Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

How Green is My Garden?

Planting your own organic vegetable garden is one of the greenest activities around. Just about anyone can do it, whether it’s a few pots on your apartment balcony or a full-fledged kitchen garden that takes up most of your yard. And now is the time to start thinking about it. Even in the far north, seasoned gardeners are hovering over seedlings in their basement or on their windowsill, anticipating that first frost-free date.

Tell us how green your garden is and how you got it that way. And if you have a favorite book on how to garden organically, we'd like you to share it with us.

Leave a reply

To provide feedback or ask a question about our company, a store or a product, please visit our Customer Service page.

For more information about posting comments to our blog, please see our Comment Posting Guidelines.

54 comments

Comments

Donna Sechrist says …

Growing up on a farm, I learned a lot about sustainability. We had a huge vegetable garden, and raised our chickens, ducks, pigs, and cows. My husband and I have grown natural and organic on our property since 1994. We operate an aquaponic greenhouse, and raise sweet genovese basil in combination with Tilapia fish. The fish waste feeds our plants. The plants uptake the nutrients they need, and gravel in the growing beds filter out the bad waste. Yes gravel, no dirt. The clean water returns to the tank supplying oxygen for the fish. It is a semi-closed recirculating system. We also grow a seasonal garden, and produce heirloom vegetables. We are good stewards of our land,and welcome people to our farm to educate them on how we got started and how we grow. Our seed source is Certified Organic, open-pollinated, and heirloom, so we can save our seed. We also have a garden shop on the web, and sell natural and organic grower supplies, and pest management products. We have a small peach and apple orchard, grow strawberries, and thornless blackberries. We would like to add blueberries to our list of fruits but have yet to find an organic source for plants or seed. If anyone has either, please let us know. One of our favorite references for growing Og is "Let's Get Growing" by Crow Miller. It is a Rodale gardening book. Another book that a friend intoduced to me is "This Organic Life" by Joan Dye Gussow. She explains how you can eat a diet of locally grown organic foods -year round. We wish all fellow organic growers a wonderful green growing season! You are an inpiration to all.

Terri Vetter says …

I work for a local garden center and I am often asked how to deter pests in the garden without using harmful chemicals. For small critters I have found that sprinkling ground cayenne red pepper around plants is a temporary but effective deterrent. I typically reapply monthly or after rainfall.

Amelia Matthews says …

For the past few months, I have been planning my garden, gazing seed catalogs, and hoping my compost pile is ready for action all while envisioning all of the veggies that will soon appear in my garden. Because I choose to practice organic garderning methods, a few great resources are "Rodale's Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening", Bill Mollison's "Permaculture: A Designer's Manual". I also love the book that teaches about companion planting called "Carrots Love Tomatoes". Having a garden is a great way to be green and develop a close relationship with the land. Just think of how great the veggies will be in a few months time. Don't forget to plant an extra row for a neighbor or the passing bunny.

julie fisher says …

Last year, instead of buying one little basil plant, I bought a pack of basil seeds. I sprinkled them in one of my large outdoor planters and had tons of basil. Also, was able to make lots of pesto, froze it and enjoyed it through the winter. I froze the pesto in ice cube trays then placed the cubes in freezer bags. This year I am going to try growing other herbs from seed in the planters. I usually just plant flowers.

Rachell Freund says …

For years now I have been using Dawn dish soap to keep the pests off my lawn and garden, it really works and is perfectly safe for the food areas of your yard, the soap works like a charm and rinses off when it rains or you pick and wash your items. This is realitivley inexpensive too. I apply it with a hose end sprayer attachement that you can get at your local home improvement store (normaly used for chemical applications) fill the jar with Dawn and attach the hose to it, and go to town, make sure to get the underside of the leaves and around the roots, and I usally spray the ground around the problem area so any stray pests that might think they have escaped get trapped. If you apply the application late in the evening it works best because the pests have landed for the evening and aren't moveing around as much as durring the day, it gets more of them on the first try.

