Organic Vegetable Gardening

The lessons on this website apply to both organic vegetable gardening and organic ornamental gardening.

But since many of us are becoming more and more interested in growing food, my examples often center around vegetable gardens. We know that most produce from the grocery store doesn’t have the nutrition it used to, and we’re excited to learn about organic vegetable gardening methods which allow us to grow our own nutrient-dense organic foods.

We can grow food that has many, many times more nutrients than the food in the grocery store — even the food from the organic section. For this, we need healthy soil, and it doesn’t happen by itself. It’s crafted like a work of art.

It doesn’t happen just by composting, fertilizing or companion planting. It happens through a holistic approach that integrates many disciplines.

With big business getting involved in organic food, it is no longer always more nutritious than conventional food because it’s grown with industrial farming methods that don’t focus on creating healthy plants.

That’s not to put down the thousands of organic producers who are trying to grow more nutritious food. Many of them are succeeding and we should definitely buy from them.

The point of this website, however, is that we can do even better in our own backyards with organic vegetable gardening. We can grow more nutritious food than can be found in the store and market.

Here are my articles on organic vegetable gardening…

Want To Grow Organic Food? Here Are Some Tips

Click for video transcription

Phil: Back from Amsterdam!

Hey guys it’s Phil from Smilinggardener.com, if you haven’t picked up my free online organic gardening course you can do that right on the home page of Smilinggardener.com. Today I’m talking about growing organic food. Just kind of some odds and end tips on how to set up your food gardens.

I’ve kind of been talking about it throughout this series, but now I just want to share a few other things. Here I have part of my food garden right behind me. A quick first tip is grown the things you want to eat. You might notice here I have a bunch of brassicas: cabbages and broccolis.

A lot of people don’t like eating that, I do so I plant a lot of that. But if you don’t – save that room for something else! So just start with what you want to eat. Another tip is on the size and I always suggest that people start with very small ones when they’re just starting.

Even if you just have a hundred square feet which is perhaps what I’m showing on camera here. You can grow – I probably have 20 different kinds of plants here: many different herbs, different brassicas, different – I even have a few tomatoes right here, lots of different flowering plants that are bringing in different beneficial insects, strawberries – I have a whole bunch going on in a very small area.

And what that means is that you can really do a good job if you just take 10-15 different species of plants, plant them in a small area, really take care of it well you’ll do a good job.

The next tip is to plant some annual plant, that means most of our vegetables especially in a temperate climate are going to be annuals so potatoes, and tomatoes and cucumbers and a lot of these vegetables we really love to use.

Go ahead and plant them. Now, the other tip though is – the one thing I don’t love about annuals is you have to plant them every year. The other side of that is to plant perennial plants which means you just plant them once and they come back every year like this cherry tree here. I’m standing here in my forest garden – my very young, very new forest garden, I’m going to make a video for you about that shortly.

And what that is, is we focus on nut trees and fruit trees and shrubs and other plants that just come back every year. Including some vegetables, I’m excited to get some asparagus going in here at some point, some lovage and then also self-seeding plants like dill (actually you saw in that garden) there’s dill in flower right now, there’s cilantro, those are going to come back every year from seed.

So this is kind of a permaculture concept, this idea of just planting for the longer time. Planting more sustainably so that the garden eventually just takes care of itself by just growing every year as a perennial plant or as self seeding annual plants.What you can do in the meantime is another principle which is get a yield.

You want to have food this year, that’s where the annuals come in and it’s fine to do some of them. You’re back into your potatoes, tomatoes and those thing we were talking about. And I’m doing that in this garden as well for now, while there’s lots of sun in this garden.

I can…you may be able to see in the background there’s trellis’ I can grow tomatoes, and cucumbers, I have a bunch of little things I’m sticking in here, and then gradually the perennials will take over and this garden will become very hand off for me. Back talking about vegetable garden, because I know that makes sense for a lot of you, I have a few tips on that and the first one is about crop rotation.

Here’s this bed that I planted about 3 weeks ago (I’m going to talk about that in a second), it’s corn, beans and squash in here. Last year: different plants. Last year I had mostly tomatoes in here. Rotating your crops is a good idea.

