Today, more and more people are jumping on the organic foods bandwagon. The Organic Trade Association showed that in 2014, the sales of organic food increased by 11.3% from just the previous year - and for good reason. It's no secret that our planet's health is at risk. Chemicals used in farming, plus the transportation of mega-farmed food, are major polluters.
Food grown organically says no to harmful poisons, thus protecting soil, water supplies, and biodiversity. Not only does organic gardening make for a healthier planet, but it also makes for healthier humans. The pesticides that are used to produce non-organic food seep into the groundwater and contaminate our drinking water.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 60% of herbicides used in farming are carcinogenic, as are 30% of insecticides and a whole 90% of all fungicides.
With all of these dangerous poisons being used to grow our food, you would think that the FDA would be conducting rigorous testing on the final product. In actuality, though, only 1% of crops get tested for pesticide residue.
Growing your own organic food allows you to know exactly what you are putting into your food and into your body. Plus, it tastes better! The downside to organic food? It can get expensive. If you opt for organic food in a supermarket, you are going to be spending quite a bit more than those buying food that has been genetically modified and grown with chemicals.
The solution? Get to gardening! Growing your own organic food allows you to save both your health and your pocketbook. Some people - especially those in colder climates - can get discouraged with gardening, as the actual growing season can be rather short. After all, you want to eat fresh produce for more than just a few months out of the year. Greenhouses are the perfect solution. They greatly lengthen your growing season, and depending on where you live and what methods you use for temperature control, they can provide you with healthy crops all year.
Greenhouses come in many shapes, sizes, styles, and price ranges. Not just for the wealthy gardening enthusiast, everyone can enjoy the benefits of greenhouse growing. Whether you're new to gardening or a seasoned expert, with the right tips and tools, you can have a flourishing garden that will feed your family year-round.
The first step in having a successful garden is simply location, location, location. What part of your yard receives the most sunlight? For healthy plants, you'll want to pick a site that gets AT LEAST 6 hours of sunlight during the day.
Typically, placing your greenhouse in a north-south direction will give your greenhouse the most sunlight. Take into consideration nearby trees and structures that can cast shadows over your garden.
Remember, with a greenhouse you aren't just growing for a few months - does this spot also get the most sun during the winter months? You'll also want to try to place your greenhouse in a location where it won't be constantly under attack from the wind (such as near a slatted fence or hedge).
Lastly, make things easy on yourself and be sure your greenhouse is somewhere with easy access to water, electricity, and tools.
After you've chosen the perfect spot for your greenhouse, it's time to inspect the soil you'll be using. This is what will be feeding your crops, and the healthier the soil, the more likely you are to succeed. Dirt isn't just dirt. Soil is complex and varied, and what your soil is made of is vital to the health of your plants.
It's a good idea to get your soil tested before you start planting. A lot of garden centers, nurseries, and co-ops will test your soil for nutrients to see how well your veggies will take.
There are also a few tests that you can do yourself. To tell which kind of soil you have, just squeeze some moist soil in your hand. If it falls apart as soon as you open your hand, your soil is sandy. If it holds its shape even after poking it, then your soil is comprised of clay. If it holds its shape when you open your hand, but crumbles when you poke it, you have loam soil - the perfect kind for gardening. Sandy soil is too loose and doesn't hold moisture well, whereas clay soil has trouble draining and can be too tight for proper root growth.
Drainage is also vital to healthy plants. To test how well your soil drains, dig a small hole, about one foot deep and six inches wide. Fill the hole up with water and let it drain. After it has emptied, fill it up again and time how long it takes to drain again.
For good draining soil, it shouldn't take longer than 4 hours. Are there earthworms in your soil? Lots of earthworms means lots of nutrients. If there aren't any earthworms, or there are very few, your soil may be in trouble. Test your soil's acidity with a pH test. You can pick one up at any garden center, and it's easy to do.
The right soil for growing will have a pH level between six and seven. If you find that your soil could use a little help, you may decide to prepare the soil in your greenhouse by fumigating it. Now, you may hear fumigation and think chemicals - not very organic.
There is a perfectly natural way to fumigate your soil, though, and it is a great way to kill any bacteria or disease that may be hiding in it. You can do this by sticking a meat thermometer into the soil and pouring boiling water into the dirt until the thermometer reads 180Â°. Just make sure you let the soil dry completely before you start planting.
