By Kristen Plank
University of Georgia
To start, Westerfield recommends raised beds to set the garden apart and to allow for good drainage.
The next main step is "building" the organic soil. "This is key," he said. "Fill the beds with a combination of compost, horse or animal manure and bags of pine bark."
When you're building the soil, it often takes a lot of animal manure to get the correct nitrate amount. Westerfield suggests supplementing the soil with a bagged fertilizer as well as organic. This will keep the plants healthy.
"Some people think nitrogen from horse manure is better then Wal-Mart fertilizer," he said. "In fact, the plant can't tell where the nitrogen came from."
Reduce, don't eliminateReduce the number of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers you use, he said. But you don't have to eliminate them. "There are tons of ways to keep your plants as healthy as possible without using harsh pesticides," he said.
Organic pesticides, such as Neem and Safer Soap, are on the market to help prevent bug intrusions. Westerfield recommends nonspraying tactics such as "scouting" (counting numbers of insect pests and beneficial insects to determine control needs) and handpicking insects off plants before they become infested.
Buy resistant plant varieties, too. And rotate your crops, never planting the same family of vegetables in the same place two years in a row.
Best plantsWhen choosing which plants to begin a garden, Westerfield suggests picking up hybrid varieties from the store or transplants from a nursery. These are more disease-resistant and will be easier to grow.
His suggestions for easy "beginner" plants: "It's hard to fail on snap or green beans. Also, radishes, peppers and squash are good to start off."
Knowing exactly what was applied to the garden is one of the many benefits. "Growing your own crops and knowing you used nature to help it along is very satisfying," he said.
Still, pesticides aren't bad, he insists, if you correctly follow the directions.
Some commercially grown vegetables, though, enter the country without any information on the types or amounts of chemicals used, he said. This could lead to harmful effects, so be sure to wash grocery vegetables carefully.
(Kristen Plank is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)