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The Root of It All: Community garden and growing organic

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I would like to start growing my own food, but I need a garden plot that is close to my house. I also want it to be organic, and to use organic methods so my food is the best possible. I have health and allergy issues, and would be willing to work hard to grow vegetables. Would it be possible to grow enough to sell to other people? — Kitty, Burlington.

Growing your own vegetables is a great idea to plan for early in the year, and can bring many rewards. The physical activity of gardening, along with being outside and eating more vegetables will help improve your health. Gardening has been shown to improve physical, emotional and spiritual well-being; research shows that working with plants and the soil, spending time outdoors in nature and taking walks in the woods all increase feelings of well-being, as well as reduce blood pressure. The research is amazing.

Growing your own vegetables is a physical undertaking, however, there are a number of steps involved to make it successful. For those who have never gardened before, I suggest research and planning before jumping in with the shovel and hoe.

A location must be selected that is suitable for a garden plot, accessible to water, and accessible to you — if it is too far away or not convenient, the garden is less likely to be tended to and harvested on a regular basis. Sometimes it is best to start with container gardens on your patio to gain the benefits of gardening and fresh vegetables, while you are trying to locate a suitable, larger garden plot.

Unfortunately, we do not have any community rental plot gardens in Burlington (that I am aware of). There is interest in developing a garden, but as far as I know one does not exist currently. The master gardener volunteers have a pantry garden located at the Burlington Garden Center, but all produce grown there is donated to Love Inc. There is also a garden they tend to at the Pioneer Cabin as a demonstration garden. The plants there are typical of those that would have been grown in that era, and all produce is donated to Love Inc.

Racine has two rental gardens run by the Racine Urban Garden Network, a large plot at Marquette and Eighth streets, and a smaller one on 12th and Villa streets by the policing station. More information on these can be found at http://rugn.org/.

Organic gardening is more labor intensive, but for many it is the only way to go. Using organic methods does not certify the produce for sale as “organic,” though. So if you are planning on selling vegetables organically, you would need to certify your land and all inputs as “organic” through the USDA. It is a lengthy, complicated and expensive process that is only worth it if you are selling more than $5,000 a year. We use organic methods at our gardens in Racine, but we are not certified organic.

The UW-Extension gardens located in Racine are used for teaching and demonstration, and can be a great resource for learning about organic methods. The class schedule for The Teaching Garden, located behind the Racine County Food Bank, will be posted soon. These classes are open to the public and are free of charge.

Another resource for information about vegetables and organic gardening is the Horticulture Helpline. You can call the master gardener volunteers with your questions, and they will return your call with an immense amount of information. They can also mail printed material to you for you reading pleasure.

For more information about vegetable gardening in Wisconsin, visit the UW-Extension Wisconsin Horticulture website at http://hort.uwex.edu.

More questions?

Master gardener volunteers serving as plant health advisers are able to answer your questions at mastergardeners@goracine.org or by calling the horticulture helpline at (262) 886-8451 (Ives Grove) or (262) 767-2919 (Burlington).

Dr. Patti Nagai is the horticulture educator for Racine County UW-Extension. Submit your questions for The Journal Times Q&A column to Dr. Nagai at Patti.Nagai@goracine.org and put “Question for RJT” in the subject line.

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