How we create a simple, productive little backyard raised-bed garden from seed... with NO pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers!!
I love thinking about the beginning of the world, how God was the ultimate CREATOR, who was just smiling his head off as the earth burst out from his fingertips, and turned green with life and began teeming with movement.
As humans we’re made to be like God, made to CREATE, to reproduce, to multiply, to nurture life, and fill the earth with more good things. I smile my head off at the thought too! My goodness, who knew I would like growing things so much? I get outside to be with my plants every moment I can —something inside me just jumps at the idea. (Seriously, I’m sure my neighbors think I’m crazy, standing outside in my pajamas in the 95-degree heat, staring at green tomatoes. I actually pray over them!)
I can barely stay in bed in the morning, excited to go out and see how big my spaghetti squashes and pumpkins grew overnight! My kids see that excitement too, and see God’s GLORY on display, as a bee by God’s intelligent design, hops from the bright yellow male flower covering itself with pollen, and then shares that pollen with the inside of the female flower, which grows that squash!
This generation lives in a plastic, computerized, consumer state, where we’re not connected to our Creator and his creation. We don’t realize that nature isn’t OUT THERE somewhere (no need to drop a thousand bucks on camping equipment or go find some almost-extinct animal), but it’s US, and it’s the food that becomes us!
In this culture, we drop our paycheck on trendy things that will be thrown away next season, eating microwaved dinner from an unknown source and stirring diet powders and “shakes", polluting the planet with factory-made poisons like Round-up and plastic that will never break down, trucking food across the country using militarily acquired oil, hurting animals in large confinement factories where they never see the light of day or a blade of grass, then medicating ourselves to cover up the symptoms of the damage we’ve done to our own bodies. You see, we aren’t CREATING, we’re destroying. This is a DISTORTION of God’s plan. A food system that hurts people isn’t Godly, it’s sinful.
I’ve recently been very convicted by this verse: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God,” (1 Cor 10:31). It’s right there in the Bible — eating and drinking should bring God glory. WOW.
Growing a garden is one small way to rail against the culture of destruction AND reflect God’s creative nature AND heal ourselves.
When we garden (or farm with animals!!), we get to be PRODUCERS in charge of our own health, instead of merely CONSUMERS dependent on others. Instead of thinking of life as this mechanical, computerized, stale, plastic state, it becomes something vibrant and beautiful. When we put down our phones and touch something ALIVE, we begin our own healing.
But for real, the life in the food isn’t imaginary — there are real microbes in and on living food that feed the friendly microbes on our skin and in our gut, which in turn feed our brains and immune systems, and which make us both healthy and happy!
I feel like I have no excuse not to grow SOMETHING, even if just a little basil plant on a sunny windowsill. Everyone has a green thumb — it just needs to be exercised. I am no expert (believe me), and have only been attempting to grow things for five years, but there’s always *some* harvest even if super small when I make an informed effort.
Our neighborhood HOA limits how much space we can use to garden food in our yards (what a shame), but we use what we have! Think of all the wasted lawns across the United States that could be used for growing food! Think of all that money wasted on watering and fertilizing GRASS, when we could all be providing food for ourselves with that yard! On our future farm I plan to plant fruit trees, berry bushes, and a much wider variety of edible plants!
But, here’s what we are able to grow here in northern Virginia (growing zone 7) in our six little raised bed squares:
butter crunch lettuce
red romaine lettuce
Why we chose to create an Organic garden: no pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or synthetic fertilizers
Several people in my family recently began reacting (hives, itchy mouth, and stomach pain) to “organic” fruit that we bought from the grocery store. When I researched standards for "organic" grocery store produce, I was frustrated to learn that many pesticides are still allowed on organic! While they may be fewer in number on the organic produce, they’re still toxic. Food sensitivities and gut issues are exploding in the US, and our genes haven't suddenly mutated — it's the poisons in the food and in the pharmaceuticals that have increased! The produce in the store is usually picked before it's ripe (low nutrient value), trucked across the country and sprayed with anti-fungals so it doesn't rot, then is also washed with chlorine to kill any possible life (bacteria/fungi) left on its surface. On top of that, BIG organic farms just aren’t God’s design for growing food! We need to get away from the grocery store model when we can.
