and some plumbing components for under $100. You can build your own greenhouse from recycled windows. Your maintenance cost will be approximately $100 for every 300 square feet per year to cover soil amendments and seeds.

    3
  • img_get to know your local resources.  planting an organic garden is a great recycling project: you will become a hunter of everyone’s valuable trash. if you are composting, (highly recommended) collect coffee grounds from your local café; collect leaves in the fall; collect your neighbors’ food scraps; collect your neighbors’ newspapers. if your neighborhood has a christmas tree mulching program: get free mulch. find abandoned piles of wooden pallets to make compost bins or raised planting beds. concrete masonry units (cinder blocks) can be recovered from construction sites to make planting beds as well. ask local gardeners if they have any saved seeds they would like to share; otherwise, johnny’s in maine and seeds of change on the west coast are good sources for organic seeds. if you are a new gardener, you might prefer to buy seedlings from organic nurseries in your area.  share tools such as wheelbarrows with neighbors that already have them.  get to know local google gardening groups through food co-ops or cafes as people who have been gardening for years will have a wealth of knowledge to share.
    Step 4: Get to Know Your Local Resources. Planting an organic garden is a great recycling project: you will become a hunter of everyone’s valuable trash. If you are composting, (highly recommended) collect coffee grounds from your local café; collect leaves in the fall; collect your neighbors’ food scraps; collect your neighbors’ newspapers. If your neighborhood has a Christmas tree mulching program: get free mulch. Find abandoned piles of wooden pallets to make compost bins or raised planting beds. Concrete masonry units (cinder blocks) can be recovered from construction sites to make planting beds as well. Ask local gardeners if they have any saved seeds they would like to share; otherwise, Johnny’s in Maine and Seeds of Change on the west coast are good sources for organic seeds. If you are a new gardener, you might prefer to buy seedlings from organic nurseries in your area. Share tools such as wheelbarrows with neighbors that already have them. Get to know local google gardening groups through food co-ops or cafes as people who have been gardening for years will have a wealth of knowledge to share.

    2
  • img_create a layout.  measure the plot and plan to have planting beds no wider than 5’ with 2’ paths between each bed to give you room to maneuver; imagine your tomatoes and cucumbers 10’ tall and you in the aisle with harvesting baskets or a wheelbarrow.  note: you want fluffy soil for your roots to soak up air, water, and nutrients so never walk on your soil. a good depth for planting beds is 1’. you can mound the soil with mulched paths, or you can build planting boxes to help contain the soil. plan an efficient irrigation system layout if necessary. less turns makes the system easier to install and cheaper. irrigation systems are not as difficult as they seem, but your water pressure will limit how much you can irrigate at once. we install control valves to separate portions of the garden above 400 square feet, but it depends on your water source. lee valley’s staff is very helpful in walking you through the basics for home gardening and their basic system works for most small plots, but it’s not the cheapest system out there.
    Step 5: Create a Layout. Measure the plot and plan to have planting beds no wider than 5’ with 2’ paths between each bed to give you room to maneuver; imagine your tomatoes and cucumbers 10’ tall and you in the aisle with harvesting baskets or a wheelbarrow. NOTE: You want fluffy soil for your roots to soak up air, water, and nutrients so never walk on your soil. A good depth for planting beds is 1’. You can mound the soil with mulched paths, or you can build planting boxes to help contain the soil. Plan an efficient irrigation system layout if necessary. Less turns makes the system easier to install and cheaper. Irrigation systems are not as difficult as they seem, but your water pressure will limit how much you can irrigate at once. We install control valves to separate portions of the garden above 400 square feet, but it depends on your water source. Lee Valley’s staff is very helpful in walking you through the basics for home gardening and their basic system works for most small plots, but it’s not the cheapest system out there.2
  • img_prepare the land.  once you have a layout, you’ll need to get to know your soil.  you can actually have it tested for ph, nutrients and heavy metals at cornell for $75.  if you are in an urban area, you will most likely have high lead content from old lead paints and leaded fuel. you can create a ‘no-dig’ planting zone by layering moistened cardboard, mulch, manure, and compost. the different layers will give the plants the nutrients they need, and they will eventually break down into a nutrient-rich growing medium. trucking top soil is costly and unsustainable but sometimes necessary. another option is to renovate the soil: plant sunflowers for several years which draw lead out of the soil, but these sunflowers have to be disposed as contaminated material.
    Step 6: Prepare the Land. Once you have a layout, you’ll need to get to know your soil. You can actually have it tested for pH, nutrients and heavy metals at Cornell for $75. If you are in an urban area, you will most likely have high lead content from old lead paints and leaded fuel. You can create a ‘no-dig’ planting zone by layering moistened cardboard, mulch, manure, and compost. The different layers will give the plants the nutrients they need, and they will eventually break down into a nutrient-rich growing medium. Trucking top soil is costly and unsustainable but sometimes necessary. Another option is to renovate the soil: plant sunflowers for several years which draw lead out of the soil, but these sunflowers have to be disposed as contaminated material.

