Tag Archives: beginner garden

10 Ways to Start Organic Gardening Now

We’ve had so many people joining the ranks of organic gardeners in the past couple of years. Folks are becoming interested in where their food comes from, stretching their budgets, becoming concerned for the environment, or just trying to make the tastiest meals. Unfortunately, not everyone concludes that they’d like to start a garden during the spring. When I first read about organic gardening and local food, it was fall, and it was tough to feel like I had to wait all winter to start on this new venture. Thankfully, if you’ve just decided to start organic gardening, you don’t have to wait. Here are 10 ways you can start an organic gardening right now.

Start a Compost Pile

Compost is one of the best ways to build healthy soil, and you can start a compost pile any time of year. Add fall leaves, kitchen scraps, grass clippings, egg shells, and more to your pile. Check out our post, Black Gold, for complete instructions.

Plant Cover Crops

Cover crops are another great way to build up your soil in preparation for a new garden. While it’s too late to plant most vegetable crops, you can still sow a few fall cover crops. Learn more about how and what to grow with our post, Cover Crops for Beginners.

Build a Raised Bed

Raised beds can be easier to manage for new gardeners and allow you to grow food in areas with poor or even no soil. Getting one set up this fall will save you stress in the spring!

Start a Lasagna Garden or Hugelkultur Mound

Another type of garden you can start is a lasagna garden or hugelkultur mound. Both methods allow you to build up your soil and create beds without tilling. Lasagna gardens are made of just a couple of layers. First, you lay down cardboard to kill the grass, followed by a layer of organic material, usually hay, but leaves, grass clippings, and straw can also be incorporated. Then you cover this with several inches of finished compost or manure. The manure will need to break down longer before you can plant.

Hugelkultur mounds are similar but have an additional layer. You begin by laying down woody material such as sticks, branches, or even logs. The larger and fresher the material, the longer it will take to break down. Then you add a layer of nitrogen-rich material like grass clippings or manure to help encourage the woody material to decay. Follow this with a layer of soil and a layer of mulch. Check out our post, How to Build a Hugelkultur Garden Bed, for more information.

Organic Garden (start organic gardening)Get a Soil Test

A soil test is a great place to start for any new gardener and will help you avoid many issues. Healthy plants start with healthy soil, and a test will tell you critical information, like if your soil is too acidic or missing vital nutrients like phosphorus. 

Do Your Research

There’s a lot of information about organic gardening, and while you’ll still make some mistakes, it can be beneficial to learn as much as possible before starting a garden. Some of our favorite resources include:

Plant Garlic & Onions

I said there weren’t many vegetable crops to plant his time of year, but there are a couple! Fall is when we plant our garlic and onions. You can start garlic, multiplier onions, and shallots from sets. Start bulb onions from seed in a cold frame or hoop house to ensure they get plenty of time to bulb up before next summer gets too hot.

Plant Fall Flowers

You can also plant many flowers during the fall. Fall bulbs like tulips, daffodils, crocuses, and oriental lilies are popular choices. You can also sow cold hardy seeds like coneflowers, sweet peas, violas, and Larkspur. Our post, Spring Flowers: Fall Sowing, discusses overwintering flowers.

Begin Collecting Supplies

While you can start an organic garden with almost nothing, a few tools make it much more manageable. Watch yard sales or thrift shops for basic tools like a shovel, watering can, garden fork, and trowel. You can also watch fall sales on hoses and irrigation supplies.

You can also try to score free organic matter for your garden and compost pile. Ask friends and neighbors to save grass clippings or leaves for you. Be sure that these aren’t from lawns sprayed with herbicides!

Plan your seed list early and order early to ensure you get the varieties you want. Thankfully there are many great small seed companies you can support; we have a few of our favorites listed on the website if you are looking for something we don’t carry. 

Check Your Hardiness Zone

Especially if you plan to add perennials to your garden, you’ll want to check on your hardiness zone. You can use this information to purchase perennials like fruit trees that will thrive in your area. 

Don’t wait until spring to start organic gardening. There are many ways to get started this fall that will help you have a productive summer!


