For this Q&A, we asked blogger/YouTuber Joey Baird of The Wisconsin Vegetable Gardener why he practices organic vegetable growing at home, and which vegetables grow best in small areas.
Joey Baird and his wife, Holly, started making The Wisconsin Vegetable Gardener DIY videos in 2010.
After gardening on a farm in southern Illinois where Joey grew up, the Bairds moved to the Milwaukee area six years ago. They grow organic fruits and vegetables at home year-round, indoors and out.
They chronicle their efforts on their website, podcasts, YouTube videos and other social media, showing how easy it is to grow and store food. They’re also popular speakers at garden expos around the Midwest.
We especially like how they re-use everyday stuff you probably have lying around your house to set up growing spaces just about anywhere.
It’s a simple, frugal, sensible approach any average gardener can follow.
We asked Joey to explain why he chooses organic growing methods, how he goes about it, and what types of vegetables tend to grow best in small spaces, such as indoors.
(For more tips about organic vs. inorganic gardening, read our recent guest post by blogger, author, and YouTuber David The Good.)
Do you and Holly consider yourselves organic growers?
Joey Baird (JB): Yes, we consider ourselves organic growers. We try to use all organic practices. But we don’t discriminate against those who grow inorganically.
They’re openly welcome to come in and ask questions on our website and through social media, etc.
In some instances, based on your situation, you may have to go to an inorganic product to take back control over a pest or disease that you just didn’t notice that got out of hand.
Quick Tip: Growing Peppers in Containers
What’s an example of a situation in which you might need to use an inorganic product or method?
JB: Aphids can take over your garden. They can birth without breeding and every two weeks they can create a new generation. So if you’re not aware of the situation it can take over very quickly.
You can use organic methods of soap and sprays and water to try to eliminate them, but there are chemical applications that will eradicate the whole infestation.
It will kill the good bugs, too, but in order to get back in control of the situation, chemicals can do that for you. After you’re back in control, you can go back to organic practices.
Why did you decide to grow food organically?
JB: We decided to grow organically simply because we’re eating the food we grow.
When you go to the grocery store, you’re not certain which chemicals may or may not have been sprayed on your tomatoes or pineapples or green beans.
But when you’re growing organically, you’re growing them with the sole purpose of eating them — and saving money instead of going to the grocery store.
So by growing organically, we know what has been put into the soil and what has been sprayed on the plants. You know it’s safer to eat than plants that have been sprayed with a high level of toxic chemicals.
Do you really think growing your own organic food saves money?
JB: Growing organically does save money.
For instance, you can go to the store or the farmers’ market and buy a pound of tomatoes for a couple dollars. If you grow a tomato plant correctly and efficiently, that tomato plant can produce 15 to 40 pounds depending on variety.
Now, that’s a lot of tomatoes at one time, yes, but you can freeze them, can them, and preserve them to carry on that freshness all through the year.
And that’s just one instance of how much one plant can produce, versus having to go to the store and buy a pound of tomatoes every week. You can grow them in your garden or in a container.
Green beans are similar. They can produce very heavily over the season. Rather than buying a pound at a time, you can grow a small 4-by-4 area of green beans and have plenty to supply your family’s needs for a good portion of the year.
Which organic materials do you prefer for growing seedlings indoors?
JB: A couple of materials you can use to start your seeds are coco coir or a good, organic soilless mix that includes fertilizer.
Coco coir is a product of the coconut industry — it’s the shredded fibers from around the actual nut. It has no nutrient value. It’s simply a medium the seed can grow into.
If you use coco coir to start your seeds, it won’t have any insects, which is good, but you’re going to have to add a liquid fertilizer to keep your plants alive until you can plant them in a container.
So we recommend going with a soilless medium such as a potting soil rather than the coconut coir to grow indoors year-round.
With soilless medium, there can be some insects you don’t want in there, that’s just the nature of it. You can get rid of those insects by freezing it or baking it.
That destroys some of the soil structure, but it’ll come back after you revitalize it a little bit.
Should I Add Worms to my Container Garden?
What kind of soilless medium and liquid fertilizer do you use?
JB: We use a potting mix from Hsu Growing Supply that has some fertilizer already in it, and then when it’s time to refertilize the soil we use a liquid fertilizer from either Espoma and/or Age Old Organics. They have a number of good organic liquid fertilizers
What are the fruits or vegetables you’ve had the most success growing indoors in the winter?
JB: I like growing green beans inside. Especially bush green beans.
They’re very compact and they can produce for a long time with adequate light, as you can get in an indoor grow system like the Eco Garden House.
Bush green beans take 40 to 60 days to grow and will produce for about three to four weeks. And you can get six to nine green bean plants in one square foot.
So you can pack a lot in there. But because they’re close together, check them daily so if there is an infestation of insects you can control it before they take over all the plants.
You can grow tomatoes relatively successfully, and leeks, and bush cucumbers.
With adequate lighting, peas will grow well if you have a trellis or something else for them to grow up on.
Peppers are a little touchier, but can be done successfully.
Herbs do incredibly well in minimal sunlight. They can get away with three to four hours of sunlight or artificial light.
The list just goes on and on. There’s really no limit to what you can grow indoors, within the limits of the space you have available.
Growing Lots of Tomatoes in a Small Area
What’s your favorite tomato to grow inside?
JB: Any type of brandywine tomato.
Brandywine is the go-to tomato of most heirloom varieties. There are red, pink, black, and yellow varieties of brandywine. You can pretty much get any color.
Other tomatoes can’t compare to the flavor — and the intensity of flavor — of a brandywine. They do produce very large tomatoes, unlike the cherry tomato that can produce hundreds of small tomatoes.
How often do you feed your indoor growing vegetables?
JB: Typically we feed them every three months, which is usually what’s recommended by the potting mix we use.
If you’re growing indoors, I recommend a liquid rather than granular fertilizer. And you want to dilute it to half strength if you’re using it inside, just to figure out how the plants are going to react.
A liquid fertilizer is available immediately to the plant through the roots, just like when you water them.
Granular fertilizers have to dissolve. And it takes longer for that process to make the nutrients available to the plant because a soilless medium probably has fewer microorganisms than regular garden soil.
Growing and Harvesting Swiss Chard in Containers
(We’ll feature Joey Baird again in our next post, in which he’ll explain some keys to growing your own potatoes successfully at home, indoors or out.)
Are you ready to grow your garden year-round?