    3
  • img_plan crop cycles.  the goal here is to maximize production. four things to consider when you grow produce in small plots: (i) maximizing space-to-yield ratio for each crop, (ii) intercropping, (iii) maximizing vertical space, and (iv) crop rotations. some of the highest yielding plants per square foot in a place like brooklyn are tomatoes, zucchini, lettuce, and swiss chard. plants to avoid due to spatial constraints are corn, brussel spouts, winter squash, and okra. each plant variety has different yields as well. researching local seed websites such as johnny’s will tell you which varieties are high-yield. intercropping (combining crop plantings) is crucial to get the most produce out of your plot, and in some cases helps to control pests. while sweet peppers require 18” spacing for their roots and sunlight, you can plant lettuces in between. the peppers give the lettuce the little bit of shade they require in the hot summer months. we have also intercropped arugula, spinach, and bok choy with our peppers. another typical combination to deter pests is basil and parsley between tomatoes. take advantage of the vertical dimension of your garden. make simple trellises from stakes and twine for tomatoes, pole beans, and cucumbers. the space under the cucumber vines can now be used to grow radishes which will deter cucumber beetles. crop rotations are not only the key to maximizing produce, but also to your soil’s health. plant cool weather crops like spinach and peas in early spring. after harvesting, plant broccoli and kale in their space for fall. long maturing plants like tomatoes and eggplants should be started as early in the spring as possible to maximize the harvest.
    Step 7: Plan Crop Cycles. The goal here is to maximize production. Four things to consider when you grow produce in small plots: (i) maximizing space-to-yield ratio for each crop, (ii) intercropping, (iii) maximizing vertical space, and (iv) crop rotations. Some of the highest yielding plants per square foot in a place like Brooklyn are tomatoes, zucchini, lettuce, and swiss chard. Plants to avoid due to spatial constraints are corn, brussel spouts, winter squash, and okra. Each plant variety has different yields as well. Researching local seed websites such as Johnny’s will tell you which varieties are high-yield. Intercropping (combining crop plantings) is crucial to get the most produce out of your plot, and in some cases helps to control pests. While sweet peppers require 18” spacing for their roots and sunlight, you can plant lettuces in between. The peppers give the lettuce the little bit of shade they require in the hot summer months. We have also intercropped arugula, spinach, and bok choy with our peppers. Another typical combination to deter pests is basil and parsley between tomatoes. Take advantage of the vertical dimension of your garden. Make simple trellises from stakes and twine for tomatoes, pole beans, and cucumbers. The space under the cucumber vines can now be used to grow radishes which will deter cucumber beetles. Crop rotations are not only the key to maximizing produce, but also to your soil’s health. Plant cool weather crops like spinach and peas in early spring. After harvesting, plant broccoli and kale in their space for fall. Long maturing plants like tomatoes and eggplants should be started as early in the spring as possible to maximize the harvest.2
  • img_bribe your friends to help build the garden.  offer to compensate your friends with food and drink. they’ll enjoy getting their hands dirty and the plants will feel the love and attention lavished on them. preparing planting beds is easy, but takes some heavy lifting. if you are building on top of your lawn, you can pile the 12” of soil / compost right on top. it’s easier than turning the lawn over and the grass will naturally die on its own. if you are planting near weeds, be sure to pull them up, roots included, otherwise you can expect trouble later on. if you are building boxes, build 3 sides first to allow for easy access with a wheelbarrow. it’s much easier than dumping materials over the edge of the box. if you are building a compost bin, screw 4 wooden pallets together for the bottom and three sides. build an operable door for the front: this is your access to the compost later. wrap the compost bin in a wire mesh to keep the rodents from finding your black gold. for the top, you can either build an operable plastic lid or stretch plastic across the top and hold it down with rocks. now, let them really get their hands dirty. have them transplant your spring seedlings into the new planting beds using lots of compost around the roots. transplanting is a great reward as your friends transition from the hard labor of building planters to holding a delicate root ball in their hands. your friends will want to come back and visit the plants later to marvel at how much they have grown.
    Step 8: Bribe your Friends to Help Build the Garden. Offer to compensate your friends with food and drink. They’ll enjoy getting their hands dirty and the plants will feel the love and attention lavished on them. Preparing planting beds is easy, but takes some heavy lifting. If you are building on top of your lawn, you can pile the 12” of soil / compost right on top. It’s easier than turning the lawn over and the grass will naturally die on its own. If you are planting near weeds, be sure to pull them up, roots included, otherwise you can expect trouble later on. If you are building boxes, build 3 sides first to allow for easy access with a wheelbarrow. It’s much easier than dumping materials over the edge of the box. If you are building a compost bin, screw 4 wooden pallets together for the bottom and three sides. Build an operable door for the front: this is your access to the compost later. Wrap the compost bin in a wire mesh to keep the rodents from finding your black gold. For the top, you can either build an operable plastic lid or stretch plastic across the top and hold it down with rocks. Now, let them really get their hands dirty. Have them transplant your spring seedlings into the new planting beds using lots of compost around the roots. Transplanting is a great reward as your friends transition from the hard labor of building planters to holding a delicate root ball in their hands. Your friends will want to come back and visit the plants later to marvel at how much they have grown.1
  • img_prepare the seeds.  if you have a sunny windowsill, get a head start on growing seeds for the spring several weeks before the last frost. seeds benefit from the warmer indoor soil temperatures. when you transplant your seedlings outside after the last frost, they will already be small plants. you are several weeks closer to getting produce out of your garden. make pots out of old newspapers and you can transplant them directly into the garden. the newspaper will decompose and enrich your soil. use organic soil and keep the soil in your pots fluffy to allow the roots some space to grow. if you buy seeds, please follow the directions on the packet. generally, you want to cover each seed with about as much soil as the seed is big. plant a lot of seeds as not all of them will germinate. keep soil moist with a spray bottle. if your space is really dry, you might have to add more water to keep the soil moist. when the plants are six inches high, it is time to transplant them outside. if you don’t have luck growing from seed, you can always buy seedlings from a local organic nursery.
    Step 9: Prepare the Seeds. If you have a sunny windowsill, get a head start on growing seeds for the spring several weeks before the last frost. Seeds benefit from the warmer indoor soil temperatures. When you transplant your seedlings outside after the last frost, they will already be small plants. You are several weeks closer to getting produce out of your garden. Make pots out of old newspapers and you can transplant them directly into the garden. The newspaper will decompose and enrich your soil. Use organic soil and keep the soil in your pots fluffy to allow the roots some space to grow. If you buy seeds, please follow the directions on the packet. Generally, you want to cover each seed with about as much soil as the seed is big. Plant a lot of seeds as not all of them will germinate. Keep soil moist with a spray bottle. If your space is really dry, you might have to add more water to keep the soil moist. When the plants are six inches high, it is time to transplant them outside. If you don’t have luck growing from seed, you can always buy seedlings from a local organic nursery.