Kathy Jentz says …

I'm a big advocate of seed-starting indoors to speed up the growing season. But even before the last frost date, folks can plant outdoors in a cold-frame or when it warms up just enough to work the earth. There are many cool-season crops that you can start now -- peas, lettuce, root vegetables, etc.

Liz Lipinski says …

grow native varieties. these plants are happier - and therefore more likely to survive and use less resources - in their natural environment.

Alayne Rosales says …

My absolute favorite herb to grow is basil year round so I keep it indoors when it's cold out. For other plants/flowers, I leave old glass bottles out on my balcony to collect rain water which I use to water my plants. Since I am a beginner cook, I refer to "The Organic Cook's Bible" by Jeff Cox - it is a great book to have when you're learning about organic ingredients for the first time, including fruits, veggies, meats, and endless other things!

Kathy Jentz says …

That is a bit misleading - not all natives are suited to a home yard planting. Actually, many native plants are bog plants and need wet feet all the time, other natives may prefer dry situations -- as with all plants keep in mind "right plant, right place." Read up on the plants and match them to your planting situation -- just because they are labelled "native" does not necessarily mean they will work in your yard.

Dave Wilson says …

I grow organic blueberries in my garden and keep the plants very productive by gathering pine needles from under my pine tree and spreading them around the base of each plant. This free organic natural fertilizer does a great job of producing large wonderful blueberries my family loves.

Deanna Gouzie says …

In the past I made several attempts at growing my own organic vegetables. Some were successful and some were not. It all seemed very hit or miss. I learned that doing something as simple as a soil test could make all the difference. There are many inexpensive soil tests out there that will give you a snapshot of the nutrients available in your soil for your plants. Research has shown that plants grow well with optimum amounts of nutrients available in the soil but may grow slowly or develop poorly with too low or too high amounts of nutrients. Your local state Cooperative Extensions are a wonderful resource. They will provide you with a test kit (for around $10) and a complete analysis of your soil as well as how to "fix" your soil. In addition, they offer tests that will examine for possible toxins in your soil, lead for example. I found this gave me piece of mind and wonderful results in my garden!!

teresa blackburn says …

i love trying my hand at organic farming. stocking up on heirloom seeds and the great advice of past generations. i have found that it is a whole experience. mental, physical, emotional, nourishing and sometimes frustrating. two great books which have helped me are "The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control" and "Great Garden Companions." These books go hand in hand and answer questions that you will have from the planning stages to the "Oh no! what is eating my corn" stage. Good luck and never give up. It is our planet we are trying to heal.

V. Rogers says …

We use several 5 gallon buckets to hang anywhere in the back yard where the full sun is for upside down ftomato plants with organic compost or organic soil with a baby diaper on top of soil for water to absorb to feed the roots of the tomatoes. Put banana peels and egg shells mixture in the organic soil/compost. Use rainwater to water. No weeds to pull and no slugs.

Debbie Francis says …

All winter, I compost the lazy way. I bury all of my fruit & veggie peelings, spent tea bags, coffee grounds, egg shells, etc. in my garden beds. (I only use organically grown/produced products, so my garden STAYS organic.) I mulch on top of that with all of the pine needles and leaves that fall in my yard. By the time spring rolls around and I'm ready to set out plants in my garden, the earthworms in my garden are HUGE and are so PLENTIFUL that there is one in each and every spade full of garden soil. Such an easy method that not only feeds my garden soil organically, but also cuts down on stuff going to landfills.

stef says …

We've chosen not to have those lawn service companies come and spray our yard all over with "their stuff". We use Gardens Alive products and apply them ourselves, but not every year either. I don't really think all weeds should be considered "the enemy". As long as you keep a good balance of nutrients and not let your yard look like a forest it's better for the plants to learn to live harmoniously as well. I also wintersow a lot of my plants -- it's easy on me timewise, easy on the pocket (no investment in grow lights or special containers), and so rewarding. You can learn more about it at the Wintersowing forum at Gardenweb, or at Wintersown.org. This year I'm trying out their motto -- no brown spots -- I plan to get every spot of earth planted with SOMETHING -- herbs and medicinals, flowers, vegetables. I wish I could have chickens and horses but I only have a suburban backyard, so I do what I can with what I have. My favorite book is Monty Don's The Complete Gardener. Close second is Prince Charles' book -- a little too much because obviously I don't have the resources he has, but inspiring nonetheless.