Beginner’s Guide to Okra & Giveaway

Okra has long been a common crop in southern gardens. This warm-weather-loving plant originated in northeast Africa and was brought to the U.S. in the late 1660s by way of the slave trade or via Europe. Its high mucilage content makes it an excellent vegetable for thickening soups and stew, but it’s got many other uses too! Grow your own with this beginner’s guide to growing okra.

Preparing a Bed

Okra needs a location with full sun to maximize production. It thrives in fertile, loamy, well-drained soil. The ideal soil pH is between 6.5 and 7.0. Okra does best with lots of hummus, so it’s good to add a couple of inches of well-aged compost to the bed before planting. 

Planting Okra

Okra SeedlingsOkra seeds have a hard seed coat and germinate slowly, especially in older varieties. To speed things up, soak your seed overnight before planting. Alternatively, you can use a technique called scarification. It sounds complicated, but it just means you use sandpaper to lightly abrade the seed coat before planting, helping it break down faster.

Okra can be started indoors or direct sown. To start indoors, sow in pots 2 to 3 weeks before planting out. To direct sow okra, wait until all danger of frost has passed and the soil temperature averages 65°F. Sow seeds 3/4 to 1 inches deep. 

If you live in a northern climate, sow okra indoors 2 to 3 weeks before your last frost date. Some folks with high tunnels or other season extension methods may be able to set them out a bit earlier; just make sure they have plenty of room to grow. Okra can get up to 6 feet tall!

If you’ve started your seeds indoors, be sure to harden off your okra like other seedlings before transplanting. It’s best to transplant on an overcast day or in the evening. Water your plants in well.

Sow or transplant your okra into rows 5 to 6 feet apart. Transplant or thin your okra to 18 inches apart in the rows.

Caring for Okra

Hill Country Heirloom Red OkraOnce plants are a few inches tall, mulch heavily around them, this keeps the soil cool and moist and helps suppress weeds.

Keep okra plants well watered through the summer. They are most productive and disease-resistant when grown in moist soil. 

Some folks side-dress okra with compost of balanced fertilizer once they’re about 6 inches tall. However, you want to avoid over-fertilizing. Too much nitrogen encourages okra to put more energy into leaf production and little into flower and pod production. 

Grow okra on a 4-year garden rotation plan to avoid pest and disease issues. It’s worth noting that older okra varieties are more resistant to root-knot nematodes due to their deep root systems. Grasshoppers may eat your okras’ lower leaves.


Most okra varieties are best when harvested between 2 and 4 inches long. Pod tenderness will vary over the season. You may be able to snap young pods off with your hands, or you can use hand pruners to cut them.

You may want to wear gloves and long sleeves when harvesting okra. Okra has hairy leaves and tiny spines on the pods, which irritate most people’s skin.

The Whole Okra & Giveaway

If you want to learn more about this amazing crop, check out The Whole Okra: A Stem to Stem Celebration by our friend Chris Smith. He provides excellent growing advice, history, recipes from chefs, and a fantastic look at the many uses for okra, including okra oil, okra coffee, okra marshmallows, okra tofu, okra vodka, okra pickles, okra pancakes.

Be sure to visit us on Instagram this week! We’re giving away a copy of The Whole Okra and a packet of one of Smith’s favorites, Puerto Rico Everblush Okra. Visit us on Instagram @southernexposureseed before Thursday, May 5th, 2022, at midnight EST to enter for your chance to win.

Seed to Storage: Success With Peppers

Peppers are one of the best plants to learn to start from seed. Growing from seed rather than just purchasing transplants allows you to access a wide range of unique varieties that you won’t find in stores. Here are some tips for success with peppers from seed to harvest and beyond. 

Selecting Pepper Varieties

We carry many pepper varieties at Southern Exposure, which we separate into three basic categories.

  • Hot Peppers
  • Seasoning Peppers
  • Sweet Peppers

They fall into three species: Capsicum annuum, Capsicum chinense, and Capsicum baccatumC. annuum includes most peppers easily found in the U.S. and almost all sweet peppers. 

C. baccatum and C. chinense are generally more disease-resistant than C. annuum

C. annuum generally has thicker walls, so it adds more bulk to sauces. C. chinense has the thinnest walls, but C. baccatum tends to be the easiest to dry. 