    2
  • img_control the pests.  the key to controlling pests in an organic garden is to be vigilant and to know the reproductive cycles of the pests in your area. in brooklyn, if you understand the reproductive cycles of squash vine borers, aphids, cucumber beetles, and cabbage moths you will have the major pests covered. you don’t need any chemicals: if the bugs eat a little bit of your veggies, it means they’re healthy! keep in mind, if you are growing in an established eco-system, you will have beneficial insects like praying mantes, wasps, and ladybugs that all prey on pests. however, if you are growing on a rooftop, you will be creating an eco-system from scratch and the pests will find you before the beneficial insects do. you can buy praying mantes and ladybugs online, but only if you have the habitat for them, otherwise they won’t stick around.  squash vine borers and cucumber beetles are the most damaging: you want to prevent them from getting on your plant. you cannot see the hundreds of eggs laid by the beautiful squash vine borer moth, so you will want to wipe the stems of all hollow-vined squash plants with a damp cloth during egg laying periods. once there, the squash borer will decimate your squash yield and over winter in the soil. the cucumber beetle lays hundreds of orange eggs on the underside of the leaves or on the soil at the base of the plant. you want to dispose of all eggs and beetles in soapy water. cucumber beetles can spread disease including verticillium wilt that can stay in your soil for years. aphids and caterpillars from cabbage moths are less threatening, but can accumulate quickly. spraying aphids off your plants with water is very effective if you catch them early. if they start to accumulate, you can spray with a little soapy water. spraying cabbage moth eggs off of plants is effective, but if you find any caterpillars, you should squash them between your fingers. if in doubt, drop any pests in soapy water to dispose of them, and never put diseased plants in your compost.
    Step 10: Control the Pests. The key to controlling pests in an organic garden is to be vigilant and to know the reproductive cycles of the pests in your area. In Brooklyn, if you understand the reproductive cycles of squash vine borers, aphids, cucumber beetles, and cabbage moths you will have the major pests covered. You don’t need any chemicals: if the bugs eat a little bit of your veggies, it means they’re healthy! Keep in mind, if you are growing in an established eco-system, you will have beneficial insects like praying mantes, wasps, and ladybugs that all prey on pests. However, if you are growing on a rooftop, you will be creating an eco-system from scratch and the pests will find you before the beneficial insects do. You can buy praying mantes and ladybugs online, but only if you have the habitat for them, otherwise they won’t stick around. Squash vine borers and cucumber beetles are the most damaging: you want to prevent them from getting on your plant. You cannot see the hundreds of eggs laid by the beautiful squash vine borer moth, so you will want to wipe the stems of all hollow-vined squash plants with a damp cloth during egg laying periods. Once there, the squash borer will decimate your squash yield and over winter in the soil. The cucumber beetle lays hundreds of orange eggs on the underside of the leaves or on the soil at the base of the plant. You want to dispose of all eggs and beetles in soapy water. Cucumber beetles can spread disease including verticillium wilt that can stay in your soil for years. Aphids and caterpillars from cabbage moths are less threatening, but can accumulate quickly. Spraying aphids off your plants with water is very effective if you catch them early. If they start to accumulate, you can spray with a little soapy water. Spraying cabbage moth eggs off of plants is effective, but if you find any caterpillars, you should squash them between your fingers. If in doubt, drop any pests in soapy water to dispose of them, and NEVER put diseased plants in your compost.

    4
  • img_maintain your garden.  your garden needs water, weeding, and composting to keep it thriving. soil should stay moist to the touch, but should not pool water. if you are in your garden every day, you can test with your fingers and add water as required. if you have a drip irrigation system, you can turn on the water for a couple hours a day when it doesn’t rain. drip irrigation is the most efficient way to keep soil moist. you can get an automatic timer for your irrigation if you spend a lot of time away from your garden. experiment with watering schedules to see how plants respond. mulching can help retain your soil’s water and reduce weeds, but if you choose not to mulch, you should hoe at least every other day at the start of the season to reduce weeds. as the plants reach maturity, you won’t need to hoe anymore, because the shade of the plants will prevent weed growth.  lastly, compost, compost, compost! the more organic matter in your soil, the more productive it will be. composting your food scraps is easy. layer in your food scraps with plenty of brown matter (fallen leaves, sawdust, or shredded wet newspaper) brown matter speeds up the decaying process and keeps the compost from smelling. your compost should really cook: 135-155 degrees will ensure that any seeds or plant diseases are killed. use your compost when you plant new seeds to nourish the soil. all your plants will benefit from brewed compost tea. compost tea will fertilize your plants, prevent disease, increase nutritional value, and make your veggies taste better. compost is truly a miracle of life in your garden. at the end of the growing season, let some plants go to seed and save them for next year. plant cover crops over the winter to add organic matter to your soil and replenish nutrients: rye and hairy vetch work well in brooklyn.
    Step 11: Maintain your Garden. Your garden needs water, weeding, and composting to keep it thriving. Soil should stay moist to the touch, but should not pool water. If you are in your garden every day, you can test with your fingers and add water as required. If you have a drip irrigation system, you can turn on the water for a couple hours a day when it doesn’t rain. Drip irrigation is the most efficient way to keep soil moist. You can get an automatic timer for your irrigation if you spend a lot of time away from your garden. Experiment with watering schedules to see how plants respond. Mulching can help retain your soil’s water and reduce weeds, but if you choose not to mulch, you should hoe at least every other day at the start of the season to reduce weeds. As the plants reach maturity, you won’t need to hoe anymore, because the shade of the plants will prevent weed growth. Lastly, compost, compost, compost! The more organic matter in your soil, the more productive it will be. Composting your food scraps is easy. Layer in your food scraps with plenty of brown matter (fallen leaves, sawdust, or shredded wet newspaper) Brown matter speeds up the decaying process and keeps the compost from smelling. Your compost should really cook: 135-155 degrees will ensure that any seeds or plant diseases are killed. Use your compost when you plant new seeds to nourish the soil. All your plants will benefit from brewed compost tea. Compost tea will fertilize your plants, prevent disease, increase nutritional value, and make your veggies taste better. Compost is truly a miracle of life in your garden. At the end of the growing season, let some plants go to seed and save them for next year. Plant cover crops over the winter to add organic matter to your soil and replenish nutrients: rye and hairy vetch work well in Brooklyn.

