There are 2 things to know about food today compared to the 1940s:
#1. Food today has been sprayed with substantially more pesticides.
Fortunately, buying organic partially solves this problem. Organic food may be sprayed, too, even with synthetics pesticides, but they are less toxic.
#2. More importantly, food today is dramatically less nutritious than it used to be.
I'm talking 20-80% less nutritious depending on which nutrient you’re measuring.
Alas, organic food has experienced this decline in nutrition, too.
These 2 issues are a big reason why people are experiencing such poor health.
That's why I teach you not only how to grow your own food but how to grow it so it's far more nutritious than what you can find at any grocery store or even at the farmer’s market.
And that's why I created The Smiling Gardener Academy, my online gardening course for people who are ready to take the steps to grow more nutritious food.
COVID-19 is the latest scare that has many of us wanting to grow more nutritious food to boost our immunity but it's something we can benefit from doing every year.
In the rest of this article, I'm going to share a number of tips on growing organically but if you're here to register for my online course, you can click here to scroll to the bottom of the page.
Buying organic is a start but it's not enough.
Many people have been led to believe that organic food is more nutritious than conventional, but unfortunately, that's not the case.
Organic farming has become big business and nutrition is not part of the business model.
Your local, small organic farmer might be using fewer pesticides but won't likely be doing much to fix the problem of decreased nutrition.
The economics of farming makes it really hard to do.
On top of that, food that was harvested 3 days ago doesn’t have nearly the same nutrition as food that was harvested 3 minutes ago.
So there’s just no way they can match the nutrition in your own just-picked tomatoes, blueberries, and spinach.
Now, we should still support organic farmers - locally and beyond. We should especially seek out the small percentage of them who are striving to go beyond the organic standards to grow nutrient-dense food.
You can buy foods from them you don't want to grow yourself or that don't thrive in your soil.
But if you want to be optimally healthy, you’ll need to grow at least some of your food for yourself.
Even if you grow only 10% of your own food, which you can do on as little as 200 square feet, if you take the time to grow that food to be nutrient-dense, it can make a huge difference in your own health.
And if you want to grow most of your own food, which you can do in 2000-8000 square feet (depending on your climate, soil, etc.), you can do that too - you'll save money and you'll have access to nutrition that most people could never imagine.
When you grow your own food, you put more nutritious meals on your table.
Fortunately, it’s incredibly rewarding to plant a seed and watch over 2-3 months as it becomes a plant taller than you are.
That's what happens with indeterminate tomatoes that are staked properly and given optimal nutrition.
Come summer and you’re slicing your own Brandywine tomato and sprinkling it with sea salt and black pepper.
Plus, the whole process of growing is so interesting and fun, connects you with nature, is good exercise and good therapy - there are many reasons to have a garden.
But for me, the main reason is to grow my own medicine. Even a tomato is medicine when it’s been grown properly.
The thing is, growing nutrient-dense food takes knowledge.
It doesn't necessarily take a lot of time or money (in fact, you'll save money by growing your own food) but it definitely takes some knowledge.
Also, healthy plants don't get eaten by insects.
If you want nutrient-poor food, you could do something like square foot gardening.
Maybe you've heard of it or maybe not. It's just one example of an organic approach to gardening.
It involves growing your food in a mixture of 1/3 peat moss or coconut coir, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 compost.
Millions of people follow this method and it does grow food but there’s just no way it’s going to be maximally nutritious.
But I’m not here to pick on the square foot gardening people. I’m here to show you how to do it properly.
Have you ever seen an insect or a fungus devour a row of your plants?
The reason that happens is that those plants weren’t optimally healthy.
We need to address some things that more basic systems like square foot gardening don’t address - creating a diverse soil food web, balancing soil nutrients ratios, foliar feeding with the right recipe at the right time of year, and more.
The bottom line is that healthy plants don’t get eaten by insects. Insects can’t even digest healthy plants! It’s just how they evolved. Their role in nature is to eat the unhealthy plants.
If you want fruits and vegetables that provide you with several times the nutrients you get from grocery store food, and that don’t get eaten by insects and diseases - all using organic methods - that’s what I’m going to show you how to grow.
I used to be a professional gardener who didn't really know how to garden.