You see, God has lots of patterns set up in nature that must be followed for health! Think about it — have you ever seen a sick squirrel? Or a sick deer? Nope — because health is God's default pattern in nature. We want the healthiest vegetables for our family, to prevent diseases, allergies, and autoimmunity!
We want to follow God’s patterns in our own garden too:
Diversity is God’s pattern.
In nature, you don’t see rows upon rows upon rows of the same crop growing. A wide range of plants (and animals!) deters pests and diseases — it confuses them! Plant basil and marigolds in between other plants, and the strong scent deters pests and makes them not smell the delicious squash or tomatoes mixed in! You don’t hear of salmonella or listeria or e.coli in produce grown on a farm with diverse crops and diverse animals — salmonella and listeria and e.coli come from BIG farms where they grow only one thing for acres and acres and the diseases and pests have a heyday (their favorite crop for as far as their eyes can see)!
Rotating plants is God’s pattern.
Most strawberries grown on big farms (organic or not) are fumigated with poisons to kill diseases in the soil before they’re ever planted! But if strawberries were rotated out with broccoli, for example, the diseases that bother strawberries would go away! Each plant takes different nutrients from the soil, so rotating the plants means the soil can replenish itself!
Rich LIVING soil is God’s pattern.
Besides sun and water, soil is the MOST important part of gardening! No pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilizers (say NO to Miracle-Gro!), means the soil gets to stay alive too. A God-honoring garden works WITH nature, not against it. Bacteria and fungi in the soil mine 80% of the plant’s nutrients out of the soil FOR the plant. Without those bacteria and fungi, the plant isn’t getting its nutrients! Instead of KILLING bacteria and fungi and insects with poisons, why not SUPPORT the friendly bacteria and fungi to produce health? We use homemade compost, made from our 100% organic food scraps and garden waste, to provide living microbes, LOADS of nutrients, insects, and worms to offer RICHNESS to the soil, which makes nutrient-dense plants. When we have raw milk that has soured, I will pour that into the garden soil — it’s FULL of living microbes! I’ve never used a SINGLE poison on my garden.
A Buzzing Garden full of Bugs is God’s pattern.
I also don’t kill wasps (they eat aphids and caterpillars!) and I ENCOURAGE bees (who pollinate my vegetables!) to come by planting lavender and letting our grass become full of clover flowers! The main two pests I’ve dealt with are the cabbage worm (on kale, cabbage, and broccoli) and the vine borer (squashes), and they both can be dealt with by hand removal — I don’t use BT toxin or ANY pesticide, even if considered organic!
God's pattern is Health.
A plant that is stressed — thirsty or too-much water, not enough sun, or not enough micronutrients and macronutrients — will attract pests and diseases. A plant disease is a signal that the plant needs your help! It's like a human immune system. When you don't get your sleep or you eat sugar every day, you're asking to get the flu! Instead of going for anti-life medicines (vaccines and antibiotics), you need to support your body with water, sun, rest, and nutrients!
The Keys to a Great Start
Here's a little research you'll need to do before you even purchase seed!
Know your zone and talk to locals who grow food.
Which plants grow well in your area? We’re in zone 7, and I grow squashes and tomatoes well, but I don’t have great luck with Brussels sprouts! Check here to find your zone and learn your frost dates.
Know which plants you like to eat!
Nearly everyone plants pole beans in their gardens because they’re easy, and they look so classic, but do you like green beans? (I’m not a big fan.) I’ve had so many people give me veggies they grew that they didn’t even like — eggplant! hot peppers! cilantro! so many beans! Can you eat 100 zucchini this summer? Even one zucchini plant can potentially produce more than a single family can eat! Can you eat 3 cucumbers a day? Get ready...