    3
  • img_harvest your bounty.  throw a harvest party, and allow your friends to experience the first-hand excitement of picking their own food! generally, you want to eat your bounty as soon as you harvest: flavor and nutrients decrease as time passes. pick your carrots when the soil is cooler (early morning) and they will be sweeter. beets picked after the first frost of the fall are particularly sweet. the flavor of kale, while not a root vegetable, also benefits from the first frost. tomatoes taste spectacular when picked at the hottest time of the day. green beans and zucchini benefit from picking them when they are small. you will lose flavor and texture in green beans and zucchini if you let them grow too big.  try to harvest lettuce earlier in the day before the sun stresses them. experiment with the varieties you grow: see if you can taste a difference.
    Step 12: Harvest your Bounty. Throw a harvest party, and allow your friends to experience the first-hand excitement of picking their own food! Generally, you want to eat your bounty as soon as you harvest: flavor and nutrients decrease as time passes. Pick your carrots when the soil is cooler (early morning) and they will be sweeter. Beets picked after the first frost of the fall are particularly sweet. The flavor of kale, while not a root vegetable, also benefits from the first frost. Tomatoes taste spectacular when picked at the hottest time of the day. Green beans and zucchini benefit from picking them when they are small. You will lose flavor and texture in green beans and zucchini if you let them grow too big. Try to harvest lettuce earlier in the day before the sun stresses them. Experiment with the varieties you grow: see if you can taste a difference.

    2
  • img_eat lavishly and celebrate your bounty.  get creative with your new homegrown veggies. soon you will be eating seasonally and loving it. you will learn why many recipes put particular flavors together: because they come out of the garden side-by-side. everyone loves a tomato with basil, but why not throw in some green beans as well. simple raw salads will emphasize the flavor of each veggie. sautéing any vegetable in olive oil, salt, and pepper is an easy way to bring out the vegetables natural flavor as well. some veggies come as a complete recipe: try sautéing your beet greens in some garlic, and boiling your beets to go over the top. the sweet beets and the bitter greens balance each other out. think about what is available at the farmers market or in your neighbor’s yard to supplement your bounty. collard greens are easy to grow, and they taste fabulous with some bacon from a local farmer. bring your concoction to work and show off the fruits of your labor. have your friends over and give them free reign to see what they harvest and prepare. i know it sounds like you are inviting them over to cook for you, but they will love it and you will learn new recipes. be prepared: you are about to start bragging about how your tomatoes or your eggplant is the best in the world. this is normal. it is a celebration of life.
    Step 13: Eat Lavishly and Celebrate your Bounty. Get creative with your new homegrown veggies. Soon you will be eating seasonally and loving it. You will learn why many recipes put particular flavors together: because they come out of the garden side-by-side. Everyone loves a tomato with basil, but why not throw in some green beans as well. Simple raw salads will emphasize the flavor of each veggie. Sautéing any vegetable in olive oil, salt, and pepper is an easy way to bring out the vegetables natural flavor as well. Some veggies come as a complete recipe: try sautéing your beet greens in some garlic, and boiling your beets to go over the top. The sweet beets and the bitter greens balance each other out. Think about what is available at the farmers market or in your neighbor’s yard to supplement your bounty. Collard greens are easy to grow, and they taste fabulous with some bacon from a local farmer. Bring your concoction to work and show off the fruits of your labor. Have your friends over and give them free reign to see what they harvest and prepare. I know it sounds like you are inviting them over to cook for you, but they will love it and you will learn new recipes. Be prepared: you are about to start bragging about how your tomatoes or your eggplant is the BEST in the world. This is normal. It is a celebration of life.1
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  • img_check out our video introduction.  http://www.vimeo.com/6137263
    Step 1: Check Out Our Video Introduction. http://www.vimeo.com/6137263