What that means is planting each plant family in different beds each year and maybe you have like a 3-year rotation or could be much more like a 7-year rotation where they’re not going in the same spot every year. Primarily what that’s good for is it’s going to kind of confuse pests so that if your pests…if the predators of your tomatoes set up shop in the soil over winter and they come up and those tomatoes are elsewhere – that’s really going to confuse them a little bit.

Also there can be some benefits to different plants taking up different nutrients from the soil, especially important when we have these kind of imbalanced soils that so many of us have. Another one is companion planting and that’s when you plant different plants together.

So instead of you know – one of the big problems with industrial agriculture is we have these huge monoculture crops of corn and soy beans. In the garden, we can plant different plants together and they’re going to often provide benefits for each other, or at least just take up different niches in the garden.

Mostly what I often like to do is what’s called more of a polyculture. Whereas what I showed you at the beginning of the video that bed probably had 20 different species of plants all really mingling together, all interplanted, and that’s going to be a huge amount of biodiversity it’s going to confuse pests, it’s going to really use the garden efficiently by having different heights.

This is a meso-American tradition of planting corn, beans and squash together. There are various different ways of doing it depending on the geography and things like that but here’s how I’ve done it. I plant little clusters 3 feet apart throughout the garden so there’s lots of space in between them.

In each cluster goes corn. You can seed corn direct, that’s fine. You wait until it gets about 4 inches tall. I put 4 corn in here. Then, you come and plant a bean by each corn. And what happens is, the corn is going to act as a trellis for these beans. So here’s the corn, here’s the beans.

So, the corn gets tall, the beans (these are climbing beans) “pole beans”. They’ll climb up the corn, so that acts as a trellis. There’s other benefits. The corn actually exudes through its roots food, for the nitrogen-fixing bacteria that reside on the beans. Of course the beans also house this nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

The thing that’s cool about this is corn needs a lot of nitrogen, so there’s a trade going on here between these two. I planted a squash, the big thing about the squash is it’s going to spread out.

Now I think this one happens to be more of a bush-type squash, but I have other squash in here that are vining squash so they crawl throughout the garden, they stop….they decrease evaporation from the soil, they control weeds by having these big leaves that spread throughout the garden. So they’re helping too. So they all kind of help each other.

So read on down below, I usually put a little bit more detail in the article and you can ask questions down below about anything having to do with setting up a food garden, just designing your food garden, crop rotations, companion planting, polycultures, annuals vs. perennials, things like that. Also, you can pick up my free online course down below or you can go over to Facebook.com/smilinggardener to come out there.

We post stuff over there every day, and I will see you next time!!

Hey guys it’s Phil from Smilinggardener.com, if you haven’t picked up my free online organic gardening course you can do that right on the home page of Smilinggardener.com. Today I’m talking about growing organic food. Just kind of some odds and end tips on how to set up your food gardens.

I’ve kind of been talking about it throughout this series, but now I just want to share a few other things. Here I have part of my food garden right behind me. A quick first tip is grown the things you want to eat. You might notice here I have a bunch of brassicas: cabbages and broccolis.

A lot of people don’t like eating that, I do so I plant a lot of that. But if you don’t – save that room for something else! So just start with what you want to eat. Another tip is on the size and I always suggest that people start with very small ones when they’re just starting.

Even if you just have a hundred square feet which is perhaps what I’m showing on camera here. You can grow – I probably have 20 different kinds of plants here: many different herbs, different brassicas, different – I even have a few tomatoes right here, lots of different flowering plants that are bringing in different beneficial insects, strawberries – I have a whole bunch going on in a very small area.

And what that means is that you can really do a good job if you just take 10-15 different species of plants, plant them in a small area, really take care of it well you’ll do a good job.

The next tip is to plant some annual plant, that means most of our vegetables especially in a temperate climate are going to be annuals so potatoes, and tomatoes and cucumbers and a lot of these vegetables we really love to use.

Go ahead and plant them. Now, the other tip though is – the one thing I don’t love about annuals is you have to plant them every year. The other side of that is to plant perennial plants which means you just plant them once and they come back every year like this cherry tree here. I’m standing here in my forest garden – my very young, very new forest garden, I’m going to make a video for you about that shortly.