I grew up working for my parents in their garden center.
Back then, I didn’t even know what "organic" was.
I didn't know the consequences of the pesticides I sprayed.
All I knew is that they didn’t work for very long because I had to come back and spray every week or two.
Then in my 20's, I:
- Completed a certificate in Organic Landscape Management
- Started my own organic gardening business
- Completed my Permaculture Design Certificate
- Taught horticulture courses for Gaia College
- Wrote the book Building Soils Naturally, published by Acres U.S.A.
What I don't talk about much is 2006, a year I'm happy is over.
I'd just started using organic methods for my clients. I already had more than 10 years working in horticulture but was still new in the organic world.
I knew the theory, but didn't have the practice - and things went very wrong. Many of my clients had major weed issues, pest problems, and plants that wouldn't flower or fruit.
People were not happy with me and I had many sleepless nights.
There is a lot of conflicting advice out there.
I started reading and trying things.
Most advice didn't help, but a few things did, so I stuck with it.
I managed to make it through that year with (mostly) happy clients and beautiful gardens.
I now know how frustrating and expensive it can be to deal with these issues and that’s what I want to prevent for others.
I eventually put together a system I could follow in any garden.
Here are the 3 most important things I learned:
- Biology. Microorganisms are vital to soil and plant health and we almost always need to bring them in. That's what compost is for but most compost isn't good enough. That's why we need to learn to make good compost, to build better mulch layers, to sow good cover crop mixes, and to use the right microbial inoculants.
- Chemistry. It's not that our soils are entirely lacking in nutrients but they are usually imbalanced, so we need to bring in the right nutrients that will allow soil microbes and insects to build fertile soil and to feed plants.
- Physics. Light, air, temperature, moisture, cultivation, and other forms of energy - all of these can be manipulated to create a more appropriate environment for plants.
And that was just the beginning...
How I turned a patch of weedy lawn into a forest of food.
That October, I visited my parents.
I looked at a patch of weedy lawn in their back yard.
The soil there is heavy clay.
The slope is gentle but the bottom floods seasonally and the top is bone dry.
That makes it a challenging little microclimate for experimenting and learning.
So that fall, I planted 2 apple trees, 2 pears, and 2 cherries.
And since I only visit every month or two, I needed to set it up so it largely takes care of itself.
I built a big sheet mulch over the whole area, which looked like the photo above.
And less than 3 years later, it looked like the photo below (same camera angle).
2015. Mom and I harvesting garlic, potatoes and tomatoes.
It's amazing what can happen within three years in a garden - and in a life.
Back then I was happily married. Six months later I was separated.
But now, I wouldn't want it to happen much differently than it has.
As you may have figured out for yourself, tough times have a way of bringing about the most incredible growth in a person.
At least, that's been the case for me.
Tough times can be good for a garden, too...
A successful garden doesn't need to take much time.
Here's the reverse view of that first sheet mulch.
Yes, we want to have the basic pillars of health in place in the garden - a diverse soil food web, a decent fertility balance, sufficient water and so on.
But if you were to water and fertilize your plants every day, they wouldn't have much incentive to extend their root systems.
And that means they'd get sick more easily and wouldn't produce nutritious food.
That's why we take a break between waterings, and also why we amend the soil further than just the planting hole - because we want the roots to head out further in search of more food and water.
Likewise, if we don't allow some insect- and disease-infested leaves to remain on our plants, then what will attract the beneficial insects and microorganisms to help us keep those problems under control next year?
Now that same view looks like this, with dozens and dozens of varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers.
Three years later, there are very few pest problems in the garden, while an abundance of delicious foods is coming on strong.
Other than year one, I've achieved this while spending only about 1 day per month in the garden.
That's because I took the initial time to prepare the soil properly, and since then, have partnered with nature to do a lot of the work.
Compost isn't enough.
Neither is Miracle-Gro.
Or bone meal.
Cut to today and I have a garden of vibrant fruits, vegetables and flowers without much of any disease, insect damage or weeds, certainly not enough to cause me any concern.
In 2012 I put in a new garden on fairly average soil and grew 11 brix tomatoes and 15 brix carrots!