Mary says …

I found the best way to get rid of fire ants without using pesticides is to use concentrated orange oil diluted in water and pour over the ant site. Works beautifully and smells great. Most garden centers will carry orange oil. Orange oil also deters other pests and is a great anti-fungal product and won't hurt plants - as long as it is diluted. A great way to get rid of weeds is to just use undiluted vinegar - the ones from the grocery stores are perfect. Put it in a handheld sprayer and you are good to go!

Marilyn Chiarello says …

What wonderful tips and information! I recently purchased a rain barrel to supply water for my pond/stream, and am now considering purchasing additional units for my garden. Has anyone had success using rain barrels with soaker hoses? Does anyone have any comments on the safety of the water collected in rain barrels for an organic garden?

D. DePalo says …

To keep my garden green, I use a rain bucket from the spring rain and gutters to supplement water in our water-banned area. I take advantage of the house foundation and plant those from the wort family in the shade while in full sun had my mint (to put in drink water), basil (to make homemade pesto), thyme, etc and the big garden of course. Any tomatoes from last year get left in the garden to compost for the next year. Our 1st lawn mowing also goes in the garden as well as coffee grounds. We plant tomatoes near one another to provide shade to tomatoes of those plants close together. We plant ferns, bleeding heart under trees and have zoysia grass which needs less water. We also go to our local organic land trust group to purchase plants, especially rare plants. My green suggestion is to conserve as much water as possible.

Shirley Lum says …

I run theme foodies walking tours in various Toronto neighbourhoods for long-time residents, newcomers and visitors. One of my favourite areas would be Kensington Market. I try to inspire my customers to think and act green in the kitchen and garden. I deal with various merchants who love the idea of recycling, re-using and reducing. How many folks find it annoying to be tracking in dirt from the garden? Well, my back doorway has a coffee beanbag (I think it's from Columbia) - it is a nifty door mat and a great conversation piece as well! Some of my friends and guests are now making requests for used coffee bean bags as burlap for rose bushes! My micro-roastery merchant at Moonbean Cafe loves hearing how his coffee grind helps my garden as well. I'll bring along one of those big plastic tofu container with a lid, and ask his staff to fill it up over the course of the day while I'm running my foodies tour in the market! Kill two birds with one stone! My tree and shrub peonies have gone gangbuster, never mind my veggies and herb plants, once I add the coffee grind to the soil in early spring. My butterfly plant was bursting with amazing foliage, and you should see all those Monarch Butterflies fluttering about my tree! Talk about "win-win" scenario. Throughout the winter, I save up scraps of veggies, herbs and tea leaves in a metallic milk can with air-tight lid. I have it sitting in my window sill, and the west sunlight literally "cooks" it, so by the time it's Spring, I have plenty of "Black Gold" for the garden. Summer time I have faster percolation of Black Gold for the garden. I try to pour it into a different spot each year, sort of "spreading" the composting wealth, so long-term my whole garden gets its share. I am already looking forward to Spring despite the huge mound of snow from the last big snow storm! Happy composting and making your garden as green as possible. cheers, Shirley

Crystal says …

My family is going to share a vegatable garden with our good friend and neighbor. The garden will be in our yard, but we will share cost and work together to take care of the garden. This is a great way to come together as a community and have our children share in this experience. It will be all organic and we hope to add to it, as we learn more. "If you are producing some of your own food you are also reducing the food miles of your kitchen supplies. For the food you grow in your garden or yard that's zero food miles in fact! " , Greenfootsteps.com

Janet says …

Plant a native habitat garden appropriate for your area. It usually means less water, little or no fertilizer, and no pesticides. For inspiration, read 'Gardening With a Wild Heart' by Judith Larner Lowry. You can have your habitat certified by National Wildlife Federation as well. Nature knows what she's doing, so why not follow her lead?

