Five Steps to Creating a No-Till Vegetable Garden

The author’s no-till garden in early spring after compost and straw have been applied. (Image by Jessie Keith)

To till or not to till? Why ask this question? Tilling does good things for the soil. It increases needed aeration and porosity, allows the easy incorporation of organic amendments, and it makes all the little green weeds at the top of the soil go away. But it also has its disadvantages. Tilling draws dormant weed seeds from the soil’s subterranean seed bank to the surface, which can mean more weeds. It encourages soil erosion and disrupts all manner of beneficial creatures and microbes underground, which support healthy soils and plant roots. In time, the no-till approach can save time, money, and greatly reduce weeds. These are the reasons it is trending.

Soil Quality Determines the No-Till Approach

If you have good garden soil, starting a no-till garden is simple. Those with poorer soils need to do a bit more work.

There is more than one way to establish a no-till garden. And one’s approach is often related to soil quality and topography. Those with good garden soil can opt to simply clear weeds from the ground, add thick compost and fast-to-degrade mulches for vegetable gardening (straw, leaf mulch, etc.), fertilize, and start planting. Others with poorer clay (or sandy) soils, like me, need to feed the soil for the beforehand. It’s ironic, but my successful no-till garden needed to start with, well, tilling, in addition to double digging, and amendment. Lifting or berming the soil is also important, especially if your garden’s topography is low.

Creating a No-Till Garden

Ample soil amendments and mulches will enrich your no-till garden and keep it weed-free.

For me, creating a good no-till garden started with a big investment. I dug deep, enriched my beds to the hilt, and lifted and bermed my planting areas. For excellent no-till bed longevity, I started by lifting and aerating the soil as deeply as possible.


  • Tiller
  • Amendments, such as peat, compost, and castings (add at least a 1:4 ratio of amendments to ground-soil)
  • Hard rake and shovel
  • Straw
  • Mycorrhizae
  • Fertilizer
  • Tarp
  • Wheelbarrow (for moving mulches and amendments)
Till in amendments to at least a 1:4 ratio of amendments to ground-soil until well-combined, and airy.

Here are the five steps that I took to establish my no-till garden.

  1. Till deeply: Creating good garden soil is all about adding air pockets, loft, and good fertility to encourage drainage and deep rooting. If you have heavy soil, you cannot accomplish this without initial tilling and amendment with lots of organic matter. Till on a day when the soil has enough moisture to sink a shovel into but is also a bit dry. I recommend double or triple tilling the new garden area to break up the soil as much as possible.
  2. Double dig: Extra deep digging is time-intensive and should be reserved for areas where you plan to plant deep-rooting vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, and other root crops. Move the lofty tilled topsoil onto a tarp beside the bed and dig another few inches deeper and break up the soil further. (Click here to read more about double digging.)
  3. Amend all of your backfill: Amendments rich in organic matter and microbes are essential for the longterm health of your garden. Shovel lots of organic matter, like Black Gold compost, earthworm castings, peat moss, and even composted manure and mushroom soil, into your backfill, and till it in. I also recommend adding a granular vegetable fertilizer and an endomycorrhizal inoculant, which can be purchased in powder form. Beneficial mycorrhizal fungi help plants grow better by allowing them to more efficiently access water and nutrients.
  4. Define pathways, fill, and berm: If you have a large or relatively large garden space, it’s nice to establish paths for easy garden access and harvest. Most gardeners choose a row or block design. I always like my pathways to stand a bit lower than my beds, so I berm up fill in the bed areas using a hard rake. This gives beds an even deeper pad of lofty soil and ensures that they will not be walked upon.
  5. Cover: As a final step, I cover my walkways with black & white newspaper or non-waxed corrugated cardboard and cover the paper with a thick layer of seed-free grass clippings, straw, or even leaf mulch or pine straw. You can even plant nitrogen-fixing clover in the walkways. Then I add a thick layer of compost to the beds to detur weeds, and fresh straw to the pathways to stop weeds and keep them from getting muddy after rain.

