With eating a balanced diet of organically grown foods being the nutritional ideal, how about growing our own food organically? Sounds like a pragmatic, frugal approach for many of us. Yet, I admit being timid about getting started. Over the last couple of years, I’ve tried to garden as naturally as possible. However, there have a been those few times when my husband deemed it necessary to use this product or that. And we didn’t thoroughly research details like what type of seedstock the plants came from. So, I was a bit embarrassed to admit that I’m such a gardening amateur, when I recently visited Georgia Denman’s successful organic greenhouse.
Denman tried to answer my questions about growing organically with some reassurance, “It isn’t as hard to do as it used to be.” I asked if it isn’t more expensive than conventional gardening. “I don’t think it’s more expensive. And every year it’s easier for people to grow organically in their homes. More and more of the big box stores sell organic fertilizer and organic pesticides, herbicides.” She noted that by welcoming ladybugs, it helps to naturally rid the plants of pests like aphids and white flies.
Much of Denman’s inspiration comes from her grandfather, whom she watched grow gardens at his Pennsylvania and Connecticut homes. She remembers him digging a hole in the backyard to compost vegetable scraps, and diluting chicken manure from his small flock to fertilize the plants. These days in the greenhouse, Denman and her grown daughter, Caitrin Bayard, grow plants in a rich composted humus. Instead of using poultry manure, they buy large amounts of concentrated fish fertilizer and dilute it with water for boosting plant growth. “I feel like we’re contributing to keep waste products moving through the economy by using the fish fertilizer; and anyone can get that now.”
When you’re shopping for gardening products, Denman cautions against buying synthetic fertilizers that promise spectacular growth. Look instead of terms on the labels like “safe to eat immediately.” Want to use a natural liquid fertilizer that you don’t have to buy? Denman says you can crush your leftover eggshells into the bottom of a bottle and keep adding water. Smelly enough that you might want to keep it outside. But Denman says it’s a rich source of nutrients for any edible plants, and roses love it.
You don’t need to spend anything to start composting your food scraps in the kitchen, either. Denman suggests any using kind of old enamel pot with a lid, which won’t hold odor like a plastic container. Or, just wrap fruit or vegetable scraps in old black and white newspapers, which can also be composted.
Outdoors, Denman says two easy composting techniques are to dig a hole in the ground like her grandfather did, or compost during the winter in a covered garbage can. She cautions that if you put plant waste directly into the ground, you could end up with volunteer seeds from something like last year’s tomatoes.
Worried about weeds? Denman says that outdoors, she prefers using a 50-percent bleach and water solution to kill weeds, over using a commercial weed killer. You can also stunt miscellaneous growth by placing old newspapers or cardboard right onto the ground. Then, cut holes where you want your new plants to grow.
Of course, we all want to read and learn all that we can. Denman offers some tips right on her website and blog. She also suggests literature by Mother Earth News or Rodale Publishing for understanding more about organic gardening.
Denman’s family business, The Greenhouse at Morgan Lane, holds annual spring plant sales on site near Chattanooga, Tennessee. They are famous for offering heirloom varieties of tomatoes and pepper plants, as well as numerous herbs.