Know which plants grow best in cold weather (early spring before the last frost, or end of summer for a fall harvest) and which are planted in warmth.
I like to grow cabbage, kale, spinach, lettuce, beets, and broccoli as soon as the soil is no longer frozen. Whereas, squash seeds go in the garden in May or early June!
Gardening takes a learning curve — you learn about the pests, diseases, unique growing conditions, and so many intricacies of your area. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying out ALL your favorites the first year.
Here's how we got started!
This shouldn't be expensive or torturous or really complicated. I don't have ANY fancy gardening gloves or cutting tools or knives or anything! I cut squashes off the vine with a kitchen knife, and I use my fingers and a ruler to plant seeds!
1. We took out the grass in several totally sunny spots of our yard, broke up the dirt below, and placed raised beds on that open dirt. (Link below) We went the easy route, however, you can easily can make these yourself for cheaper! Raised beds make it much easier to avoid weeds, and easier to isolate the area for watering.
2. We filled the garden bed with basic organic soil like this one, and mixed it with some store-bought organic compost. I don't recommend store-bought after the first year, though!
3. We began composting! Compost provides the soil with nutrients and humus, as well as microbes that deliver nutrients to the plants. NON-NEGOTIABLE for our garden! We bought a black composter like this one (ours has two sections), and began adding leaves, sticks, weeds, coffee grounds, egg shells, and all sorts of vegetable peels and scraps from the kitchen to it (we keep a stainless steel compost bin in the kitchen that we empty into the black composter each night). In about six months to a year cooking in the hot sun, rotating the bin every so often, microbes and worms have broken down everything in there, and it looks like rich black dirt. We add that to our garden each spring, and the plants love it! (You can get a black trash can for $5 for similar effect as the composter below.)
4. We buy mostly heirloom seeds and place them directly into the soil. We want to be able to save our seeds for the next year, so we generally don't buy hybrid seeds and NEVER GMO— they won't reproduce effectively or at all. Not bearing reproductive seed is against God's pattern in nature! (Genesis 1:11 says, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.") We also never buy plants, only seeds. I like to have complete control over what goes into the plant from the beginning — I don't trust stores to use the clean organic practices I do! Some of the seeds I start in a sunny window in February (like tomatoes and peppers), then put the plants in the ground when it gets warm. This year, all seeds went directly into the garden in the spring!
Here are a few we've grown:
Marketmore Cucumber seeds: We've had EXCELLENT results with this variety. Two plants were producing 4 cucumbers a day, far more than we could keep up with. I didn't even grow them this year, because I'd been so overwhelmed with the abundance! Though I'm actually still considering putting some in right now for a September harvest!
5. We water! I water very infrequently, but every day twice-a-day during 90+ degree heat waves like we had earlier this summer. I water at the base of the plant, not the leaves! We also have a whole-house water filtration system that takes chlorine and fluoride out of the water that goes to our garden!
6. We put in pretty trellises for cucumber vines to climb and tomato cages (we made several from cheap wood, and two black pretty ones from Amazon) to support tomatoes, once those plants have begun getting larger.
7. Once or twice a year, I'll add micro-nutrients in the form of Azomite powder and/or Kelp meal. This year when it arrives, I also plan to try some organic Trifecta-Plus from an organic gardener who develops his own fertilizer.
8. I read seed packets carefully, watch gardening videos to learn more, then I thin where too many plants sprout, pick up bugs where they appear (you can crush aphids with your fingers!), prune extra tomato leaves, pollinate zucchini by hand if there aren't enough bees, and just generally learn how to keep each plant healthy! It's a learning process that is so fun and rewarding!
9. HARVEST when everything is fully ripe and loaded with nutrients that only fresh vegetables can have!