Each year, I clean up and refresh the walkways, and add fresh compost as a mulch in lieu of tilling. Invest in your no-till garden like this in the beginning, and you will be wowed by the results.

Raising Beds to New Heights

Other garden types, such as raised beds, do not require tilling either.

There are other no-till options for vegetable gardening, but I prefer the freedom of a large garden bed with tidy straw walkways. Traditional raised beds, hugelkultur, strawbale gardening, even container gardening don’t require tilling. Here are articles about each gardening type, if you want to learn more.

Raised Beds: Respecting the Law of Return

Hugelkultur Layered Vegetable Gardens

Do You Have Tips for Straw Bale Gardening?

Succeed with Container Vegetable Gardening

Invest in your no-till garden from the beginning, and it will reward you in the future. Support it with fresh mulch, feed it well, and watch your harvests explode!

Double dig areas for root vegetables, and add a layer of protective compost over beds each year.

Beating The Five Most Common Vegetable Garden Pests Naturally

My daughter is picking off Colorado potato beetles from potato plants.

For the past 14 years, I have grown my vegetables in a community garden plot, which has provided a real education in plant pests, diseases, and weeds. Why? Because these mega veggie gardens are pest hot spots, and summer is the worst time of year for the beasties.  Bad insects always attack my beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, and eggplants–threatening to destroy fruits and foliage, and sometimes spreading disease as they munch and crunch along. I must use every tool in the toolbox to fight them. And, if they beat my crops, I often start them again, if there’s time and the season allows. Sometimes beating pests is just a matter of retooling planting time.

The five most common vegetable garden pests that I battle in mid to late summer are Colorado potato beetles, striped cucumber beetles, flea beetles, Mexican bean beetles, and harlequin cabbage bugs. (Cabbage loopers and squash vine borers are also a problem. Click here to read about cabbage looper control, and click here to read about squash borer control.) Each return year after year with regularity, but some years are worse than others. The severity of the previous winter usually indicates the severity of my pest problems–the milder the winter, the harsher the pest problem.

Last winter was pretty warm, so this summer, the pests are rampant. Here are some ways that I have learned to overcome them.

Colorado Potato Beetle

One often sees Colorado potato beetles mating on top of a potato plant.

The surest way to attract Colorado potato beetles to your garden is to plant potatoes, but if you don’t have potatoes, they will go for your tomatoes and eggplant secondarily. (Fortunately, they don’t appear to be attracted to tomatillos.) The fat, striped adult beetles emerge from the soil in late spring to feed on emerging potatoes, and then lay clusters of orange-yellow eggs on leaf undersides. They yield highly destructive little orange larvae that eat foliage nonstop and grow quickly. You can kill the insects at any stage, but it’s easiest to pick off the adults and eggs. (Click here to view the full life cycle of these beetles.) The beetles can complete up to three life cycles in a single season, so once you have them, you generally have to fight them all summer.

A Colorado potato beetle larvae eating tomato leaves.

These insects are highly resistant to insecticides, so it pays to choose non-chemical methods of control. Time and time again, I’ve found that well-timed cultural control and proper winter cleanup are the best means of battling them. Cultural control is essentially picking off the adults, eggs, and larvae and/or pruning off egg- and larval-covered leaves and branches. I generally smash picked specimens, but you can also drown them in a bucket of water. Beetle picking should start in mid to late spring and continue until all signs of these pests are gone. (To learn everything there is to know about Colorado Potato Beetles, visit

Spotted and Striped Cucumber Beetles

Here are the symptoms of bacterial wilt, which is spread by the striped cucumber beetles.

As their names suggest, striped and spotted cucumber beetles favor cucumbers, but they also attack melon vines. Small, striped or spotted cucumber beetles look so cute and innocent, but they are so destructive. Every year my cucumber crop is a crapshoot. Why? It’s not because of the damage they cause by feeding on plants and fruits. It’s the catastrophic bacterial wilt that they spread from plant to plant. Once cucumber vines get cucumber bacterial wilt, there is no turning back. The leaves will start to show droop, and eventually, whole stems will collapse, and the vine will die.