(If you don't know about brix, no worries, I'll be teaching you what it is and how to use it - it can be a useful test for growing nutrient-dense food).
The approach can be called "organic gardening," but it’s more than that.
What often passes as organic gardening is simply piling on the organic matter - throw some compost and mulch on the garden and everything will supposedly work out fine.
The thing is, that hasn’t been my experience or the experience of most people who have been doing this for a long time.
I absolutely love compost and have seen how quality compost can do a lot of good, but it’s not a magic bullet - and again, using it alone doesn’t get me to my goals.
Likewise, switching from conventional fertilizers and pesticides over to organic fertilizers isn't enough either. Growing organically requires different thinking altogether.
You can grow healthy food, even if your soil is poor, and even if you don't have a green thumb, but first you need to learn to think differently.
That's why I built the Academy.
If you're new to my work, my blog is a fine place to start.
But if you want more of a step-by-step process that covers the A-to-Z of growing your own organic food, that’s what the Academy is for.
“Academy” comes from the Greek Akadēmos, the name of Plato's garden where he gave his lectures.
What I've built is a private course where I show you the steps to design and install a productive food garden.
When you join, you get immediate access to a comprehensive course with over 500 videos along with text and 1000s of photos to guide you.
It took me 2 years to create it and I'm continuously updating it. In fact, near the beginning of 2020, I started an especially audacious update that's also going to take at least 2 years.
The process is not region-specific, so it doesn't matter where you live in the world. My goal is to teach you how to improve your soil, control pests and build a thriving ecosystem, and that is the same process everywhere.
I created it with beginner and intermediate home gardeners in mind but I've also seen that professionals are taking it and learning a lot, too (I did landscaping for 10 years before I knew a lot of this stuff, and I wish I had learned it earlier).
You can join as a monthly member or register annually. Either way, you can stay as long as you're getting value and can easily cancel whenever you're ready.
The 500 lessons are organized into 20 topics.
"The main two things I really like about the Smiling Gardner are 1) your enthusiastic approach to your subject and your genuine wish to share your knowledge with others, and 2) the quality and breadth of the kinds of information you share. (Uh, oh, is that three things?) The video format is super; much easier to grasp than reading, plus I can pull the slider back to hear something again that I may have missed."
Barry, Fredericksburg, TX
"Thanks to you, I tried Crop Services International this year for these two brand new beds. Having the Base and LaMotte is really valuable. I also, thanks to you, began measuring EC and will begin Brix. Last year this time it was a different story so seeing this improvement is really incredible. These pics were taken in the last 48 hours - about 100 fruit on 3 plants. I also attached pics of a container grown habenaro last year that produced more than 300 fruit; had a control plant that produced less than half that amount.... convinced me of the power of mycorrhizae."
Leidy, Austin, TX
"The way the lessons are set up is terrific. It's clean and well organized. I REALLY love that you've broken everything down into manageable segments. It's great that the segments are short and even better that I have the option of watching the video or reading the text. Your set up is nice and clean in that regard, too, because the text is directly below the video. I don't have to download separate transcripts and open them up in another window. Great work with this. Really. It's comprehensive without being overwhelming and it's extremely well organized and segmented."
Beth, Richmand, VA
Avoid hours of research - ask me questions directly.
The community forum is where you can ask me questions, either privately or open to other members.
I respond as soon as I see it - usually within a few hours so you can take action right away.
My hope is that, if you find yourself in the garden one sunny morning with a question, you'll have an answer by the afternoon so you can keep going in the garden.
Yes, you can also ask me questions on some of my free blog posts but I often take a week to respond and my responses are much shorter.
In the community forum, which is only for members, I give you as much detail as I can, as soon as I can.
Sometimes, I even film a video just for you.
If you've ever spent time looking for answers online, you'll know how valuable this is.
Online, you never know if the solution you find is right, but in the forum, I'll explain the science behind why it's right and the practical side of how it has worked for me.
Plus, the forum is where you get to spend time with kindred spirits from around the world - cold climates to the tropics.
All of us are passionate about growing our own nutritious, organic food.
The Academy is for people who want to create the garden of their dreams.
More than 800 people have joined the Academy since I started it in 2012.
