Organic Gardening

There are 5 million organic gardeners in the U.S. -- and most have taken Ecclesiastes to heart: "a time to plant and a time to pluck that which is planted." While the local Korean market provides me with the closest I get to wildlife -- eight tulips for $6 -- nature beckons. Which is why I decided to learn more. First stop: Organic Gardening, because as everyone knows, green is in.

And OG practices what it preaches.

The plot in Emmaus, Pa., company HQ, is the experimental farm founded by J.I. Rodale in the 1930s to test progressive ideas about organic farming and gardening. Considered the father of the natural-food movement, he founded OG and Prevention and built the foundation for Rodale, a leader in health and wellness publishing.

Today, many have embraced the organic-gardening movement -- growing anything without chemicals. OG's goal is to share this philosophy with gardeners of every stripe. To accommodate reader feedback, the bimonthly appears Feb/March, April, May, June/July, August and November, reflecting the reality of most gardeners -- to every time there is a season -- and their busiest is spring and summer.

There is a great deal of information packed into OG's 76 pages. For vets, the magazine is a handy guide; for beginners, it's useful without being overly technical. Each issue features Food, Landscape, Soil and Greenhouse sections. My knowledge of gardens was limited to my parents' yearly crop of tomatoes and peppers, but their pleasure was palpable. A successful season was greeted with the delight usually reserved for a newborn. "Will you look at the size of that pepper!" "Is that a gorgeous tomato or is that a gorgeous tomato!"

Why did my tough lawyer father get such a charge out of his vegetables? I never visited without first getting a tour of his garden. The lure was primal -- a chance to work with your hands, to feel the earth, to bask in the results of your labors. It was, in a word, therapeutic. Why do people pay shrinks when they could get comfort from a giant squash?

True, I think Manhattan is God's country, but most New Yorkers settle for indoor plants or strolling through Central Park -- which is great if you can avoid the rollerbladers. Nature is beautiful, but it's not meant to share with a crowd. So I stay inside and peruse a Burpee catalog, which is remarkably relaxing. Who knew?

But for those who reap what they sow, OG is a must. Personally, I got a kick out of the February calendar. It's not often Feb. 3 is remembered as Tu B'Shevat, billed here as "the new year for trees in the Jewish tradition." If you've got 'em, prune 'em -- specifically apple and pear trees. And just to underscore OG's ecumenical bent, Feb. 18 is Chinese New Year, so start seeds of bok choy and gal lan (Chinese broccoli) indoors for an early spring planting.

I may not live where "the wind comes sweeping down the plain," but the tenants in my co-op are serious about landscaping, and I'm tempted to join them.

And that's where the Landscape section helps. You can order via email from a nursery's Web site. But OG issues a warning that some brands will arrive in better shape than others. Rest easy, most "sized up nicely" during the growing season, and that caveat probably extends to OG's five test gardens away from the office -- in North Carolina, Illinois, Kansas, California and Washington State respectively.

Such range is helpful in "The Best Varieties of 2007," where Rodale reveals the strongest performers and a regional breakdown of which flowers and vegetables get a thumb's up or down. What isn't in print is online.

That story is followed by a seasonal guide to growing roses. Here's a tip -- prune them each season and seal cuts with glue to discourage insects. I felt, for a moment, transported to the English countryside, watching Miss Marple clip her rose bushes in St. Mary Mead. The devotion -- and knowledge -- needed to perfect the flower is considerable. Ironically, part of basking in nature is keeping it (aphids, beetles, weeds) at bay.

Yet OG's practical approach is both accessible and doable. Life is often outside our control; but with a garden, you've got a fighting chance. Keats was right: However long it blooms, however perennial the pleasure, "a thing of beauty is a joy forever."


Published by:Rodale
Frequency: Bimonthly
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