And what that is, is we focus on nut trees and fruit trees and shrubs and other plants that just come back every year. Including some vegetables, I’m excited to get some asparagus going in here at some point, some lovage and then also self-seeding plants like dill (actually you saw in that garden) there’s dill in flower right now, there’s cilantro, those are going to come back every year from seed.

So this is kind of a permaculture concept, this idea of just planting for the longer time. Planting more sustainably so that the garden eventually just takes care of itself by just growing every year as a perennial plant or as self seeding annual plants.What you can do in the meantime is another principle which is get a yield.

You want to have food this year, that’s where the annuals come in and it’s fine to do some of them. You’re back into your potatoes, tomatoes and those thing we were talking about. And I’m doing that in this garden as well for now, while there’s lots of sun in this garden.

I can…you may be able to see in the background there’s trellis’ I can grow tomatoes, and cucumbers, I have a bunch of little things I’m sticking in here, and then gradually the perennials will take over and this garden will become very hand off for me. Back talking about vegetable garden, because I know that makes sense for a lot of you, I have a few tips on that and the first one is about crop rotation.

Here’s this bed that I planted about 3 weeks ago (I’m going to talk about that in a second), it’s corn, beans and squash in here. Last year: different plants. Last year I had mostly tomatoes in here. Rotating your crops is a good idea.

What that means is planting each plant family in different beds each year and maybe you have like a 3-year rotation or could be much more like a 7-year rotation where they’re not going in the same spot every year. Primarily what that’s good for is it’s going to kind of confuse pests so that if your pests…if the predators of your tomatoes set up shop in the soil over winter and they come up and those tomatoes are elsewhere – that’s really going to confuse them a little bit.

Also there can be some benefits to different plants taking up different nutrients from the soil, especially important when we have these kind of imbalanced soils that so many of us have. Another one is companion planting and that’s when you plant different plants together.

So instead of you know – one of the big problems with industrial agriculture is we have these huge monoculture crops of corn and soy beans. In the garden, we can plant different plants together and they’re going to often provide benefits for each other, or at least just take up different niches in the garden.

Mostly what I often like to do is what’s called more of a polycultural. Whereas what I showed you at the beginning of the video that bed probably had 20 different species of plants all really mingling together, all interplanted, and that’s going to be a huge amount of biodiversity it’s going to confuse pests, it’s going to really use the garden efficiently by having different heights.

This is a meso-American tradition of planting corn, beans and squash together. There are various different ways of doing it depending on the geography and things like that but here’s how I’ve done it. I plant little clusters 3 feet apart throughout the garden so there’s lots of space in between them.

In each cluster goes corn. You can seed corn direct, that’s fine. You wait until it gets about 4 inches tall. I put 4 corn in here. Then, you come and plant a bean by each corn. And what happens is, the corn is going to act as a trellis for these beans. So here’s the corn, here’s the beans.

So, the corn gets tall, the beans (these are climbing beans) “pole beans”. They’ll climb up the corn, so that acts as a trellis. There’s other benefits. The corn actually exudes through its roots food, for the nitrogen-fixing bacteria that reside on the beans. Of course the beans also house this nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

The thing that’s cool about this is corn needs a lot of nitrogen, so there’s a trade going on here between these two. I planted a squash, the big thing about the squash is it’s going to spread out.

Now I think this one happens to be more of a bush-type squash, but I have other squash in here that are vining squash so they crawl throughout the garden, they stop….they decrease evaporation from the soil, they control weeds by having these big leaves that spread throughout the garden. So they’re helping too. So they all kind of help each other.

So read on down below, I usually put a little bit more detail in the article and you can ask questions down below about anything having to do with setting up a food garden, just designing your food garden, crop rotations, companion planting, polycultures, annuals vs. perennials, things like that. Also, you can pick up my free online course down below or you can go over to Facebook.com/smilinggardener to come out there.

We post stuff over there every day, and I will see you next time!!

If you’re interested in learning how to grow organic food, I have some tips today.

Admittedly this post is a little bit all over the place, but hopefully there’s something in here that will be useful to you.

The video is worth watching, and at minute 3:57 I explain the ‘3 sisters’ that I was planting in the video last week.

(At the beginning of the video, I say ‘Back from Amsterdam!’ – that’s because I shot this video last year when I had just returned from my trip there where my sister and I had made a bunch of videos on container gardening.)