These pests may have two to three cycles in a season and are next to impossible to control, even with harsh chemical insecticides. Floating row cloth cover can keep them at bay, but it’s a hassle and does not allow pollinators to reach the plants, though some cucumbers are self-pollinating, particularly Beit-Alpha types like ‘Diva’.

Striped and spotted cucumber beetles are similar in size and color.

When striped cucumber beetles are a chronic problem, the best course of action is to choose bacterial-wilt-resistant cucumber varieties. Cornell University Extension offers a great list of resistant cucumber varieties from which to choose. Of these, I have grown the short-vined slicer ‘Salad Bush,’ which is great for container growing. Two more reliable varieties are ‘Marketmore 80‘ and ‘Dasher II.’ (Click here to learn more about striped cucumber beetles. And click here to watch a video about how to grow cucumbers.)

Eggplant Flea Beetle

Eggplant flea beetle damage on an eggplant leaf.

Tiny jet-black eggplant flea beetles are the smallest summer pests in this list, but they can devastate an eggplant in a matter of days. They attack many other veggies, like radishes, potatoes, turnips, and spinach, but with less ferocity. The small but numerous insects leave little pockmarks all over a host plant’s leaves. Badly damaged leaves barely function, resulting in poor, weak plants that produce puny fruits.

If you want to grow eggplant, you have to protect them from eggplant flea beetles. There are plenty of insecticides that will kill these insects, but only a few non-chemical cultural practices will stop them. The best method that I have found is protecting plants with summer-weight floating row covers that transmit a lot of sunlight while physically keeping insects from the plants. The key is covering plants early and then securing the row covers at the base, so the tiny beetles cannot crawl beneath them. Holding cover edges down with bricks, pins, and even mulch or compost works. The only caveat is that you may need to hand-pollinate plants for fruit set.

Good fall cleanup of infested crop plants will also keep populations down from year to year. On average, eggplant flea beetles will complete up to four generations in a single season. (Click here to learn more about these pests.)

Harlequin Cabbage Bug

Harlequin bug adults will quickly destroy broccoli, kale, cabbage, and other brassicas.

These ornamental stink bugs are the worst enemy of summer kale, broccoli, and other brassicas. They suck the juices from the leaves, causing pockmarks all over them. The most striking destruction I have ever witnessed was with enormous Portuguese kale that I had nurtured to a bold 2′ in height through spring. Once the numerous beetles started to attack in early summer, the plant had no chance.

There are a few management practices that will help stop these bugs. Floating row covers can also be used, as was suggested for the eggplant flea beetles, but harlequin cabbage bugs are big enough to pick off by hand if you have the time and can handle the slightly stinky smell they emit when disturbed. Spraying them off with a jet of water will also help knock them back. Small nymphs are also susceptible to treatment with OMRI Listed® insecticidal soap.

Two to three generations of harlequin cabbage bugs can occur each season. By late summer, they are no longer a problem, so that you can plant your fall cabbages and kales with confidence. (Click here to learn more about these pests.)

Mexican Bean Beetle

Mexican bean beetle larvae do serious damage to bean leaves.

Like Colorado potato beetles, it’s the larvae of Mexican bean beetles that do the harshest damage to bean plants. The adults emerge in late spring, but they rarely cause major problems on bean plants until midsummer. The adults are orange, black-spotted beetles that lay clusters of orange-yellow eggs below the leaves, much like the Colorado potato beetle. The unusual larvae are fuzzy, bright yellow, and devastate leaves as they feed along the leaf bottoms.

You can control these pests as you would Colorado potato beetles with one exception – destructive harvesting. Destructive harvesting is the harvest and total removal of infested plants from the garden. After picking all the beans from an infested plant, the whole plants should be pulled, bagged, and taken far from your garden. (Click here to view a YouTube video from the University of Maryland about destructive harvesting.) Beans can be replanted as late as mid-August for early fall harvest.

A Mexican bean beetle adult on a bean leaf.

In general, regular weeding, good plant care, and excellent garden clean up, in summer and fall, will help keep pest populations down. Clean the ground of all leaf litter and weeds as needed, and amend the soil with top-quality amendments for vegetables, such as Black Gold® Garden Compost Blend and Garden Soil, and your plants will be more robust to resist the many garden pests that threaten to destroy them.