    1
  • img_identify a receptive plot.  growing your own food does not require a lot of space.  a 250 square foot plot can provide your family of four all their vegetables during the growing season.  growing food does require a lot of sun, optimally, 6-8 hours a day.  rooftops are an excellent space for growing food, but keep in mind that you’ll have to get a lot of resources up to the roof.  you do not want to go over a couple hundred square feet without asking an engineer to assess the structure.  if you do not have a green roof, you can grow in children’s pools or containers.  wherever you grow, make sure you get permission from the landlord, if necessary.
    Step 2: Identify a Receptive Plot. Growing your own food does not require a lot of space. A 250 square foot plot can provide your family of four all their vegetables during the growing season. Growing food does require a lot of sun, optimally, 6-8 hours a day. Rooftops are an excellent space for growing food, but keep in mind that you’ll have to get a lot of resources up to the roof. You do not want to go over a couple hundred square feet without asking an engineer to assess the structure. If you do not have a green roof, you can grow in children’s pools or containers. Wherever you grow, make sure you get permission from the landlord, if necessary.2
  • img_set a budget.  if you buy everything new, you can expect to spend $5-$6 a square foot. this includes soil, compost, manure, soil amendments, seeds, seedlings, irrigation system, mulch, and planting boxes. depending on the size of your site, additional costs may include a compost bin, rainwater harvesting system, and a greenhouse. if you are on a tight budget and are willing to put in sweat equity, you can often find abandoned or donated materials.  for example, you can build a compost bin from abandoned wood pallets, some hardware, and wire mesh for about $100.  a rainwater harvesting system can be built from a repurposed olive barrel and some plumbing components for under $100.  you can build your own greenhouse from recycled windows. your maintenance cost will be approximately $100 for every 300 square feet per year to cover soil amendments and seeds.
    Step 3: Set a Budget. If you buy everything new, you can expect to spend $5-$6 a square foot. This includes soil, compost, manure, soil amendments, seeds, seedlings, irrigation system, mulch, and planting boxes. Depending on the size of your site, additional costs may include a compost bin, rainwater harvesting system, and a greenhouse. If you are on a tight budget and are willing to put in sweat equity, you can often find abandoned or donated materials. For example, you can build a compost bin from abandoned wood pallets, some hardware, and wire mesh for about $100. A rainwater harvesting system can be built from a repurposed olive barrel and some plumbing components for under $100. You can build your own greenhouse from recycled windows. Your maintenance cost will be approximately $100 for every 300 square feet per year to cover soil amendments and seeds.

    3
  • img_get to know your local resources.  planting an organic garden is a great recycling project: you will become a hunter of everyone’s valuable trash. if you are composting, (highly recommended) collect coffee grounds from your local café; collect leaves in the fall; collect your neighbors’ food scraps; collect your neighbors’ newspapers. if your neighborhood has a christmas tree mulching program: get free mulch. find abandoned piles of wooden pallets to make compost bins or raised planting beds. concrete masonry units (cinder blocks) can be recovered from construction sites to make planting beds as well. ask local gardeners if they have any saved seeds they would like to share; otherwise, johnny’s in maine and seeds of change on the west coast are good sources for organic seeds. if you are a new gardener, you might prefer to buy seedlings from organic nurseries in your area.  share tools such as wheelbarrows with neighbors that already have them.  get to know local google gardening groups through food co-ops or cafes as people who have been gardening for years will have a wealth of knowledge to share.
    Step 4: Get to Know Your Local Resources. Planting an organic garden is a great recycling project: you will become a hunter of everyone’s valuable trash. If you are composting, (highly recommended) collect coffee grounds from your local café; collect leaves in the fall; collect your neighbors’ food scraps; collect your neighbors’ newspapers. If your neighborhood has a Christmas tree mulching program: get free mulch. Find abandoned piles of wooden pallets to make compost bins or raised planting beds. Concrete masonry units (cinder blocks) can be recovered from construction sites to make planting beds as well. Ask local gardeners if they have any saved seeds they would like to share; otherwise, Johnny’s in Maine and Seeds of Change on the west coast are good sources for organic seeds. If you are a new gardener, you might prefer to buy seedlings from organic nurseries in your area. Share tools such as wheelbarrows with neighbors that already have them. Get to know local google gardening groups through food co-ops or cafes as people who have been gardening for years will have a wealth of knowledge to share.

    2
  • img_create a layout.  measure the plot and plan to have planting beds no wider than 5’ with 2’ paths between each bed to give you room to maneuver; imagine your tomatoes and cucumbers 10’ tall and you in the aisle with harvesting baskets or a wheelbarrow.  note: you want fluffy soil for your roots to soak up air, water, and nutrients so never walk on your soil. a good depth for planting beds is 1’. you can mound the soil with mulched paths, or you can build planting boxes to help contain the soil. plan an efficient irrigation system layout if necessary. less turns makes the system easier to install and cheaper. irrigation systems are not as difficult as they seem, but your water pressure will limit how much you can irrigate at once. we install control valves to separate portions of the garden above 400 square feet, but it depends on your water source. lee valley’s staff is very helpful in walking you through the basics for home gardening and their basic system works for most small plots, but it’s not the cheapest system out there.
    Step 5: Create a Layout. Measure the plot and plan to have planting beds no wider than 5’ with 2’ paths between each bed to give you room to maneuver; imagine your tomatoes and cucumbers 10’ tall and you in the aisle with harvesting baskets or a wheelbarrow. NOTE: You want fluffy soil for your roots to soak up air, water, and nutrients so never walk on your soil. A good depth for planting beds is 1’. You can mound the soil with mulched paths, or you can build planting boxes to help contain the soil. Plan an efficient irrigation system layout if necessary. Less turns makes the system easier to install and cheaper. Irrigation systems are not as difficult as they seem, but your water pressure will limit how much you can irrigate at once. We install control valves to separate portions of the garden above 400 square feet, but it depends on your water source. Lee Valley’s staff is very helpful in walking you through the basics for home gardening and their basic system works for most small plots, but it’s not the cheapest system out there.2
  • img_prepare the land.  once you have a layout, you’ll need to get to know your soil.  you can actually have it tested for ph, nutrients and heavy metals at cornell for $75.  if you are in an urban area, you will most likely have high lead content from old lead paints and leaded fuel. you can create a ‘no-dig’ planting zone by layering moistened cardboard, mulch, manure, and compost. the different layers will give the plants the nutrients they need, and they will eventually break down into a nutrient-rich growing medium. trucking top soil is costly and unsustainable but sometimes necessary. another option is to renovate the soil: plant sunflowers for several years which draw lead out of the soil, but these sunflowers have to be disposed as contaminated material.
    Step 6: Prepare the Land. Once you have a layout, you’ll need to get to know your soil. You can actually have it tested for pH, nutrients and heavy metals at Cornell for $75. If you are in an urban area, you will most likely have high lead content from old lead paints and leaded fuel. You can create a ‘no-dig’ planting zone by layering moistened cardboard, mulch, manure, and compost. The different layers will give the plants the nutrients they need, and they will eventually break down into a nutrient-rich growing medium. Trucking top soil is costly and unsustainable but sometimes necessary. Another option is to renovate the soil: plant sunflowers for several years which draw lead out of the soil, but these sunflowers have to be disposed as contaminated material.