John Ellison says …

I have grown vegetables organically for over 30 years. A few years ago, before retiring, I found a book, "Solar Gardening - Growing Vegetables Year-round the American Intensive Way" by Leadre Poisson and Gretchen Vogel Poisson, Chelsea Green Publishing Company, that has plans and instructions for building Solar Pods that will extend growing seasons to the whole year for cold tolerant vegetables such as lettuce, peas and many root crops. By using these Pods I can sow lettuce and peas in September or October and start gathering them in March and April before the last spring frosts. It is a great way to keep me busy all winter now that I have retired. Another good book for organic gardening is, "The Gardener's A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food" by Tanya L. K. Denckla, Storey Publishing. It contains much technical data to grow, harvest and store vegetables, herbs, fruits and nuts. It also recommends good varieties to grow and sources. Happy gardening!

Lisa Falk says …

I live in the airid Southwest US so gardening is difficult for me here. There is a lot of caliche making digging hard too. Using cinder blocks (I'm painting them fun colors), I put in a 5 x 10 foot garden with purchased soil. Through trail and error I've discovered what grows well here. First I plant sunflower seeds (using seeds from previous crops) along the sides and back (which is against a wall). This provides a bright, cheerful view from the kitchen windows and the sunflowers act as a natural shade fence for the other plants. I plant cherry tomotos mingled with marigolds (they keep off pests and look pretty), jalepeno and bell peppers and lots of basil. The basil and marigolds reseeded themselves and looked pretty with the red of the peppers--made a great fall garden, too.

Deborah says …

My green gardening "Bible" is "Organic Vegetable Gardening" by The Time Life Complete Gardener. It is available on Amazon.com. I like this book because it covers the topic well, has great information on companion planting, organic "pesticides", preparing and designing your garden. It is old, but just a really good easily understood standard to get someone started on their organic garden. One other thing: the "lasagna" way of preparing your garden spot is an excellent way to prepare your soil, and always compost! I also recommend the method I see most Asian's in this area garden - the are out there everyday for a brief period- manually removing pests.

A Chapman says …

I have been doing lots of research over the winter to do some organic home gardening with my kids this spring and summer. Almost every book I have found stresses the importance of beginning with great soil and feeding that soil regulary with lots of organic compost and nutrients. Healthy soil equals healthy plants. Two books I have found worthwhile are The Organic Home Garden by Patrick Lima and Eat More Dirt By Ellen Sandbeck. The books Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots and Trowel and Error both by Sharon Lovejoy are terrific reference books on gardening with kids, as well as how to rid your garden of pests the natural way. Happy Gardening.

Deborah says …

The problem I see with using Dawn dishwashing liquid is that is it indiscrimminate - it can damage the beneficial insects as well as pests. Also, does it contain phosphates that can put your soil out of balance with overuse or run off into your water source?

Jennifer Harrison says …

A great practical read on organic gardening: The Organic Home Garden : How to Grow Fruits and Vegetables Naturally by Patrick Lima, John Scanlan

Terry DeFluri says …

I love the idea of Green Garden blogs for Whole Foods! I am one of the growers for a local park - heirloom gardens which means we can't use pesticdes, etc. We use lots of compost to supplement our gardens and have developed a vermiculture bed for raising worms. (Nitrogen rich fertilizer!) I also suggest using newspapers under mulch to keep gardens tidy and weed free. I use companion plantings as oftedn as I can. I plant marigolds as a group as well as snap dragons to help encourage benenfcial insects & to distract any potential pests. "Southern Seed Exposure" catalog has heirloom seeds and great organic Garden tips. Terry DeFluri

Terry DeFluri says …

Tahnks for posting the blogs!

Kristen says …

Our city recycling program doesn't take the plastic containers that tofu comes in. Instead of throwing them away, I plant seeds in them and transfer the seedlings outside after the last frost.

