Growing your own, organically!

Earlier this season the folks over at Canadian Organic Growers approached me and asked if I would write a review of their latest labour of love, a COG practical series handbook called, The Organic Backyard: A guide to applying organic farming practices to your home or community garden.

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This publication, only 61 pages long, packs in all that you need to know to begin growing your edible plants organically on your own property, as part of a group in a community garden, on reclaimed parks or urban spaces across the country.

The hope is that this book will help “to engage more of the community in building the local organic food system.”  The editor, Sarah Chisholm Ryder, envisions this little book “spreading across our communities, turning every available space into one that produces good food that nourishes our soils, us and our environment.”

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The voluptuous Civic Garden at Lansdowne Park, Ottawa

Before you can truly garden organically, you must understand that the quality of your soil is your biggest ally.  Simply gardening without synthetic herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers is not the full picture.  Growing organically, especially food crops, means:

  • Understanding soil life
  • Building soil health and productivity of the land for generations to come
  • Protecting the environment by decreasing water pollution and increasing biodiversity and pollinator habitat
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by not using fossil-fuel based fertilizers
  • Protecting seed identity by not using genetically modified (GM) seed
  • Knowing the source of your garden inputs and how they affect the environment, your land and your neighbours land
  • Recycling nutrients within your garden system through composting, crop rotation and cover crops

If you’re new to vegetable gardening, this wide-ranging ideology might be overwhelming to you at first, but don’t worry.  This guide introduces you gently by providing you with easy steps to follow along your food growing journey:

  • where to site your food garden;
  • how to prepare your site, whether it is in an existing lawn, a compacted backyard (i.e. raised planters) or intended as a production market garden;
  • the tools you’ll need;
  • the seeds you should source, as well as a brief guide to starting seeds indoors;
  • the importance of keeping a journal;
  • the qualities of good soil and how to make it happen (i.e. making compost, the value of manure, compost tea and the use of cover crops);
  • helping your garden grow (managing weeds, intercropping or co-cropping, mulching, the pros and cons of tilling, dealing with pests and diseases, encouraging pollinators and beneficial insects and organisms);
  • the notion of crop rotation and how it helps to balance soil fertility;
  • the benefits of companion planting (with plant notes);
  • the value of succession planting (making the most of your space);
  • final thoughts on keeping things going when the weather turns cold.

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There is also a small section at the end that talks about community gardening, including tips to help you start one of your own, a checklist of what to consider and guidelines that will ensure everyone contributes equally and the garden’s management is not left to Mother Nature or chance.

Highly recommended as a tool for the beginner vegetable gardener, or someone wanting to have basic information available at their fingertips as they grow food organically.  If you’re a beginner, it is important to reach out to an organization like the Canadian Organic Growers and this book is one of many resources available to you.  Gardening sympathetically alongside the natural world and being mindful of our earth’s future is our duty in today’s fast-paced and throw-a-way world.  The sweetness of freshly pulled carrots or the burst of flavour in home-grown tomatoes is the end result of our commitment to following certain organic principles.  But it’s not just the harvest that can give us joy, it is the entire journey.

You can purchase your copy for $15.00 CAN here.

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