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Today I’m interviewing Bob Dahm, aka “Organic Bob” on container gardens. Bob runs a Twin Cities organic lawn care business.
He also gives talks on container gardening as well as teaches other classes. He first became passionate about organic lawn care, as you’ll read below, then really got into organic gardening when he himself had a serious health issue.
First I’ll introduce you to him:
Hi! I’m Bob Dahm, founder of Organic Bob, LLC. This is my story of how I came to be in the organic lawn care business.
Growing up as the son of a farmer and a school teacher/soil conservation activist I learned early to respect and care for the land. A few years later I watched my dad and grandfather and many of their farmer buddies die of cancer. The prostate cancer rate for my home county was many times the national average.
The culprit, in my humble opinion, was the toxic agricultural chemicals. I knew there had to be a better way. In 1986, as grounds manager for a children’s psychiatric hospital, I had a problem. What do I use on the children’s playground lawn that was in terrible shape due to my refusal to expose children to toxic chemicals?
I began to use organic products and methods to care for the lawn. After 3 years and a lot of work, the playground looked better than the rest of the grounds we were treating with conventional chemicals.
I had unlocked the secret to effective organic lawn care. Staff hired me to do their lawns and my side business grew. In 2002, I quit my job and went into organic lawn care full time.
Here’s our interview:
What are the benefits of growing your own food?
Beneficial microbes in the soil produce a more nutritionally dense food without the load of toxins that are found on conventional foods.
It is also more economical to grow your own food. After the initial setup costs, you can grow your own produce very inexpensively.
Also, what you can’t eat you can preserve, so you can have inexpensive organic food year round. You can get the most bang for your buck with greens, such as lettuce, kale, chard, spinach. They are easy to grow and make a huge difference in your health.
What are some things that grow well and are low hassle?
Greens are very easy to grow. Also you can cut them down 3 times and they will re-grow. You can plant them in succession, meaning plant several trays at different times. Plant your first tray then wait 2 weeks and plant another tray, and so on. This allows you to have greens all season long.
Other things that are easy to grow are cherry tomatoes, chives, green onions, cabbage, and radishes.
One thing that I grow that is really fun is cucamelons. They are small little fruits about the size of a grape that look like a watermelon. They taste like a cucumber with a squirt of lime. You can eat them right off the vine or toss them in a salad like a cherry tomato.
How many hours of sunlight do you need for a container garden?
Ideally you need about 6 hours of full sun. Leafy greens do better with less direct sun, 2 hours is a good amount for them.
If you want to grow your herbs or greens indoors, find a south-facing window.
Is it important to buy organic plants and use organic soil?
Yes. You will get the most nutritionally dense food without the use of toxins. Also, if the plants are not organic, they could be genetically modified or GMO.
What type of soil should I use?
Ask if the soil is certified organic or safe to use on an organic farm. If you are keeping your container inside, use potting soil.
If you are keeping your containers outside, use potting soil plus organic compost. You don’t have to compost yourself, you can buy it.
Where do I find organic plants and soil?
Google organic garden centers in your area. Another great place to check is at Farmers Markets.
A local store here in Minneapolis that I recommend is Mother Earth Gardens.
How often do I need to water?
About every other day. Pay attention to your plants. Don’t let them get droopy.
If they are droopy then they are working harder at surviving instead of getting the most nutrients.
Do I need to fertilize?
It is not absolutely necessary but it is beneficial. If you fertilize, use liquid fish or kelp. Add that to your water before you water the plants.
What type of container do you recommend?
Anything works. I sell Cedar Beds if you are local. The cedar boards just slide right into place, making them very easy to assemble. They are 4 feet square.
You can stack them as high as you want and there is some growing space along the sides. I plant onions and marigolds around the sides to keep rabbits away.
Another kind of container is called “self-watering”. This does not literally self water, but it works on the same premise as roots.
There is a reservoir under your container that you fill with water and the soil sucks up the water from underneath as it needs it.
You can go longer without watering. This is great if you travel often or if you forget to water or want less maintenance.
Any other tips for us?
Find an experienced gardener if you have questions. Or take a local community ed class. Just get started.
Thanks Bob. You can find out more about Bob and his services at www.organicbob.com.
My personal experience with container gardens
I have the The Garden Patch Grow Box. This is a “self-watering” container. I plant some herbs in one, such as basil, chives, mint, and cilantro.
This year I am planning to get 1 or 2 more for greens. I want to be able to have fresh organic greens year round. Here’s the start of my container of herbs.
You pour the water in the opening of the reservoir as you see below. You can fit a lot of water in there. I love that we can be gone for short periods of time and not worry about having someone check on our plants.