Another way to give your soil a helping hand? Compost! Composting costs nothing, and it is a great way to reduce your household waste and add vital nutrients to your soil.
You can add coffee grounds, egg shells, vegetable waste, pine needles, wood ash, and even dryer lint to your compost pile.
Organic matter holds much more water and nutrients than soil that is lacking it, and will greatly improve your crop, not to mention cut down on the amount of watering you have to do.
Most veggies need about a quarter-inch of water per day in the summer, but some crops (such as beans and corn) will take significantly more. Compost will help you cut down on that water bill, making your veggies, the planet, and your wallet all much happier.
Eventually, you want to increase the amount of organic matter in the soil by 4% to 5%. This won't happen overnight. It's a slower process that can take a few years. Just keep on composting! You can also try adding worm castings, leaves, manure, and pond algae. Whatever organic material you have on hand will eventually break down and give you a nutrient-rich soil your plants will love.
TIP: Cut up your compost materials before throwing them in. It will make them break down much faster.
It's kind of no-brainer that plants need the right amount of water to survive. Being able to tell whether or not your plants need water is an important skill to have, and it's actually a lot easier than you may think. One way is by simply touching it.
If some of the soil sticks to your finger, leave the plant be.
Or, test it like you would a cake and use a toothpick. If the toothpick comes out clean, your plant is probably thirsty. Eventually, you'll be able to tell just by looking at them, but if you are unsure of your watering intuition, you can also invest in a moisture meter for a more precise indication.
The time of day you water also makes a difference. You'll always want to water your plants in the morning to give the leaves of your plants plenty of time to dry before nightfall when the temperature drops. Try to avoid watering on overcast days, and never water your plants at night. Also consider the temperature of the water you are hydrating them with. Room temperature water will give your plants less of a shock than cold water fresh out of the hose.
Try adding some rain gutters to your greenhouse to collect into barrels. Not only will it be a more tolerable temperature for your crops, but it will help out with water conservation.
Managing the temperature of your greenhouse isn't just a science, it's almost an artform - and one that takes practice. If you have a large budget to spend, the process is a bit simpler, but even without the fancy equipment, anyone can create a healthy environment for their plants with the proper care and planning.
Obviously, the first thing you are going to do when monitoring temperature is get a thermometer. You'll want to use an alcohol-filled thermometer, NOT a mercury-filled one. If a mercury-filled thermometer breaks, the fumes that it gives off will damage your plants. You also want to be sure to keep your thermometer clean. Cobwebs can skew the accuracy of your thermometer and mess with the temperature in your greenhouse.
If you can afford it, invest in automatic vents that open and close depending on the temperature inside your greenhouse. You can set what the temperature should be, and the vents will open and close accordingly. If those aren't in your budget, you'll want to check your greenhouse's temperature frequently (at least twice per day) to open and close your vents as needed.
If you plan on growing throughout the winter, you'll likely need to invest in a heating system. Picking a heating system for your greenhouse isn't one size fits all. Heat can get expensive! Coal, oil, and gas are the most commonly used, but it requires researching what method is the most efficient and cost-effective in your area.
One thing to keep in mind regardless of where you live, though, is the BTU (British Thermal Unit) of your heating system. Make sure your heating system has a larger BTU capacity than is actually needed. This will extend the life of your heating system and save you a lot of money in the long-run.
TIP: It's always better to set the temperature in your greenhouse too low than too high. Not only will your plants do better on the cooler side, but it will save you a lot in heating costs.
If a heating system isn't for you, there are still some tricks you can use to heat up your greenhouse in cooler months. Lining the north wall of your greenhouse with brick will absorb and hold the heat of the sun, naturally raising the temperature by over 30 degrees.
If your home is brick, and positioned in a way that allows for plenty of sunlight, you may consider an attached greenhouse. It will save you a ton of money on heating costs, as it lets your house work as a heat conductor.
Or, for a little more heat, you can use plastic milk jugs, painted black and filled with water. These will absorb three times as much sun as the brick, and can keep your temperature up way longer. You'll want to make sure to add about a tablespoon of bleach to each jug, though, to prevent algae from growing in the water.
The simplest way, though, to extend your growing season is simply to make sure that you are growing the right crops based on the season. When the nights are hot (between 65 and 80 degrees), try your hand at citrus fruits!