The High-Protein Vegetable Garden: Beans and Grains

Vegetarian and vegan lifestyles have popularized high-protein garden vegetables. Growing a good selection of nutritious, protein-packed grains and beans means expanding upon the standard repertoire of veggies. The list may include cool-season legumes, like chickpeas and fava beans,  as well as winter grains and warm-season crops, such as edamame and amaranth.

The first step of garden planning is arranging your desired crops by season. All the edibles in this article fall into three seasonal categories—winter cover crops (fall to spring), cool-season crops (spring and fall), and warm-season crops (late spring to early fall). Identifying good seed sources is also important. For lesser-grown grains and beans I recommend Salt Spring Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds and for a good selection of beans I recommend Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Winter Cover Crops

Winter wheat grows through winter and produces in late spring.

Buckwheat, winter wheat, and rye varieties serve as winter crops with high-protein seeds and grains that can be reaped in late fall or spring. As cover crops, they suppress weeds and feed and protect garden soils through winter.

Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum, 19 grams protein/164 gram serving) is a legume that prefers mild sunny days and cool nights. As a cover crop, it suppresses weeds, breaks up tough soil with its dense roots, and naturally fixes nitrogen into the soil. Most gardeners plant it in midsummer for late-season cover and seeds. Lightly till the soil, broadcast seed over the area, and water it in. Germination should occur within a week or so. After several weeks, the robust plants will bear small white flowers that feed bees and produce exceptional honey. In the 10th week, clusters of dry seeds cover the plants. Gather the clusters before they shatter by cutting them into a closed bag or bowl. To separate the seed and chaff, run the clusters across an 11/64″ round steel sieve, and follow this by winnowing away any additional chaff. (Read more about growing buckwheat.)

Winter wheat and rye are hardy cover crops that can be planted in fall and bear grain in late spring to early summer. Spelt (Triticum spelta, 25 grams protein/174 gram serving), winter wheat (Triticum aestivum varieties, 24 grams protein/192 gram serving), and winter rye (Secale cereal, 25 grams protein/169 gram serving) are three good choices. In spring, plants grow quickly. They can be harvested when the plants and seedheads turn brown. Once fully dry, the chaff can be easily peeled off and winnowed away.

Cool Season High-Protein Crops

Chickpeas are Middle Eastern in origin and best grown in springtime.

A surprising number of protein-packed legumes thrive in cool spring weather—these include chickpeas, fava beans, and quinoa. Spring legumes have the added benefit of fixing nitrogen into the soil, so plant these in areas where you plan to rotate in heavy feeding summer crops, like tomatoes.

Chickpeas (Cicer arietinum, 39 grams protein/200 gram serving) and fava beans (Vicea faba, 10 grams protein/126 g serving) are both ancient crops, dating back to 7,500-8,000 years, that originate from the Middle East. Both grow best in cool conditions with no temperature extremes. Sow them in spring, at the same time peas are planted. Pre-soak the seeds and plant them in fertile, well-drained soil 1.5 inches below the soil surface. Both should begin producing beans by late spring or early summer. Hot summer weather will cause plants to decline and flowers to drop before fruit set. Harvest and enjoy both beans fresh or allow pods to become fully dry on the plant before hulling and containing them for long-term storage.

Lanscape_with_Chenopodium_quinoa_Cachilaya_Bolivia_Lake_Titicaca Michael Hermann
Quinoa growing in Bolivia. (image by Michael Hermann)

Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa, 24 grams protein/170 gram serving) is an equally ancient crop that is sown in spring and harvested in early summer when the heads are fully dry. There are several varieties of this Andean native and amaranth relative that may have red, black, or tan seeds.

To plant quinoa seeds, work up the soil and amend with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend. Then lightly broadcast the seeds over the planting area and lightly rake them over.  Seed heads should be fully dry by early summer. Cut them into a closed bag or bowl, and then winnow to separate the seeds from the chaff. The millet-like seeds will self sow if allowed to fall to the ground.

