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Growing your own plants for food and medicine in a sustainable, organic manner, is a great way to reduce or even eliminate the cost of healthy, high quality, natural, eco-friendly foods and medicines. Organic gardening is a method of growing plants by natural means alone. Organic gardening practices usually include those such as crop rotation, companion planting, and the use of natural, organic compost, mulch, and herbicides (instead of synthetic, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which are usually produced from crude oil).
Crop RotationCrop rotation is method of growing plants that involves rotating crops so as not to grow the same plants in the same soil or other growing medium for more than two years. Crop rotation helps prevent the exhaustion of nutrients especially favored by each crop, and results in high quality plant based foods and medicines, with optimum nutritional content and medicinal value.
Companion PlantingCompanion planting is a natural method of pest prevention, whereby plants which benefit one another are grown together for such purposes as hiding one plant with another, masking aromas, repelling or trapping pests, or attracting insects (such as ladybugs or praying mantis), bats or birds for pollination or as predators of pests.
CompostingCompost is an environmentally friendly, sustainable, affordable form of biomass, produced from the aerobic decomposition of plant matter, which is especially rich in carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. All decomposing plant matter, even that from paper and cardboard, is a good source of carbon and nitrogen. Good phosphorus sources include potash, horse or cow manure. Soybeans and other high protein foods are good sources of nitrogen and phosphorus, while potash and potatoes are good potassium sources. Equal parts soil, wet and dry ingredients are often combined to help prevent mold growth in compost as it dries, and worms may be added to help aerate the soil.
MulchingMulch is composed of the same ingredients as compost, only rather than adding it prior to planting and placing it in a pile or container as for composting, mulch is spread out over the garden or yard and it is usually only added during the growing season to prevent malnutrition or PH imbalances.
Natural Pest ControlOrganic gardeners often use natural herbal pest repellents and other natural pest control methods, such as wire mesh screen (lining garden beds or wrapped loosely around tree trunks in orchards as a physical barrier between plants and pests), beneficial microbes in the soil and compost, bats, birds, and insects such as lady bugs and the praying mantis to eat insects, and netting to prevent birds or other pesky thieves from stealing potential produce from orchards.
Germination And SproutingMany plants can be propagated from starts such as roots, cuttings, divisions, bulbs, corms, rhizomes, offsets or runners. Most plants also produce nuts, seeds, grains, beans or legumes from which they can be sprouted and grown. Nutrients which are naturally dormant in nuts, seeds, grains, beans and legumes are activated and multiplied by sprouting. Sprouts are at a stage of growth with the highest concentration of nutrients than at any other time in the life of a plant, providing more nutrients per calorie than any other food. Sprouting increases the vitamin, protein and enzyme content of raw foods by as much as 500% or more, and even if their embryo or mature counterparts do not contain Vitamin C, the sprouting process produces it. Nutritional content continues to increase for up to several days even after they are harvested, and nutrients are broken down into their simplest forms (i.e., starches are converted into simple sugars, crude fats are broken down into free fatty acids, proteins are broken down into amino acids and peptones, etc.). Sprouts also yield up to ten times their own dry weight (reducing required storage space), can be grown anywhere, year round (if indoors), and most sprouts take only a week or less to grow. Keep in mind however, that GE/GM (genetically engineered or genetically modified) starts and foods are not only unhealthy for consumption, but do not reproduce, and cannot be used to grow more of the same plants the following season. GE/GM starts and foods are sold in many grocery stores, and are not labeled as such. To be sure that you are using natural, organic, affordable gardening methods to produce healthy organic foods and medicines, simply choose 'heirloom' starts and foods. Water, humidity, nutrient, PH, light and other detailed growing instructions are usually provided by seed stores, nurseries, or wherever seeds and starts are purchased.
While plants can be grown indoors or out with earth, water or air as the growing medium, germination and sprouting is generally the first step in home gardening, unless growing from starts. The sprouting process begins with germination (i.e., soaking in water). To grow your own sprouts, place nuts, seeds, grains, beans or legumes in a jar or bowl and cover with water. Place out of direct sunlight at room temperature and soak 5-12 hours, then pour off the water and rinse well. Next fill a jar or sprout bag no more than 1/4 of the way full with germinated seeds (or whatever is being sprouted), and put in a cool place with indirect sunlight to increase chlorophyll production. Soak, rinse and drain three times daily until two leaves develop and the hulls or shells have dropped off. Once most of the sprouts have done this, they are ready to use. If allowed to continue growing, grasses result, which are usually harvested at about 8-10", and are just as nutritious and beneficial (sometimes more so) as sprouts. For consumption purposes, refrigerate and store sprouts in a container with paper towels to absorb excess moisture. To extend storage time from several days to several weeks, rinse and drain the sprouts every few days (although the sooner sprouts are used the better).