Joan Haarlander says …

Last year was my first attempt at an organic garden. I did get started late so it was just tomatoes. This year I am going to get started early with organic seedlings inside first. Last year I prepared the ground with organic soil and also organic hummus and organic fertilizer.I have heard there are some very good organic bug sprays also but I did not have any issues with that. Everyone commented on how very meaty my tomatoes were and they were the best they had ever eaten. I have to agree, and anyone can do it, just stay all organic and keep it the way God intended. So if you want to start a garden just get started even if it is small.

Kathleen Cattie says …

I have an organic garden at the elementary school where I teach. In the middle of our ring gardens are compost piles. After the students leave the cafeteria, they throw their fruit refuse in the compost. It's a win-win situation: my garden gets nutritious and delicious composted soil, and my students get to see first hand how food breaks down naturally. It is a real-life application that they wouldn't have learned as well from a text book!

Lisa says …

Love to recycle my brown paper bags by lining my gardens with them before I put down compost/mulch. Now I use reusable bags so I collect brown bags from my Whole Foods friends who haven't made the switch over to reusable. My gardens flourish and the weeds don't!!

Lydia Fox says …

Aphids can be a problem in the garden or on balcony potted plants. I have found that aphids do not like coffee. Try adding used coffee grounds to the soil. If a heavy infestation occurs, use instant coffee sprinkled dry around the base of the plants.

Sandra Stone says …

I have had an organic garden on and off for nearly 2 decades. One book that has been my hands-down fav is The Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden. I have no idea if still in print, but if so it is a must! Other great resources are Organic Gardening and Mother Earth News. This year we are planning to extend our garden to our suburban front yard. Our goal is to devote our time and resources to food and not to wasteful lawn space. We will see what the homeowners association have to say. Good luck everyone!

Gita Agrawal says …

Are weeds popping up in the garden? Rather than tackling these pesky plants with herbicides, try to remove them manually. The physical activity, the fresh air, and the sense of accomplishment can do wonders to the body as well as the mind. And best of all, no chemical are involved to pollute our earth!

Deanna Gouzie says …

I notice that many of you have mentioned composting for your "green" gardens. The best compost ever is supposed to be worm composting. I have been researching it and wanting to go for it but haven't quite gotten there. It seems a great solution for those of us who can't do much composting in the winter months. I read a great book called "Worms Eat My Garbage" by Mary Appelhof. I can't see any drawbacks, I am sure it is fabulous, but the idea of stashing worms under my kitchen sink kind of makes me squirmy.. LOL!! I'd love to hear about anyone's experience with this. Thanks in advance!

A Chapman says …

Just a note about the compost from worms for your gardens.... I saw bags of organic worm castings for sale in the outdoor garden center of a major discount chain store just yesterday. This surely does save the effort of raising them in your own backyard or under the kitchen sink!. Every book I have read on the subject does highly recommend worm composted material.

Barbara Ruppert says …

My dad grew up on an Iowa farm in the 1920's. All vegetable and fruit scraps were placed in a compost pile. Every several weeks, the compost was shovelled and turned. As I grew up in Houston, we were the only family on our block with a compost pile. My dad would add the neighbors leaves and grass clippings as well as produce scraps, coffee grinds and spent flower bouquets. We no longer own a lawn mover or have any St. Augustine grass. We have the most beautiful vegetable gardens, grape arbors, fruit trees, wildflower, herbs and roses, all in the city. Our food bills have decreased and our health has improved. The fruits and vegetables that we are unable to grow locally we purchase at Whole Foods.

Jennifer Wright says …

To help keep your corn free from worms and other pests plant green beans or pole beans at the base of each corn stalk and help the vine climb the corn. Pesky bugs don't like the smell of the beans and will leave your corn alone so that you can enjoy it!