Warm-Season High-Protein Crops

In the summertime, try growing protein-rich amaranth, chia, edamame, and various beans. All thrive in hot weather and are easy to grow.

Chia plants are pretty and their seeds are full of protein. (image by McZusatz)

Lots of protein-rich summer seed crops are also ornamentals. Tall, bold purple amaranth (Amaranthus hypochondriacus, 26 grams protein/193 gram serving) has edible leaves in addition to producing loads of edible seeds. Plant it in spring after the threat of frost has passed. By summer, heat, and drought tolerant amaranths will produce large floral plumes. Harvest these in fall when they become dry; simply cut them off and shake them vigorously into a plastic bag to remove the seeds. Add the seeds to breads, muffins, or granola.

Chia seeds are produced by Salvia hispanica (4 grams protein/28 gram serving), a Mexican sage grows to 3 feet and bears spikes of blue flowers in summer, so it makes a great ornamental.  In fall, its tall spiky seed heads are filled with seeds to cut and gather. Add them to smoothies or toast and sprinkle them on granola.

Tall purple amaranth is attractive and produces loads of edible seeds.

Edamame (Glycine max) have become increasingly popular with gardeners as more home varieties appear in seed catalogs. Opt for productive, short-season cultivars like ‘Envy‘ and ‘Fiskeby‘. Start seeds indoors and plant them outdoors after the threat of frost has passed. The heat-loving plants will produce fresh pods by midsummer. These and summer beans of all varieties, from limas to black beans and string beans, are great high-protein summer vegetables. (Click here to grow great summer string beans.)

All of these crops can be harvested dry and stored, but those that can be enjoyed fresh offer extra appeal. Few have the chance to enjoy fresh-picked edamame, favas, and chickpeas straight from the garden!

Fava beans are a great source of protein and easy to grow in mild spring weather.


Succeed with Container Vegetable Gardening

If you have a small garden, you can still grow vegetables! How? Potted vegetables, of course! For container vegetable success, it comes down to choosing the right pot, good soil, a sunny location, and keeping your plants fed and watered. Get these factors right, and you will be rewarded with lots of fresh vegetables all season long.

Container growing can be a bit more challenging, but a little mastery will bring big success. Veggie pots can be started in spring, summer, or fall, as long as you choose the correct veggies for the season.

The Right Plant and Pot Size

This tower-o-kale shows how vertical planters can maximize space. (photo by Maureen Gilmer)

Bigger is generally better when it comes to pot size. Many summer vegetable favorites, such as tomatoes, peppers, beans, and greens need big pots. Vining plants, such as cucumbers, squash, melons, and sweet potatoes, need even bigger pots to grow to full glory. Large pots hold more soil and water and provide the depth and space plants need to grow fully and stably. They also have enough space to keep growing roots cool, a must for plant health. The large, deep pot should have ample room to accommodate the stakes or cages that many vegetables need to keep from toppling in summer winds.

Half whiskey barrels, big tubs, and deep trough planters have enough space for vegetables to grow to their fullest. Terracotta is not always recommended because it can wick water away. Choose lighter-colored pots with thicker because they tend to keep roots cooler. Be sure they have plenty of holes in the bottom for ample drainage. A layer of permeable garden cloth at each pot’s bottom will keep soil from seeping out. Bottom trays are recommended.

Spacious vertical planters work well for vegetable growing, if they hold enough soil for plants to grow well. There are many great styles on the market and templates for crafty builders. Check our our vertical vegetable garden Pinterest Pin Board to view a few!

'Moutain Merit' is an award-winning bushy tomato that's great for container growing. (photo by All-America Selections® Winners)
‘Mountain Merit’ is an award-winning bushy tomato that’s great for container growing. (photo by All-America Selections® Winners)

Smaller is generally better when it comes to plant size. When growing in containers, compact varieties are better suited to pot culture. Determinate, or non-vining bush tomatoes, are better than full-vining indeterminate types. Pick classic bush tomato varieties like the red slicers, ‘Mountain Merit‘ and ‘Celebrity‘, both AAS winners.

