For those who have been thinking "I'd like to start an organic garden this year," it's not too late. Lots of folks plant during the first week in May.
Traditionally in Mississippi, the old folks advise planting on Good Friday, but that's not a hard rule, and it mostly applies to seeds, not "starts," or plants started in pots. Also, we generally experience a frost around Easter in Mississippi, which can kill tender plants. So it's often wise to wait until the week after Easter to plant.
That covers early planting, but what about on the other end? How late can you plant?
You can plant just about anytime in spring and summer and grow fresh, wholesome fruits and vegetables. For organic gardens, the operative word is "bugs." Because we don't use chemical poisons—where one can plant late and then spray and spray and spray to control ever more hatches of insects—we want to get started early and allow both beneficial and harmful insects to develop together, in balance.
At my little ShooFly farm, anyway, we plant early to harvest before it gets really hot in August. Who wants to be out working in the hot sun when it's 100 degrees and the humidity is 98 percent? We don't, for sure!
It's a balancing act; you don't want to plant too early and endanger the plants via frost or when the soil is so cold that seeds don't germinate and rot in the ground. Plant too early and your plants may become stunted, but you don't want to wait so long that the bugs are already established to eat up your plants.
To plan a timeline for your garden, just read the seed packet. It will say how many days until maturity. For example, if you plant corn with 90 days maturity, and you plant May 2, you can expect ripe corn August 2 or thereabouts.
Jim PathFinder Ewing has a book with Findhorn Press, "Conscious Food: Sustainable Growth, Spiritual Eating," on organic food, farming and spirit to be published in the fall. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit http://www.blueskywaters.com.
Making a 'Jim's Plot'
I recommend creating a "Jim's Plot," a 4-foot by 8-foot plot, either raised bed or not, to start your garden. If you like, you can always expand it; but that's a good starting size.
Outline a 4-by-8 area and enclose it in nontoxic materials. You can buy synthetic lumber, including stuff made from recycled plastics and rubber, or use materials you have at hand like concrete blocks, tin or other materials. You could also simply mound up the soil as a natural boundary or use cedar or redwood lumber.
In the plot, use either bagged soil—Miracle-Gro Organic Choice Garden Soil is widely available at garden stores and is OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) approved for certified organic use—or dig from areas of your yard where leaves may have accumulated over the years to provide loamy soil. Work the soil with a shovel to loosen it to the depth of the shovel (about 8 inches), or use a garden tiller. Start keeping a compost bin and add compost periodically to build up the soil.
It should take you maybe a day to build and plant the plot. Use certified organic seeds (available at local garden supply stores) or heirloom plants. To be all organic, don't use hybrids or genetically modified (GMO) plants.
Women and Their Gardens
"Women and Their Gardens" by Catherine Horwood (Ball Publishing, 2012, $26.95) would make a terrific Mother's Day gift idea. Subtitled "A History from the Elizabethan Era to Today," it's a hefty tome at 431 pages, but it's filled with interesting lore from the 18th-century salons of Mayfair to the women gardeners of World War II. The book's focus is English gardens; it doesn't delve into the modern small-agriculture movement in America that is liberally composed of young women. But if she's into gardening, mom might like it.