I've seen that the course and forum will end up saving you not only a lot of time but also a lot of money.
You’ll spend less time searching for answers because you can just ask me directly.
And you’ll get much bigger harvests - of more nutritious food - saving you money at the grocery store.
But this isn’t for everyone.
If you’re just growing a few containers, for example, this membership may be overkill for you. You could probably get by okay just going through my free lessons on this website.
This is more for folks who are ready for a more thorough process for growing organic food and who would benefit from having direct access to me and other like-minded people.
You don’t need to be an experienced gardener - we have beginners and professionals in the group - you just need to be excited to dive deep.
If you don't get what you were looking for, I'll give you a full refund.
I want you to have a chance to go through the course, ask me questions in the forum, and try some things out.
So if the course isn't what you were expecting, or even if you just end up being too busy, let me know and I'll refund 100% of your money, no questions asked.
That means even if you were a member for 12 months and you wanted all 12 months refunded, that's what you would get.
Of course, you can also cancel any time and no further charges will be made to your account.
Either way, just email email@example.com and I’ll take care of your refund or cancellation right away.
For every month you're a member, I send $1 to Thrive For Good.
They're helping communities implement the following four integrated activities:
- Disease prevention. Using plants as medicine, such as the neem tree (in Swahili language, it’s known as ‘the tree that cures forty’, meaning forty diseases).
- Better nutrition. Shifting to eating more nutritious foods such as kale and local medicinal plants such as moringa, rather than less nutritious foods such as corn, which is currently being over-consumed in many parts of the world.
- Growing food. Growing their food and medicinal plants using biointensive organic gardening methods. Growing biointensively is more physical work, but it’s highly productive, sustainable and affordable.
- Income generation. From the surplus organic food, people are able to earn an income as well as taking care of the orphans in their communities.
Here's a quick summary.
The Academy membership is for people who want to grow nutrient-dense food using organic methods.
Your membership includes exclusive access to my online course with over 500 videos, 1000s of photos, and a community of kindred spirits.
You'll learn a process for growing food with more flavor and more vitamins and minerals, with fewer pests and diseases.
With the risk-free money-back guarantee, I hope you'll register to check it out.
Thanks for reading. I hope to see you inside!
Do you have any questions that I didn't answer here? Feel free to use the form below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be glad to answer.
"I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your academy. There's just the right amount of material per topic. You are teaching beautiful and radical ideas! I feel so confident that I can build soil and improve life in our yard, and we will grow the best food we can thanks to everything I am learning. Please know what a difference your work is making in my life and the health of my family. Thank-you for sharing your passion."
Trayci, Streamstown, Alberta
"I'm extremely pleased with the content. The video content and quality are excellent. Your feedback is beyond excellent. I asked a question and got an answer the same day WOW that doesn't happen in the real world. So far I'm loving all of it. Thank you,"
Sharon, Pembroke, NH
"I really enjoyed watching the first module, consuming it over the last two days! Great job filming, explaining and demonstrating all the concepts in a way I can understand and grasp. I appreciate all of your efforts, time and energy. It is all coming together and I am really excited about the possibility of having a soil that is working for me. My focus has been the plants for so long, it is quite a shift in thinking to focus on the soil and how to best feed and care for it, and then it will feed and produce healthy plants. Makes so much sense! I am really liking this approach and thinking toward organic gardening. Thank you so much! You are my first organic gardening teacher/coach and I really appreciate that you are accessible and willing to answer my questions. I am so thankful for your help!"
Debbie, Sacramento, CA
The course is open for enrollment.
I'm currently in the process of reorganizing and updating the course, and while that's happening, I've decided to reduce the course fee.
Some lessons will be moving around to different sections of the course, so you may have to do a little searching to find them. The fee will go up again when I'm done but not for you if you get in now.
That said, even with the discount, I know there are people for whom the course is still out of reach, whether they're currently between jobs or laid off because of COVID-19 or perhaps they live in a country where the exchange rate makes the cost prohibitive, etc.
I never want finances to be the reason you can't take the course so if that's the case for you, please email me at email@example.com, let me know what you can pay, and I'll get you in there.
You can pay monthly or annually for an even bigger discount. You can easily cancel any time by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.