While any hot pepper has its heat mostly in its seeds and ribs, the heat of C. chinense is relatively more dispersed, and the heat of C. baccatum is especially concentrated in the seeds. C. baccatum and C. chinense generally have very fruity flavors that complement sweet as well as savory dishes.pepper seedlings

Starting Seeds

Starting peppers seeds is easy as long as you follow some basic guidelines. Start pepper seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before your last frost. 

Start your pepper seeds in proper potting mix. Potting mix drains better and doesn’t compact like ordinary garden soil. It’s also best to start peppers in well-draining trays or soil blocks. Sow seeds about 1/4 inch deep.

Pepper seeds require warm temperatures to germinate. They do best when kept between 75 and 80 degrees during the day and at least 65 at night. Temperature can make the difference in peppers germinating in 5 days or 20.

Placing your seed starting set up in a warm room will help you seed peppers coming up faster. You can also purchase seedling heat mats that the trays sit on. This provides steady, even warmth to your seedlings.

Your seedlings also need a good light source once they’ve germinated. Setting seedlings in a window doesn’t provide enough light. You can use grow lights or other re-purposed lights. The long ones you’d find in a shop or basement work well for doing multiple trays of seedlings. 

Peppers need an uncrowded root system for maximum production. Pot your peppers up to 3-inch pots when they develop a few leaves. You may need to pot them up again if your seedlings become large.


Harden off pepper seedlings before transplanting out. Hardening off allows plants to acclimate to field conditions like wind and sun exposure slowly. Begin by moving your pepper plants outdoors for an hour or two each day on warm days. Gradually increase the time you leave them out over a week or two before transplanting. Don’t let your seedlings wilt!

Wait until it has really warmed up to transplant your peppers. Plant them out after the dogwood blossoms have fallen or the soil temperature reaches 65°F. Ideally, transplanting should be done on an overcast day. 

Space your plants in rows or blocks 18 to 24 inches apart. Especially if you have less than ideal soil, it’s a good idea to dig a larger transplant hole than necessary and add some finished compost. Then plant your peppers so that the soil is at the same level as in the container. If you used peat pots, tear off the tops, so they don’t stick up above the soil and wick moisture away from the roots. harvesting banana peppers

Pepper Care

A month after planting, it’s a good idea to mulch around your peppers. Avoid doing this earlier as it can keep soil temperatures too cool for good growth. The mulch will help keep the soil moist and suppress weeds.

Pepper plants can be side-dressed with fertilizer when they’re young. Avoid getting any on the roots, stem, or leaves as it can burn the plant. Over-fertilizing should be avoided. Read application rates carefully. Don’t fertilize after plants have flowered, as this can cause the flowers to drop and fail to set fruit. Good levels of phosphorus in the soil are essential for good yields. 

Stake larger pepper plants to avoid logging, particularly if they are heavy with fruit. You can also use tomato cages.

You can extend your season by covering your plants at night for 1 to 2 weeks during mild frosts. Before the first hard frost of the season, pull plants and place the roots in a bucket of water. Store in a cool location to extend the season by up to one month. 

Harvesting Peppers

Peppers can be harvested green however they aren’t fully ripe at this stage. You can eat peppers at any stage of ripeness, but fully ripe peppers have more flavor and nearly double the vitamin C content.

Hot peppers generally get hotter as they ripen. For example, a red jalapeño will be spicer than a green one.

Preserving and Using Peppers

There are many ways to use and preserve peppers. Many seasoning peppers like the Hungarian Paprika Spice Pepper have thin flesh and are ideal for drying. Depending on your climate, they can be air-dried on screens, threaded and hung, or dried in a dehydrator. Then you can grind them to make an excellent seasoning.

Pickling peppers is also a simple, common way to put up a large harvest. Pickled peppers go well on pizzas, sandwiches, and salads. Sweet Banana Peppers and Jalapeños are common choices, but it also works with other varieties. You can find instructions here.

Fermenting is another common way to use peppers. Making your own hot sauce is a delicious way to spice up a variety of meals. Try this recipe from Soul Fire Farm.

You can also freeze peppers. Peppers don’t need to be blanched, so you can just chop them or cut them into strips and freeze them. Freezing them in a single layer on a cookie sheet before transferring them to a bag or container keeps them from clumping together for easier use. For a fun night and a bit of extra flavor, you can also roast peppers over an open fire before freezing.