With the last of winter’s frost behind us and longer, brighter days ahead, it’s the perfect time to start planting the seeds of a non-GMO food supply right in our own backyards. If you’re like me and have never tended to a garden of your own, the idea of home gardening can seem like a daunting task – especially when you want to be sure you’re growing an organic and non-GMO bounty!
The best way to know exactly where your food comes from is to grow it yourself. Beyond shopping local and choosing Non-GMO Project Verified and certified organic products, the small step of planting a garden can have a big impact. An average US household produces 48 tons of greenhouse gases per year with about 17% coming from food intake. By growing fresh food in your backyard you are helping to bring down that carbon footprint. But before getting started it is important to get informed on the best practices for creating an environmentally-friendly garden plot at home.
After reaching out to some green-thumbed friends and doing a bit of research, I found that growing a non-GMO garden is actually fairly simple. Here are some helpful tips that I learned along the way.
Know where your food comes from.
Although home gardeners cannot buy commercially grown GMO seeds, you should make sure that you are not inadvertently supporting corporations that fuel the genetically modified seed industry. A large majority of the commercial seed market is owned by biotech industry giants. Check out this chart that gives a breakdown of the seed industry structure and reference this list to find safe seed companies.
If you want to be sure that your seeds and starts come from farms that do not use genetically modified seeds, toxic pesticides, or other unsustainable practices, the best place to source them is from a local organic nursery. When choosing packaged seeds, look for the Non-GMO Project Butterfly and organic seals.
If you see a label on your tomatoes starts that say ‘Roma-style grape’ or ‘Jumbo Ruby Red’ don’t worry, it’s a hybrid vegetable, not a GMO. A hybrid vegetable is created when plant breeders intentionally cross-pollinate two different varieties of a plant, aiming to produce an offspring, or hybrid, that contains the best traits of each of the parents. Cross-pollination is a natural process that occurs within members of the same plant species, and farmers have been cultivating new plant varieties for thousands of years through this traditional method.
GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering. This relatively new science creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacteria and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. To give you an idea of just how weird this can get, in 1991 a variety of tomato was engineered with genes from the Arctic flounder to make it frost-tolerant. Fortunately, that product was never brought to market – but it is a good illustration of how unnatural GMOs are. Additionally, no long-term feeding studies have been done surrounding GMOs and the potential side effects are still largely unknown.
It’s easy to get overzealous and plant way more than you could ever need. Consider how many people you want your garden to feed and plan accordingly. High-yield crops such as tomatoes, leaf lettuce, cucumbers, and herbs will produce much more throughout the season than single-harvest veggies such as carrots or beets.
Choosing a smaller square footage for your garden may come in handy when it comes to maintenance throughout the season. Similarly, starting with potted containers is a smart choice for beginners—you don’t need a large yard and you will cut down extensively on weeding.
Find a place where your plants will thrive.
Most veggies only need a few key elements for life: plenty of water, 6-8 hours of sunshine a day, and good soil. Find an area where your plants will have the most access to direct sunlight and go from there. Keep in mind you will want it to be close to access for watering.
The best way to start planting is to add nutrient-rich soil and compost to your garden, as most veggies do best in soft, moist soil that is rich in organic material. When purchasing soils, choose organic and talk with your local retailer or nursery about where it comes from.
I may be a gardening newbie, but I am proud of the spring beginnings of my little non-GMO garden. I did feel in over my head at first, but with some help from local farmers and friends, I’m now living an even more sustainable, non-GMO lifestyle. I hope these tips and tricks have shed light on how easy it can be to start a non-GMO garden of your own!