Melons, eggplant, and cucumbers also do well. In the colder months (35 to 40 degrees at night), try your leafier, shade-loving veggies, such as lettuce, spinach, radishes, parsley, and endives.
At 45 to 55 degree temperatures, your heartier vegetables will thrive. Give asparagus and beans a try. Beets, mushrooms, cauliflower, onions, and carrots will also do well. Or, grow some rhubarb and peas.
While tomatoes and peppers don't like it quite as hot as citrus and eggplant, they do need some warmth (between 55 and 65 degrees at night).
Corn, strawberries, grapes, nectarines, and peaches also grow at these temperatures.
TIP: To make your warm-weather veggies last longer, you can water them with warm water! Water that has been warmed to 65 degrees will help your plants stick it out a little longer in cooler weather.
More so than in an outdoor garden, greenhouses are perfect breeding grounds for disease. Once one plant is infected, it won't be long before your whole crop is infected. Learning how to protect your plants from illness will save you lots of trouble (and money) later on.
Rule #1: Fully inspect your plants before you bring them into the greenhouse. Remember, the greenhouse is like its own little ecosystem. To sustain the ecosystem, you need to make sure that every plant you introduce to it is healthy right from the start.
Rule #2: Don't try to save diseased plants - destroy them! Keeping diseased plants around will only put your other plants at risk. Immediately remove it from the space and dispose of it - don't compost. Composting a diseased plant will only infect your soil, and damage future crops.
Rule #3: Don't crowd your plants. When plants don't have enough space, the risk of disease greatly increases. You'll also want to make sure that there is plenty of air circulation in the greenhouse. Try screened windows, screened doors, and fans. The better the air circulation, the healthier the plants.
Rule #4: NEVER grow potatoes in a greenhouse! Potatoes can carry disease, infecting the soil, and subsequently your other veggies. Leave them for your outside garden.
Rule #5: Make sure your greenhouse is humid enough. For optimal growing, your greenhouse should be at about 60 percent humidity. If you live in a really dry climate, you can make the air in your greenhouse more humid by spraying the floor down with water. Too much humidity, though, and you are inviting fungal disease and stunting fruit growth. Decrease the humidity in your greenhouse with ventilation.
While insects do a lot of amazing things for the environment, they can wreak havoc on your garden. That's where non-organic gardening brings in pesticides and other harmful chemicals that are hard on the earth and on our bodies.
Well, we have good news!
There are some really simple, planet-friendly solutions that don't require to you to bring poison into the picture.
Step 1: Make your greenhouse less accessible to insects. Clear the area outside of your greenhouse of weeds. Lots of different insects inhabit weeds, and they may decide to migrate inside. Always be sure to check your plants before you bring them into the greenhouse as well.
Step 2: Make you greenhouse less attractive to insects. Certain plants give off scents that insects find repulsive. Tobacco is a great one to plant, and works as an all-natural insect repellent. Onions, garlic, and peppers also will help keep the little critters at bay. You can also keep some insects away by sprinkling wood ashes and ground pepper around plants.
Step 3: Bring in predatory species. This may seem counter-productive (and a little prejudice), but introducing the right kind of insects into your greenhouse will protect your crops from the plant-eating kind.
Ladybugs, praying mantises and spiders will act as your plants' bodyguards. They are predatory creatures that will fight off the less desirable insects and keep your plants safe.
If you'd rather avoid insects all together, you could also try a small insect-devouring animal. Birds, lizards, and toads also like to munch on insects, and will make helpful greenhouse pets.
Step 4: If you are unfortunate enough to find undesirable insects in your greenhouse, you can take care of the little pests without using poison. Looking for yet another great reason to make a trip to the liquor store? Invading insects can be killed by rubbing your plants down with a Q-Tip dipped in alcohol, and you can bring snails out of hiding by leaving a bottle cap of beer in your greenhouse overnight.
Now that you have a good a base of where to start, you can begin picking out the crops you'll be feeding your family this year. With a little trial and error, you'll soon have a healthy, organic produce selection right at your fingertips - without the supermarket price tag.
One last piece of advice: Keep a journal of your organic greenhouse gardening experience!
This is the best way to ensure that next year's garden will do even better. Track the weather each day, what was planted where, when, and how. Having a record of what worked and what didn't will be invaluable to you in the future, and ensure a healthy garden year after year.