Feel free to ask your questions down below… Read More

Permaculture Principles – A Few Tips For Your Garden

Click for video transcription

Phil: Check, check, check, one two. Check, check, check, one two.

Hey guys it’s Phil from Smilinggardener.com. If you haven’t checkout out my free online organic gardening course you can do that right on the homepage of Smilinggardener.com

Today we’re talking about permaculture garden design. What conventional garden design often focuses on is the aesthetic of the garden and the functionality of the garden so just where things go and how the garden looks. 

Which is fine for most people especially if you’re a non-gardener you just want to have a tree that looks nice or a plant that looks nice. Like, I have a Redbud in the background here. It’s not the best specimen which is why I actually took it and planted it.v

If the redbuds are in flower, people come out they want to buy that tree because they just want something that looks nice. That’s entirely fine and that’s a lot of what gardening is, just making something that looks nice.

What we’re talking about today is making an ecological approach to garden design where of course we want it to look nice, we want it to work well, but we also want to look at nature and we want to think about it as a integrative kind of system where we’re trying to improve biodiversity and clean up the soil and filter water, do a bunch of things that are just improving the health of our little space here.

And not only because we want to be good to the planet, because we want to have a garden that works really well and that doesn’t always require our inputs that takes care of itself.

And so that’s what we’re getting into today with this permaculture design. Permaculture really got started or at least the term was coined in the 1970s and it was the combination of permanent and agriculture. So permanent is really talking about sustainability and something that can take care of itself sustainably and then agriculture is a lot about growing food. 

The principles in permaculture are going to look different in every situation. Sometimes there’s a probably that I see in permaculture is where solutions that have maybe worked elsewhere are imposed into our garden because we think we need them. 

So an herb spiral is a way to grow a bunch of herbs in a small area and it’s kind of a cool thing in the right situation but now a lot of people think they need an herb spiral because it’s a permaculture thing, but with permaculture we really want to focus on the design, on the strategy and on thinking about the principles.

So, the principle is really trying to work with nature instead of trying to conquer nature we’re trying to use the energies that are coming on our site, and trying to manipulate them just in such a way that it can help do some of the work for us.

A big thing with permaculture that we’re trying to do is to observe and interact with our landscape. If we can somehow spend a few seasons looking at our landscape and observing it we can learn a lot and these are fairly common sense things.

It doesn’t have to be difficult if I just look at my forest garden, this very young forest garden I’m putting in behind me, basically kind of a holistic orchard, I noticed observing, that there’s a wet area down there seasonally during the spring and sometimes in the winter and so that’s where I put – you can maybe see the white blossoms back there – my pear trees, my pear trees can take a little bit moisture whereas my apple trees aren’t into that so I have an apple tree right here and another one off camera here, they’re up on a high spot.

So that’s pretty common sense but it’s just things like that. Maybe you can see behind my redbud which has the nice purple flowers right now, there’s a cherry tree. 

It’s kind of right behind there, but it’s a little bit marginal in this area and so I have in the sheltered part of the garden where it’s protected from wind it’s kind of nice and warm in there, so it’s just a fragile tree and that’s going to help with that.

So it’s really just common sense all the time but it gives us a lot of clues as to how we can work with the landscape and it really can minimize our labor and the inputs we need to bring in and then the problems we encounter if we do this kind of working with the energies and all the things that are going on in our site.

So in nature nothing is lost and that’s what we’re trying to mimic in our landscapes, too. If we can look at all of the elements in our landscape and figure out how we can provide for them then we can do a lot of good.

And what I mean by elements are things like fruit trees like an apple tree or a veggie garden or my compost pile or a pond or a greenhouse or any kind of major part of the garden. That’s an element and that element needs some things in order to be optimal and that element can give a lot of things to us, too, if we can learn how to use them. 

So that could be so many different things it can mean that under my fruit trees I’m trying to plant herbs and other beneficial plants that are going to help that fruit tree and we call that guilding a fruit tree, we call that a guild.

It could be that I put my compost bin somewhere where I can take the heat from that compost and do something with that heat – maybe it helps to heat a greenhouse – or maybe on the other hand maybe the greenhouse…if I put the compost bin in the greenhouse maybe the greenhouse helps to keep the compost bin warm throughout the winter.

