Healthy Beginnings

The dos and don’ts of organic gardening in the Sierra

Chard

There is nothing more rewarding than growing your own food. Gardening can improve physical health through healthier eating and physical activity, while spending time outdoors and contact with beneficial bacteria found in soil have been proven to improve mental health.

Do: Feed Your Soil

We often don’t think of soil as a living thing — but that is what healthy soil is. It is not only the dirt and organic matter that we see, but a whole host of other organisms — from microscopic bacteria to earthworms and centipedes, all of which play an important role in the soil health.

These organisms help to keep the soil healthy and fertile by breaking down large matter and oxygenating the soil, allowing for plant growth.

You may need to continuously amend your soil throughout the growing season to help it to support a healthy garden. Amendments like manure and vermiculite can help to improve soil health and drainage.

Brassica

Also — if you are able to build a compost bin or pile that is wildlife-proof, composting is an unparalleled way to dispose of food scraps while creating live soil.

Don’t: Over-Fertilize

It’s important to feed your soil, but too much of a good thing can ruin your gardening experience. It may help to purchase an at-home pH tester to test your soil composition and quality, so that you are making the correct amendments.

The three primary macronutrients that all plants need to survive are Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K). You’ll often see these nutrients represented as numbers, called an NPK ratio, on fertilizer bags. For instance, a 25-4-2 ratio is 25 percent nitrogen, 4 percent phosphorous and 2 percent potassium.

A basic overview of these three nutrients is as follows:

  • Nitrogen promotes leafy plant growth. Soil too high in nitrogen will produce green, leafy plants that are late to mature, and may not fruit.
  • Phosphorus promotes healthy root growth and fruit and vegetable production, but too much phosphorus can cause leaching into waterways and weed growth — which can choke out the vegetables.
  • Potassium is important for overall plant health — benefiting the roots, the leaves, and the fruiting alike. Too much potassium, however, can inhibit a plant’s ability to absorb other helpful nutrients.

Do: Plant what makes sense

Not all plants grow alike! Some, like chard and kale, do well in colder climates with partial sun. Some, like peppers and tomatoes, love a lot of sun.

Bok Choy

Situate your garden plot where it gets the right amount of sunlight throughout the growing season for what you plan to grow. Want kale for days? Filtered sunlight with partial shade will do the trick. Are carrots more your thing? Try to plant them in full sun!

It is important to also do your research and determine what plants suit the growing conditions in your area, and what will work for you. The length of the growing season, the location of your garden, and other factors may affect what you are able to grow.

Don’t: Overwater

It’s so easy to love our plants too much! Pay attention to your soil and only water when the soil is dry — in dry climates, that is probably twice per day. In more humid climates, once a day may be all you need.

When you water, water the plants deeply, saturating the roots of the plants as well as the parts above ground. Watering properly helps vegetable plants to optimize the nutrients they are getting from the soil and promotes healthy root growth.

Overwatering reduces the amount of oxygen in the soil, essentially drowning the plants, and can cause unhealthy fungal growth as well as a whole host of other issues.

Do: Plan ahead

From establishing a growing schedule that will optimize vegetable production to building the right structure — planning your garden will help it to be productive.

Some seeds are fine to direct-sow, but some do best when they are started indoors and then transplanted. Creating a schedule and making notes of how the vegetables are performing will help your garden to improve.

Do (Most Importantly): Have Fun With It!

Hey, we all have had hiccups with our gardens — it is what makes it so rewarding. Try something new, have fun with it! Never grown kohlrabi? This year might be your year! Have your tomatoes been struggling in past years? Move them somewhere new. It’s your garden, your domain to try whatever you please and see what suits you.

Annora McGarry is a lover of all things outdoors who has made her home in Tahoe City. She works for Granlibakken Tahoe, a resort, retreat center, and lodge located in Tahoe City, California. Granlibakken Tahoe hosts twice yearly wellness retreats, under its Sierra Soul brand. Visit granlibakken.com to learn more.