Deanna Gouzie says …

I have done that and it works wonderfully! I actually did the "Three Sisters" technique adding squash(or pumpkins) into the mound as well. You need to make a pretty big mound, but if you do plant the corn on top with beans right around them... the squash goes around the mound on the sides (sloping part) of it. It is also great because corn need lots of nitrogen in the soil and the beans will provide that. The squash provides ground cover to help retain moisture and that means less watering. Woo-hoo! I also like the fact that I have arrow straight corn and no crooked stalks AND it did cut down on pests.

Wendy MacPherson says …

I am currently reading a book reccomended by another organic gardener at our community gardens."the vegetable gardeners bible" by Edward C. Smith. His system is W.O.R.D. Wide rows, Organic methods, raised beds, and deep soil. So far a great book! Now I need to find a good cookbook to use all of the unusual vegetables that can be grown in a home garden!

jerry says …

I would recommend "The Victory Garden Cookbook" by Marion Morash as a good all around garden-oriented cookbook. It doesn't cover a lot of exotics, but has excellent information on the basic veggies that most people plant in their gardens. For exotics, "Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables: A Commonsense Guide" by Elizabeth Schneider is a good choice. The same author also has a comprehensive reference in print, entitled "Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini." Though not oriented toward gardening, Schneider's books are good resources for cooks of every stripe. --Jerry

EAnne Wuerslin says …

The most important thing to remember in organic gardening is the word LOCAL. Every place and every garden has local weather, soil, moisture and growing conditions. Find out from your neighbors, local farmers, cooperative extension services and vendors at your .. farmer's markets what works in your area. Consult with your county's Master Gardeners for free advice and handouts.

Maureen Sison says …

When shelling pecans, instead of throwing the shells away, soak them in water over night & put them on your coals when grilling. This adds wonderful flavor to your grilled foods.

Tina Wood says …

Here is my greener gardening tip: I've been saving cardboard box tops and bottoms from some of the office supplies we order. The tops of copy paper cases, the bottom of file folder boxes, all make the perfect sized biodegradable seed trays!

Katina says …

FYI: I was at my local Calloway's Nursery the other day (DFW area) and noticed a sign that they do "free" soil testing,and I think it also said you'd get a free couponto use in the store too. While there I also picked up some plastic seed trays they were throwing away and I'm "recycling" them to start my seedlings.

Tom says …

I "grow" soil on a regular, on-going basis. In the fall I put leaves from my yard and occasionally neighbors yards over my garden area to a depth of about 2 feet. Sometimes, this covers growing plants, such as swiss chard and carrots, which I can continue gathering through much of the winter. The ground rarely freezes with the heavy layer of insulation on it. In the Spring I add a 35 gal. garbage barrel full of horse manure from a local horse boarding business to the garden area. Worms are plentiful, providing more nutrients to the garden. Insects have not really been a problem after the first couple of years. Another reason I believe for the dearth of insects is the mix of plants in a relatively small area. I believe the odors are mixed to the point that it is difficult for a specific insect to zero in on the odors coming from their favorite food source. One of my favorite books is one of the "Square Foot Gardening" books by Mel Bartholomew. He has two out by the title. I read the first one from the Library and bought the second. He also has an excellent web site. My recommendation to a beginning gardener? Just do it. Most of what you learn will come from your observations as you go along. Visit other gardens, and read. Organic Gardening (OG) magazine and Mother Earth News are my two favorite gardening mags.

Anh says …

I've tried different things like orange oils scent sprays, hot water and powdered sugar with corn meal to get rid of ants but they've all been short-termed solutions. The ants are present year round but they invade the inside of our house in the hottest months of the year. Their paths also cross my organic vegetable gardens. Does anyone have this problem too and what do you do short of calling the exterminator which I've avoided doing the last 8 years that we've lived here?

Barbara says …

I started an organic garden where my lawn was in my back yard a few years ago. In the process the neighbor had his giant ash tree sprayed with a fungicide which in turn rained down all over my yard and me. During the claim I had my " organic " garden soil tested to see if any of the toxic contaminant was detected and in turn found my earth to contain DDT, DDD and DDE. All within accepted limits but my dream is no longer organic. I now garden in wine barrels. Know your dirt, especially if you live where there once was an orchard.

Pages