So what we want to do is just keep looking at all these elements and on and on and on with the greenhouse I should be capturing water off that greenhouse maybe down in some plants that need a lot of water.

And so on and on we try to think about all these integrations. So what you really want to do is think about all the things you need in your garden all the products you want to get from it, all the things you need and also list all the major elements. 

So fruit trees, greenhouses, all the things I’ve listed…compost…and think about how those things can all integrate with each other and provide for each other.

[Phil’s mom shouting] Hey Phil, how’s it going?

Phil: Great, just filming!

This was just a brief introduction to permaculture today what it means is observing your site, working with nature, trying to learn from nature. How can we mimic nature in our garden so that our garden takes care of itself? So we don’t have to do so much work and spend so much money and then we can go and start and permaculture somewhere else.

If you have any questions for me ask them down below and I will answer them. If you haven’t signed up for my free online organic gardening course you can do that down below. You can join me over on Facebook with my sister at Facebook.com/smilinggardener.  

Phil: Check, check, check, one two. Check, check, check, one two.

Hey guys it’s Phil from Smilinggardener.com. If you haven’t checkout out my free online organic gardening course you can do that right on the homepage of Smilinggardener.com

Today we’re talking about permaculture garden design. What conventional garden design often focuses on is the aesthetic of the garden and the functionality of the garden so just where things go and how the garden looks. 

Which is fine for most people especially if you’re a non-gardener you just want to have a tree that looks nice or a plant that looks nice. Like, I have a Redbud in the background here. It’s not the best specimen which is why I actually took it and planted it.v

If the redbuds are in flower, people come out they want to buy that tree because they just want something that looks nice. That’s entirely fine and that’s a lot of what gardening is, just making something that looks nice.

What we’re talking about today is making an ecological approach to garden design where of course we want it to look nice, we want it to work well, but we also want to look at nature and we want to think about it as a integrative kind of system where we’re trying to improve biodiversity and clean up the soil and filter water, do a bunch of things that are just improving the health of our little space here.

And not only because we want to be good to the planet, because we want to have a garden that works really well and that doesn’t always require our inputs that takes care of itself.

And so that’s what we’re getting into today with this permaculture design. Permaculture really got started or at least the term was coined in the 1970s and it was the combination of permanent and agriculture. So permanent is really talking about sustainability and something that can take care of itself sustainably and then agriculture is a lot about growing food. 

The principles in permaculture are going to look different in every situation. Sometimes there’s a probably that I see in permaculture is where solutions that have maybe worked elsewhere are imposed into our garden because we think we need them. 

So an herb spiral is a way to grow a bunch of herbs in a small area and it’s kind of a cool thing in the right situation but now a lot of people think they need an herb spiral because it’s a permaculture thing, but with permaculture we really want to focus on the design, on the strategy and on thinking about the principles.

So, the principle is really trying to work with nature instead of trying to conquer nature we’re trying to use the energies that are coming on our site, and trying to manipulate them just in such a way that it can help do some of the work for us.

A big thing with permaculture that we’re trying to do is to observe and interact with our landscape. If we can somehow spend a few seasons looking at our landscape and observing it we can learn a lot and these are fairly common sense things.

It doesn’t have to be difficult if I just look at my forest garden, this very young forest garden I’m putting in behind me, basically kind of a holistic orchard, I noticed observing, that there’s a wet area down there seasonally during the spring and sometimes in the winter and so that’s where I put – you can maybe see the white blossoms back there – my pear trees, my pear trees can take a little bit moisture whereas my apple trees aren’t into that so I have an apple tree right here and another one off camera here, they’re up on a high spot.

So that’s pretty common sense but it’s just things like that. Maybe you can see behind my redbud which has the nice purple flowers right now, there’s a cherry tree. 

It’s kind of right behind there, but it’s a little bit marginal in this area and so I have in the sheltered part of the garden where it’s protected from wind it’s kind of nice and warm in there, so it’s just a fragile tree and that’s going to help with that.

So it’s really just common sense all the time but it gives us a lot of clues as to how we can work with the landscape and it really can minimize our labor and the inputs we need to bring in and then the problems we encounter if we do this kind of working with the energies and all the things that are going on in our site.