Sprouting is fairly simple to do, but if for some reason you still find it difficult or are unsuccessful, it may be due to a lack of air, stagnant water, or not rinsing enough. If seeds (or whatever is being sprouted) sour before they sprout, it is likely due to being soaked too long during germination, or not being drained well enough during sprouting. Aside from reasons such as this, sprouting should not prove difficult for even the blackest of thumbs.
Outdoor And Indoor GardeningOutdoor gardens are dependent on the climate and growing seasons of the area, but are usually more convenient and affordable than indoor gardening. On the other hand however, nearly any plant can be grown anywhere, in any climate, all year long if grown indoors.
Gardening With SoilSoil (such as silt and sand) is a common growing medium for plants. To reduce future maintenance, line and surround gardens with wire mesh screen as a physical barrier to keep out pests, cover with clay to absorb and store excess water for plants to reuse later, then top with a layer of gravel and sand for drainage and to help prevent mold growth. Cover this with a layer of compost and mulch for nutrients, then a final layer of gravel, straw or bark chips to reduce or eliminate the need for weeding. To reduce the need for daily watering, rainwater, greywater, soaker hoses, drip irrigation and/or a greenhouse may be used for water collection, storage, recycling and reuse. At the end of each growing season, till the soil, leave what remains of the plants grown there and after that, composting may be also be unnecessary. Although these and similar measures take extra time and labor in the beginning, a garden may be nearly self-sustaining with little to no need for weeding, watering or other maintenance.
Soilless GardeningGardening without soil is often referred to as 'soilless gardening', 'hydroponics' or 'aeroponics', which may be as simple or elaborate as you choose. Grow lights, timers, humidity control, synthetic chemicals and other expensive supplies may be used, but are absolutely unnecessary, especially in the case of organic gardening. Plants can be grown from water troughs for example, using biodegradable styrofoam panels with holes for plant roots to grow down into the water, and plant tops to grow up through and float on. Such a method of hydroponic gardening typically involves continual circulation of water to prevent stagnation (and thereby to reduce the potential for pathogenic overgrowth and maintain optimum oxygen levels), as well as some form of natural pest control (especially if done outdoors). If water is the growing medium (as with hydroponics), nutrients can be provided by compost tea, which is simply compost that is dissolved, strained and diluted in water. Compost tea may also be used as the nutrient source if air is the growing medium (as in aeroponics), but in the form of a mist or spray. Though aeroponics is generally the least expensive method of gardening because less water is needed and water stagnation is not an issue, both hydroponic and aeroponic gardens can be simple, affordable, sustainable, and designed so as to reduce maintenance requirements.
Food Storage And PreservationThere are various ways to store and preserve food, such as freezing, freeze drying, dehydrating, canning, and pickling. Nearly all food storage methods however, denature or destroy nutrients. Freezing and freeze drying destroys vitamin E and vitamin K, while heating foods to over 118 degrees F destroys all nutrients except for carbohydrates and minerals. Although unnecessary, dried foods are often heated to above 118 degrees F, and canning involves temperatures over 240 degrees. Pickling calls for salt water as a fermentation medium, or vinegar as a solvent and storage medium. Some nutrient loss occurs with pickling as well however, because nutrients are slowly leached out of pickled foods and transferred to the liquids over time.
Dehydration at temperatures below 118 degrees, storing foods in a root cellar, ice house, refrigerator, or other cool dark place, are the best options for storing and preserving fresh, dry, whole or prepared plant based foods and medicines, as well as their nutrients and medicinal properties. Optimum storage conditions require temperatures of 35-40 degrees F (generally not more than 60 degrees F), 80-90% humidity, as little light as possible and adequate air ventilation. Generally all plant based foods and medicines should be stored in sealed containers to help prevent the growth of mold and infestation by insects, rodents or other pests. Storage times also vary, depending on what is being stored, and surrounding climate conditions such as temperature, humidity, light and air. Some foods, such as fruit and vegetable juices or other liquids, may only keep for up to a few days in a cellar. Fresh home-ground flours only keep for up to about two weeks in a cellar or other such dark cool place, so they should only be ground in sufficient quantities for short term use. Fresh fruits and vegetables can keep for up to six months, or for a year or more if dried and stored in sealed containers. Nuts, seeds, grains, beans and legumes keep best if dried and stored whole. These and fermented foods may be stored in a cellar or other such dark cool place for months, or even years.
Art gallery and homestead of Sue Robishaw and Steve Schmeck, creating and living a sustainable life in Michigan
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