Grow Organic, Non-GMO, Real Food Now
by Geri Guidetti, Founder of The Ark Institute
It happens every spring. Seed racks bulging with brightly colored packets of vegetables and herbs seem to grow up almost overnight from floors in grocery stores, nurseries and home improvement centers. Perky green seedlings appear next--tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, zucchini, basil—everything a winter-weary soul could want.
Today, there are more reasons than ever for people to want to grow their own food. Medical evidence is overwhelming—those who eat a largely vegetable diet can delay or prevent the development of heart disease, diabetes and many cancers. Yet, most of the fresh and canned vegetables available in U.S. supermarkets are grown on chemical-based, commercial mega-farms that use genetically modified seed (GM) to produce genetically modified food plants (GMOs). The effects these chemicals and novel genes have on human health are difficult to pin down, largely because there are so many chemicals and gene products that cause and effect of any one on a single ailment are difficult to prove.
Growing GMO-free, organic food is smart, and getting started or expanding is easy—even for apartment dwellers with no more “ground” than large pots on a sunny deck or rooftop. Simple steps to success include:
Buying a good book. A comprehensive book on organic gardening will “grow the gardener.” Such a trusted companion should include chapters on soil, light, seed planting, transplanting, watering, insect friends and foes, disease control and more. Multiple books by Eliot Coleman and Ed Smith, and bestselling e-book Build Your Ark, cover the basics as well as more advanced gardening topics. Container gardeners should add The Bountiful Container by McGee and Stuckey, but use organic soil, fertilizers and pest/disease controls.
Deciding what to grow. If garden space is limited to just a few square feet of ground or a couple of large containers, the focus should be on producing a continuous supply of fresh, organic, non-GMO salads. Quick growing spinach, loose leaf green and red lettuces, chicory, arugula, basil, green onions, carrots, beets and radishes can be planted every two to four weeks as others are harvested. Cutting off the tops of lettuces an inch above the soil allows the hearts of the plants to regenerate whole new heads. By planting new seeds in flats every two weeks, new seedlings are ever ready to transplant to spaces freed up by the harvested food. Root crops such as carrots and beets are best planted right where they will grow—undisturbed—to harvest. Grow endless salads economically from seed, not pricey plants, and fertilize to maintain high soil productivity. Diverse greens mixes designed for harvesting as micro-greens can also be grown to full size.
Bigger gardens, bigger plans. It is essential to plan ahead for big gardens, four season harvests, food self-sufficiency and sustainability. Year round, balanced, health-sustaining diets require more than just salads, and soil that is expected to sustain bountiful, healthy harvests needs to be planned for and nurtured as well. Planned places for tomatoes, peppers, winter and summer squashes, pumpkins, green and yellow beans, peas, spring and winter kales, early and late spinach, as well as succession plantings of lettuces, early and late carrots, potatoes, onions, and melons should be drawn on paper, preferably in winter or very early spring. Expected yields of varieties can be found in detailed seed catalogs, online or in organic gardening books. Most families do not need 25 tomato plants, but find that three or four high yielding varieties will provide for most of their fresh and canned needs. Likewise, 15 habanero pepper plants might be overkill for all but a handful of fire-eating families, and harvests from 10 zucchini plants could overwhelm an entire neighborhood. Maintaining lower soil disease and insect risks for organic gardening depends on planned rotations of vegetables to new locations each season—sometimes not planting a crop in the same space for three to four years. Realistic planning based on size, soil and climate constraints, nutritional goals and individual food preferences will minimize missteps and maximize success.
Choosing seed wisely. Growing organic, non-GMO food, real food begins by buying seed that has not been genetically altered by seed genetic engineering companies. It is getting increasingly difficult to find seed that has not been contaminated by wind and insect borne pollens bearing the patented genetic legacies of corporations intent on increasing the use of their herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers. But it is still possible. Non-hybrid, non-GMO seed—much of it for heirloom vegetable and garden fruit varieties dating back 25 years or more—carry the least risk. Most of these rapidly disappearing varieties are grown by small growers whose fields are not exposed to mega-farm plantings of commercial GMOs. Non-hybrid garden vegetables can be harvested for their non-hybrid, non-GMO seed as well as their vegetables, allowing a sustainable seed supply to be saved by the home gardener year-to-year, as humans have always done.
Real seed, grown and saved for the future, and organically grown real food are the keys to sustainable, vibrant, good health.
Geri Guidetti has been growing non-hybrid, non-GMO vegetable gardens for over 40 years. Her gardens are an outdoor extension of her laboratory, a hands-on commitment to the preservation of precious, disappearing seed varieties and their ability to provide food self-sufficiency to all who grow and save them. Geri has devoted the past 15+ years of her life to growing and storing endangered food seeds, and developing The Ark Institute as a resource for these disappearing varieties. For more information or to purchase non-GMO seeds visit ArkInstitute.com