So in nature nothing is lost and that’s what we’re trying to mimic in our landscapes, too. If we can look at all of the elements in our landscape and figure out how we can provide for them then we can do a lot of good.

And what I mean by elements are things like fruit trees like an apple tree or a veggie garden or my compost pile or a pond or a greenhouse or any kind of major part of the garden. That’s an element and that element needs some things in order to be optimal and that element can give a lot of things to us, too, if we can learn how to use them. 

So that could be so many different things it can mean that under my fruit trees I’m trying to plant herbs and other beneficial plants that are going to help that fruit tree and we call that guilding a fruit tree, we call that a guild.

It could be that I put my compost bin somewhere where I can take the heat from that compost and do something with that heat – maybe it helps to heat a greenhouse – or maybe on the other hand maybe the greenhouse…if I put the compost bin in the greenhouse maybe the greenhouse helps to keep the compost bin warm throughout the winter.

So what we want to do is just keep looking at all these elements and on and on and on with the greenhouse I should be capturing water off that greenhouse maybe down in some plants that need a lot of water.

And so on and on we try to think about all these integrations. So what you really want to do is think about all the things you need in your garden all the products you want to get from it, all the things you need and also list all the major elements. 

So fruit trees, greenhouses, all the things I’ve listed…compost…and think about how those things can all integrate with each other and provide for each other.

[Phil’s mom shouting] Hey Phil, how’s it going?

Phil: Great, just filming!

This was just a brief introduction to permaculture today what it means is observing your site, working with nature, trying to learn from nature. How can we mimic nature in our garden so that our garden takes care of itself? So we don’t have to do so much work and spend so much money and then we can go and start and permaculture somewhere else.

If you have any questions for me ask them down below and I will answer them. If you haven’t signed up for my free online organic gardening course you can do that down below. You can join me over on Facebook with my sister at Facebook.com/smilinggardener.  

Before we even get to these permaculture principles today, it’s a good idea to take some time to choose your goals.

You may want fresh, healthy food, a space to relax and be inspired, impressive flowers to brighten up the street, a play zone for kids – the potential benefits are as diverse as people.

Conventional landscape design tends to look at gardens mostly in terms of aesthetics (e.g. bright fall color) and function (e.g. a privacy screen).

But this approach often doesn’t do a great job of designing the garden as a living ecosystem. Read More

Organic Container Gardening – FREE Guide Right Here!

Organic Container Gardening

Holy smokes, I’m in Amsterdam! I’m here visiting my sister!

We’re going on some little organic gardening adventures while I’m here, to get everything we need to do some organic container gardening.

And we’re going to take you with us. I’m super excited!

I’ll be posting a new short video every day for 12 or so days, to give you some useful container gardening ideas.

Please share this on facebook, twitter, etc. by using the buttons up above the photo. I really want people to join us! Read More

My Home Vegetable Garden – Video Walk-through

Yesterday, I was recording a video in my home vegetable garden that will serve as an introduction to the growing food section of the Academy…

(Note to Academy members, that section will be ready this fall)

…and I decided to take a walk through my vegetable garden with the video camera, and also post the video here.

Read More

Growing A Vegetable Garden (And Skipping The Doctor)

Phil Growing A Vegetable Garden

We had a family get together a couple of weeks ago.

It’s always fun trying to explain to family or friends who I haven’t seen for awhile about what I do for a “living.”

“I have a website where I teach people about growing a vegetable garden, and organic gardening in general.”

Read More

Companion Planting Chart – Garden With Companion Plants

Growing Organic FoodThe 3 sisters: corn, beans and squash

Today, I have an excellent companion planting chart to share with you.

But first, let’s briefly get into what companion planting is and why it can be useful.

Companion gardening involves pairing plants that work well together.

I’ll use the 3 sister guild as an example, which are 3 plants that were originally combined by Native Americans in such a way that the plants all helped each other out.

Read More

How Vegetable Gardening Is Like Songwriting

Vegetable Gardening In Nepal
Growing food takes patience – I wonder how long this took (I believe this is Nepal)

Do you ever feel like you’ll never grow a perfect 12 brix tomato, or have much success at nutrient-dense vegetable gardening at all?

It took me a long time to get past that feeling, and sometimes I still experience it even though I’ve been at it for a long time – and I would say I’m a pretty decent vegetable gardener.

Read More