Other great bushy veggies (that are typically large vines) include little cucumbers, such as ‘Bush Pickle‘, and space-saving squash, such as the small butternut ‘Butterbush‘ and zucchini ‘Fordhook‘. A good cantaloupe to try is the very compact ‘Minnesota Midget‘, and ‘Bush Sugar Baby‘ is a short-vined watermelon suited to container culture. ‘Little Baby Flower‘ is a another somewhat compact watermelon that we are growing in a pot this season with great success!

For rooting vegetables, such as carrots, turnips, beets, and radishes, pots sizes can be slightly smaller as long as they are deep. Upright vegetables, such as peppers and eggplant, should be staked or caged to supply added support.

Good Soil and Fertilizer Quality

Good soil that holds water well, but also has ample air space and great drainage, is needed for successful container growing. Black Gold® Waterhold Cocoblend Potting Soil mixed BG-WATERHOLD_1cu-FRONTwith Black Gold® Garden Compost Blend is the perfect combo for vegetable gardening in containers, and these OMRI Listed® products are approved for organic gardening. For containers holding herbs and green leafy vegetables, consider adding a little Black Gold Earthworm Castings Blend 0.8-0.0-0.0, which is rich in nitrogen. Change potted media out at least every two to three years for best results because potting mixes break down, lose structure, and acidify over time.

Most vegetables are “heavy feeders”, which means they need a lot of food for good growth and development. A good slow-release fertilizer formulated for vegetable growing is best. Work the fertilizer into the root zone at planting time. For really heavy feeders, like tomatoes, it also helps to follow up with applications of a water-soluble fertilizer formulated for vegetables just at the point before fruits develop. This will help maximize fruit quality and load.

Effective Watering

Overstuffed veggie pots are not ideal because they require twice-daily water, extra food, and won’t grow to their fullest and happiest due to root competition.

Lack of regular water is one of the main causes of potted vegetable failure. The number one rule to follow when watering potted plants is to continue watering until water starts to run out of the pot drain holes. This indicates that the container is saturated. Thorough watering will result in more expansive root development and stronger, more stable plants. If you only water the upper half of pots, plants will develop shallow root systems, which will reduce stability and cause fast drying.

Daily water is needed for most pots, but large pots may require water more frequently, depending on the plants and heat and humidity levels. More effective irrigation is also helpful. Consider drip irrigation for pots. It also helps to add an extra layer of porous organic mulch to keep surface water from evaporating. Leaf mulch, straw, or grass clippings are all great options that break down quickly while providing a little extra protection. Click here to read about the 8 best watering strategies for plants.

Good Container Veggies by Season

‘Little Baby Flower’ watermelon grows well in big tubs!

Determine a plant’s growing season before planting. Vegetables are generally distinguished as being “cool season”  or “warm season”. In most parts of the country, cool-season vegetables are those that you would grow in the spring or fall. Warm-season vegetables are those that grow well during the hottest months of summer.

Top cool-season vegetables for containers are lettuce, spinach, kale, bok and pak choi, miniature cabbages and cauliflowers, bush peas, beets, and mini carrots, radishes, and turnips. Warm-season vegetables are tomatoes, peppers, bush squash, eggplant, Swiss chard (cool season, too), bush cucumbers, and melons.

Even in late summer, there is time to plant vegetable containers for fall enjoyment. Start by going to a local nursery where they sell large containers, premium Black Gold potting mixes (click here to find a store with Black Gold near you), and quality vegetable starts. Give them good care for a bountiful harvest.

If you just have a porch steps, you can grow vegetables!

High Desert Vegetable Gardening

Successful vegetable gardening in the high desert takes effort but is rewarding.

Growing food in the high deserts of the American West is a challenge until you learn how to modify your microclimate. Not only is the high desert incredibly dry, it’s often windy, which can be a larger problem than drought. Hot or cold dry winds draw moisture out of leaves faster than the roots can replace it. If you don’t resolve the wind problem, you’ll find little success.


Protect Beds with Straw Bales


Potatoes thriving in high-desert soils boosted with lots of organic-rich amendments.

