Friday, February 27, 2015

Organic Vegetable Gardening Tips & Classes

The Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden,
an organic, sustainable food garden,
provides plenty of spring bounty at Duke Gardens.
Photo by Lindsey Fleetwood.
By Kate Blakely

Gardening tips always take on the perspective of the gardener. What the gardener cares about intimately shapes the information he or she is sharing. Vegetable gardening is no different. Amidst all the wonderful info about growing veggies, it’s the intent that makes each tip unique and special.

Andy Currin, a Duke University campus horticulturist, shares his wealth of organic vegetable gardening knowledge in a Duke Gardens class series designed to help participants get the most out of their gardens all year. Currin cares deeply about sustainable gardening, and that's reflected in his teaching.

Currin's Spring Organic Vegetable Gardening classes, from March 11-25, will teach you how to use the spring as a foundation for year-round organic vegetable gardening. Currin will show you how to maximize yield while planning for a sequence of seasons and minimize maintenance. The classes will also cover specific strategies for dealing with the spring and summer difficulties of heat, soil and water. Growing organic vegetables isn't limited to the plants themselves, though. Currin will also discuss ways to provide habitats for beneficial insects and native pollinators as part of your sustainable practice.

Currin shared some of his tips on growing vegetables in a healthy, sustainable way.

  • Watch when you water. “Of all points of sustainability, the main component is efficient water use,” Currin said. A lot of folks will water their gardens, their lawns and their flowers during the heat of the day, when the sun is working hardest. “You lose more water to evaporation than will actually get to the plants to be useful to them,” said Currin. The best planet-friendly practice is to water in the early morning or after the sun starts going down.
  • If you want to eat organic, start organically. If you want to grow organic vegetables, you must be vigilant about everything involved, from soil to seeds. “Some of the seeds, if they’re not labeled as organic, could contain seed treatments that would be systemic,” Currin noted. This means that chemical compounds in the seeds will be found throughout the plant. “And that would be included in the vegetables that you’ll be eating. You really have to start with the seed, any soil amendments, anything like that. Everything has to be organic approved.”
  • Watch (and help) the right bugs. Pollinators and predatory insects are the most beneficial. Currin has a “good list” and “bad list” of insects. At the top of the good list? Hoverflies. They are both a pollinator and a predatory insect, Currin said. Native bees also help out. The orchard mason bee, the bumblebee and the leaf cutter bee work to pollinate plants. Praying mantis, ladybugs and green lacewings also help. “They eat the bad guys,” said Currin. The bad guys? Aphids, thrips and squash bugs. As part of your organic practices, make sure to complete any pest treatments around dusk, when the beneficial insects are not going to be out and about. That makes the least impact on the beneficial insect population. “Even organic treatments don’t really discriminate; they just take out everything,” Currin said.

Want to learn more? Take Currin’s Organic Vegetable Gardening class on March 11, 18, and 25 from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. and March 21 from 9:30 - 11:30 a.m. If this is your first Organic Vegetable Gardening class here, we'll provide a textbook. The series costs $110; $90 for Gardens members or Duke staff/students. This class qualifies as a Home Horticulture Certificate elective course (8 hours).

For more information about this class or to register, call 919-668-1707 or email You can also check our website to find out more about this class and our other events. 

If you can't take the spring class, or if you want to continue learning about year-round sustainable gardening from Currin, keep an eye out for the next Organic Vegetable Gardening class series in the fall.

Blogger Kate Blakely was a graduate student at Duke Divinity School and a work-study assistant at Duke Gardens when this blog preview first appeared preceding a previous class series.

No comments:

Post a Comment