    3
  • img_plan crop cycles.  the goal here is to maximize production. four things to consider when you grow produce in small plots: (i) maximizing space-to-yield ratio for each crop, (ii) intercropping, (iii) maximizing vertical space, and (iv) crop rotations. some of the highest yielding plants per square foot in a place like brooklyn are tomatoes, zucchini, lettuce, and swiss chard. plants to avoid due to spatial constraints are corn, brussel spouts, winter squash, and okra. each plant variety has different yields as well. researching local seed websites such as johnny’s will tell you which varieties are high-yield. intercropping (combining crop plantings) is crucial to get the most produce out of your plot, and in some cases helps to control pests. while sweet peppers require 18” spacing for their roots and sunlight, you can plant lettuces in between. the peppers give the lettuce the little bit of shade they require in the hot summer months. we have also intercropped arugula, spinach, and bok choy with our peppers. another typical combination to deter pests is basil and parsley between tomatoes. take advantage of the vertical dimension of your garden. make simple trellises from stakes and twine for tomatoes, pole beans, and cucumbers. the space under the cucumber vines can now be used to grow radishes which will deter cucumber beetles. crop rotations are not only the key to maximizing produce, but also to your soil’s health. plant cool weather crops like spinach and peas in early spring. after harvesting, plant broccoli and kale in their space for fall. long maturing plants like tomatoes and eggplants should be started as early in the spring as possible to maximize the harvest.
    Step 7: Plan Crop Cycles. The goal here is to maximize production. Four things to consider when you grow produce in small plots: (i) maximizing space-to-yield ratio for each crop, (ii) intercropping, (iii) maximizing vertical space, and (iv) crop rotations. Some of the highest yielding plants per square foot in a place like Brooklyn are tomatoes, zucchini, lettuce, and swiss chard. Plants to avoid due to spatial constraints are corn, brussel spouts, winter squash, and okra. Each plant variety has different yields as well. Researching local seed websites such as Johnny’s will tell you which varieties are high-yield. Intercropping (combining crop plantings) is crucial to get the most produce out of your plot, and in some cases helps to control pests. While sweet peppers require 18” spacing for their roots and sunlight, you can plant lettuces in between. The peppers give the lettuce the little bit of shade they require in the hot summer months. We have also intercropped arugula, spinach, and bok choy with our peppers. Another typical combination to deter pests is basil and parsley between tomatoes. Take advantage of the vertical dimension of your garden. Make simple trellises from stakes and twine for tomatoes, pole beans, and cucumbers. The space under the cucumber vines can now be used to grow radishes which will deter cucumber beetles. Crop rotations are not only the key to maximizing produce, but also to your soil’s health. Plant cool weather crops like spinach and peas in early spring. After harvesting, plant broccoli and kale in their space for fall. Long maturing plants like tomatoes and eggplants should be started as early in the spring as possible to maximize the harvest.2
  • img_bribe your friends to help build the garden.  offer to compensate your friends with food and drink. they’ll enjoy getting their hands dirty and the plants will feel the love and attention lavished on them. preparing planting beds is easy, but takes some heavy lifting. if you are building on top of your lawn, you can pile the 12” of soil / compost right on top. it’s easier than turning the lawn over and the grass will naturally die on its own. if you are planting near weeds, be sure to pull them up, roots included, otherwise you can expect trouble later on. if you are building boxes, build 3 sides first to allow for easy access with a wheelbarrow. it’s much easier than dumping materials over the edge of the box. if you are building a compost bin, screw 4 wooden pallets together for the bottom and three sides. build an operable door for the front: this is your access to the compost later. wrap the compost bin in a wire mesh to keep the rodents from finding your black gold. for the top, you can either build an operable plastic lid or stretch plastic across the top and hold it down with rocks. now, let them really get their hands dirty. have them transplant your spring seedlings into the new planting beds using lots of compost around the roots. transplanting is a great reward as your friends transition from the hard labor of building planters to holding a delicate root ball in their hands. your friends will want to come back and visit the plants later to marvel at how much they have grown.
    Step 8: Bribe your Friends to Help Build the Garden. Offer to compensate your friends with food and drink. They’ll enjoy getting their hands dirty and the plants will feel the love and attention lavished on them. Preparing planting beds is easy, but takes some heavy lifting. If you are building on top of your lawn, you can pile the 12” of soil / compost right on top. It’s easier than turning the lawn over and the grass will naturally die on its own. If you are planting near weeds, be sure to pull them up, roots included, otherwise you can expect trouble later on. If you are building boxes, build 3 sides first to allow for easy access with a wheelbarrow. It’s much easier than dumping materials over the edge of the box. If you are building a compost bin, screw 4 wooden pallets together for the bottom and three sides. Build an operable door for the front: this is your access to the compost later. Wrap the compost bin in a wire mesh to keep the rodents from finding your black gold. For the top, you can either build an operable plastic lid or stretch plastic across the top and hold it down with rocks. Now, let them really get their hands dirty. Have them transplant your spring seedlings into the new planting beds using lots of compost around the roots. Transplanting is a great reward as your friends transition from the hard labor of building planters to holding a delicate root ball in their hands. Your friends will want to come back and visit the plants later to marvel at how much they have grown.1
  • img_prepare the seeds.  if you have a sunny windowsill, get a head start on growing seeds for the spring several weeks before the last frost. seeds benefit from the warmer indoor soil temperatures. when you transplant your seedlings outside after the last frost, they will already be small plants. you are several weeks closer to getting produce out of your garden. make pots out of old newspapers and you can transplant them directly into the garden. the newspaper will decompose and enrich your soil. use organic soil and keep the soil in your pots fluffy to allow the roots some space to grow. if you buy seeds, please follow the directions on the packet. generally, you want to cover each seed with about as much soil as the seed is big. plant a lot of seeds as not all of them will germinate. keep soil moist with a spray bottle. if your space is really dry, you might have to add more water to keep the soil moist. when the plants are six inches high, it is time to transplant them outside. if you don’t have luck growing from seed, you can always buy seedlings from a local organic nursery.
    Step 9: Prepare the Seeds. If you have a sunny windowsill, get a head start on growing seeds for the spring several weeks before the last frost. Seeds benefit from the warmer indoor soil temperatures. When you transplant your seedlings outside after the last frost, they will already be small plants. You are several weeks closer to getting produce out of your garden. Make pots out of old newspapers and you can transplant them directly into the garden. The newspaper will decompose and enrich your soil. Use organic soil and keep the soil in your pots fluffy to allow the roots some space to grow. If you buy seeds, please follow the directions on the packet. Generally, you want to cover each seed with about as much soil as the seed is big. Plant a lot of seeds as not all of them will germinate. Keep soil moist with a spray bottle. If your space is really dry, you might have to add more water to keep the soil moist. When the plants are six inches high, it is time to transplant them outside. If you don’t have luck growing from seed, you can always buy seedlings from a local organic nursery.