These dry climates allow bales of straw to remain intact for years. That’s why I use them around the perimeter of my high desert vegetable garden to block ground level winds. They are stable and strong enough to remain in place during our worst storm-driving winds and Santa Anas (strong, dry down-slope winds that originate inland and affect coastal southern  and northern California). Bales can also be placed in the growing area to create mini windbreaks for rows or sensitive plants. They can be stacked two or three high into a wall on the windward side of the garden to add even more protection.

While winters are cold in the high desert, there is tremendous UV exposure due to the thin dry air. During the summer this exposure soars to such an extent that some plants just can’t take it. I use wire field fencing rolled into tubes in lieu of tomato towers. They’re perfect for another solution, using shade cloth attached with clothes pins to the west side of each wire tube. This helps plants during July and August when very hot afternoons can be tough on food plants.


Amend Your Soil


Protective fencing is needed to keep plants safe from animal pests.

High desert soils often lack organic matter, and that’s where Black Gold soil amendments can transform sandy gravel into fertile ground. Among the best choices for amending lean soils is Black Gold Compost Blend and Black Gold Garden Soil. These soils also need  microbes which can be introduced using Black Gold Earthworm Castings that are naturally rich in these organisms so crucial to plant growth and soil health.

Building fertile ground takes time, so be sure to add more organic matter and nutrients every year at planting time. May 1st is the most universal date of the last frost, then the growing season is fast for the first month or two, until it slows down in the depths of summer. During August your plants may rest in the heat, then take off again in September growing rapidly until frost. Be sure to feed your garden at summer’s end with a tomato and vegetable fertilizer to help them flourish in this “second season”.

Feed Your Vegetables


Finally, select food plant varieties that are desert adapted. I’ve found many great candidates for this tough climate at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds because they tell you where each variety comes from. That’s where I found ‘Abu Rawan’, a tomato from Iraq that’s adapted to desert conditions. Choose these in lieu of heirlooms developed for ripening in the cool climates of northern Europe. Another great source is Native Seed/SEARCH, a seed vendor dedicated to the preservation of vegetable plants traditionally grown by the Southwest Pueblo Indian tribes.

Gardening in the high desert is easy once you solve the problems of wind, sun and very lean soils. But with a few straw bales and a load of Black Gold soil amendments, you’ll be all set to get started.
(To learn more about gardening in the high desert, read Raised Beds in Dry Country.)

Plant Your Organic Garden

Once your soil is fed with natural & organic fertilizers and amendments and tilled, will you grow your veggies from seed or seedlings? The answer depends on the kinds of plants you choose to grow.

Fast growing plants that have large seeds planted deeper down are usually sown directly into garden soil. These include corn, squash, cucumbers, melons, sunflowers, beans or peas. When you buy your seed, know that every packet is marked with its year just like a food expiration date. Make sure yours is labeled for the current year so the seed is sure to sprout quickly.

Slower to germinate plants with smaller seeds such as peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and greens are more easily started indoors ahead of time. These can also be purchased as seedlings at the garden center. Bonnie Plants offers a wide range of organically grown varieties in sizes from seedling four-pack to gallon pot plants already on the way toward flower and fruit. The price dictates which you choose. They are grown in peat pots that can be planted directly into the soil for minimal root disturbance. If you can’t find organically grown seedlings, buy a standard nursery-grown seedling and raise it organically for the same result.

Continue reading “Plant Your Organic Garden”

Build Organic Garden Soil with Black Gold

Building organic garden soil is the same as working the soil for any other kind of garden except for one thing: you must feed the soil with OMRI Listed products for organic gardening. The ground below your feet is not just dirt but a whole living breathing universe unto itself. Within those soil mineral particles are populations of microscopic bacteria, fungi, yeasts, protozoa and algae. They are collectively known as microbes, which feed on the remnants of dead plants, also known as organic matter. Organic gardens depend on high microbe populations to make plants grow strong naturally, resist pests and diseases, and produce a bumper crop of food or flowers.

Continue reading “Build Organic Garden Soil with Black Gold”