    2
  • img_control the pests.  the key to controlling pests in an organic garden is to be vigilant and to know the reproductive cycles of the pests in your area. in brooklyn, if you understand the reproductive cycles of squash vine borers, aphids, cucumber beetles, and cabbage moths you will have the major pests covered. you don’t need any chemicals: if the bugs eat a little bit of your veggies, it means they’re healthy! keep in mind, if you are growing in an established eco-system, you will have beneficial insects like praying mantes, wasps, and ladybugs that all prey on pests. however, if you are growing on a rooftop, you will be creating an eco-system from scratch and the pests will find you before the beneficial insects do. you can buy praying mantes and ladybugs online, but only if you have the habitat for them, otherwise they won’t stick around.  squash vine borers and cucumber beetles are the most damaging: you want to prevent them from getting on your plant. you cannot see the hundreds of eggs laid by the beautiful squash vine borer moth, so you will want to wipe the stems of all hollow-vined squash plants with a damp cloth during egg laying periods. once there, the squash borer will decimate your squash yield and over winter in the soil. the cucumber beetle lays hundreds of orange eggs on the underside of the leaves or on the soil at the base of the plant. you want to dispose of all eggs and beetles in soapy water. cucumber beetles can spread disease including verticillium wilt that can stay in your soil for years. aphids and caterpillars from cabbage moths are less threatening, but can accumulate quickly. spraying aphids off your plants with water is very effective if you catch them early. if they start to accumulate, you can spray with a little soapy water. spraying cabbage moth eggs off of plants is effective, but if you find any caterpillars, you should squash them between your fingers. if in doubt, drop any pests in soapy water to dispose of them, and never put diseased plants in your compost.
    Step 10: Control the Pests. The key to controlling pests in an organic garden is to be vigilant and to know the reproductive cycles of the pests in your area. In Brooklyn, if you understand the reproductive cycles of squash vine borers, aphids, cucumber beetles, and cabbage moths you will have the major pests covered. You don’t need any chemicals: if the bugs eat a little bit of your veggies, it means they’re healthy! Keep in mind, if you are growing in an established eco-system, you will have beneficial insects like praying mantes, wasps, and ladybugs that all prey on pests. However, if you are growing on a rooftop, you will be creating an eco-system from scratch and the pests will find you before the beneficial insects do. You can buy praying mantes and ladybugs online, but only if you have the habitat for them, otherwise they won’t stick around. Squash vine borers and cucumber beetles are the most damaging: you want to prevent them from getting on your plant. You cannot see the hundreds of eggs laid by the beautiful squash vine borer moth, so you will want to wipe the stems of all hollow-vined squash plants with a damp cloth during egg laying periods. Once there, the squash borer will decimate your squash yield and over winter in the soil. The cucumber beetle lays hundreds of orange eggs on the underside of the leaves or on the soil at the base of the plant. You want to dispose of all eggs and beetles in soapy water. Cucumber beetles can spread disease including verticillium wilt that can stay in your soil for years. Aphids and caterpillars from cabbage moths are less threatening, but can accumulate quickly. Spraying aphids off your plants with water is very effective if you catch them early. If they start to accumulate, you can spray with a little soapy water. Spraying cabbage moth eggs off of plants is effective, but if you find any caterpillars, you should squash them between your fingers. If in doubt, drop any pests in soapy water to dispose of them, and NEVER put diseased plants in your compost.

    4
  • img_maintain your garden.  your garden needs water, weeding, and composting to keep it thriving. soil should stay moist to the touch, but should not pool water. if you are in your garden every day, you can test with your fingers and add water as required. if you have a drip irrigation system, you can turn on the water for a couple hours a day when it doesn’t rain. drip irrigation is the most efficient way to keep soil moist. you can get an automatic timer for your irrigation if you spend a lot of time away from your garden. experiment with watering schedules to see how plants respond. mulching can help retain your soil’s water and reduce weeds, but if you choose not to mulch, you should hoe at least every other day at the start of the season to reduce weeds. as the plants reach maturity, you won’t need to hoe anymore, because the shade of the plants will prevent weed growth.  lastly, compost, compost, compost! the more organic matter in your soil, the more productive it will be. composting your food scraps is easy. layer in your food scraps with plenty of brown matter (fallen leaves, sawdust, or shredded wet newspaper) brown matter speeds up the decaying process and keeps the compost from smelling. your compost should really cook: 135-155 degrees will ensure that any seeds or plant diseases are killed. use your compost when you plant new seeds to nourish the soil. all your plants will benefit from brewed compost tea. compost tea will fertilize your plants, prevent disease, increase nutritional value, and make your veggies taste better. compost is truly a miracle of life in your garden. at the end of the growing season, let some plants go to seed and save them for next year. plant cover crops over the winter to add organic matter to your soil and replenish nutrients: rye and hairy vetch work well in brooklyn.
    Step 11: Maintain your Garden. Your garden needs water, weeding, and composting to keep it thriving. Soil should stay moist to the touch, but should not pool water. If you are in your garden every day, you can test with your fingers and add water as required. If you have a drip irrigation system, you can turn on the water for a couple hours a day when it doesn’t rain. Drip irrigation is the most efficient way to keep soil moist. You can get an automatic timer for your irrigation if you spend a lot of time away from your garden. Experiment with watering schedules to see how plants respond. Mulching can help retain your soil’s water and reduce weeds, but if you choose not to mulch, you should hoe at least every other day at the start of the season to reduce weeds. As the plants reach maturity, you won’t need to hoe anymore, because the shade of the plants will prevent weed growth. Lastly, compost, compost, compost! The more organic matter in your soil, the more productive it will be. Composting your food scraps is easy. Layer in your food scraps with plenty of brown matter (fallen leaves, sawdust, or shredded wet newspaper) Brown matter speeds up the decaying process and keeps the compost from smelling. Your compost should really cook: 135-155 degrees will ensure that any seeds or plant diseases are killed. Use your compost when you plant new seeds to nourish the soil. All your plants will benefit from brewed compost tea. Compost tea will fertilize your plants, prevent disease, increase nutritional value, and make your veggies taste better. Compost is truly a miracle of life in your garden. At the end of the growing season, let some plants go to seed and save them for next year. Plant cover crops over the winter to add organic matter to your soil and replenish nutrients: rye and hairy vetch work well in Brooklyn.

    3
  • img_harvest your bounty.  throw a harvest party, and allow your friends to experience the first-hand excitement of picking their own food! generally, you want to eat your bounty as soon as you harvest: flavor and nutrients decrease as time passes. pick your carrots when the soil is cooler (early morning) and they will be sweeter. beets picked after the first frost of the fall are particularly sweet. the flavor of kale, while not a root vegetable, also benefits from the first frost. tomatoes taste spectacular when picked at the hottest time of the day. green beans and zucchini benefit from picking them when they are small. you will lose flavor and texture in green beans and zucchini if you let them grow too big.  try to harvest lettuce earlier in the day before the sun stresses them. experiment with the varieties you grow: see if you can taste a difference.
    Step 12: Harvest your Bounty. Throw a harvest party, and allow your friends to experience the first-hand excitement of picking their own food! Generally, you want to eat your bounty as soon as you harvest: flavor and nutrients decrease as time passes. Pick your carrots when the soil is cooler (early morning) and they will be sweeter. Beets picked after the first frost of the fall are particularly sweet. The flavor of kale, while not a root vegetable, also benefits from the first frost. Tomatoes taste spectacular when picked at the hottest time of the day. Green beans and zucchini benefit from picking them when they are small. You will lose flavor and texture in green beans and zucchini if you let them grow too big. Try to harvest lettuce earlier in the day before the sun stresses them. Experiment with the varieties you grow: see if you can taste a difference.

    2
  • img_eat lavishly and celebrate your bounty.  get creative with your new homegrown veggies. soon you will be eating seasonally and loving it. you will learn why many recipes put particular flavors together: because they come out of the garden side-by-side. everyone loves a tomato with basil, but why not throw in some green beans as well. simple raw salads will emphasize the flavor of each veggie. sautéing any vegetable in olive oil, salt, and pepper is an easy way to bring out the vegetables natural flavor as well. some veggies come as a complete recipe: try sautéing your beet greens in some garlic, and boiling your beets to go over the top. the sweet beets and the bitter greens balance each other out. think about what is available at the farmers market or in your neighbor’s yard to supplement your bounty. collard greens are easy to grow, and they taste fabulous with some bacon from a local farmer. bring your concoction to work and show off the fruits of your labor. have your friends over and give them free reign to see what they harvest and prepare. i know it sounds like you are inviting them over to cook for you, but they will love it and you will learn new recipes. be prepared: you are about to start bragging about how your tomatoes or your eggplant is the best in the world. this is normal. it is a celebration of life.
    Step 13: Eat Lavishly and Celebrate your Bounty. Get creative with your new homegrown veggies. Soon you will be eating seasonally and loving it. You will learn why many recipes put particular flavors together: because they come out of the garden side-by-side. Everyone loves a tomato with basil, but why not throw in some green beans as well. Simple raw salads will emphasize the flavor of each veggie. Sautéing any vegetable in olive oil, salt, and pepper is an easy way to bring out the vegetables natural flavor as well. Some veggies come as a complete recipe: try sautéing your beet greens in some garlic, and boiling your beets to go over the top. The sweet beets and the bitter greens balance each other out. Think about what is available at the farmers market or in your neighbor’s yard to supplement your bounty. Collard greens are easy to grow, and they taste fabulous with some bacon from a local farmer. Bring your concoction to work and show off the fruits of your labor. Have your friends over and give them free reign to see what they harvest and prepare. I know it sounds like you are inviting them over to cook for you, but they will love it and you will learn new recipes. Be prepared: you are about to start bragging about how your tomatoes or your eggplant is the BEST in the world. This is normal. It is a celebration of life.1
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