By Candice Casillo
Eric Calousa, a St. Petersburg College student and native Floridian, has been organically gardening for about five years now. Calousa started gardening mainly to enjoy nutrient rich foods and to avoid GMOs and chemicals . Calousa explains that GMOs are genetically modified varieties of plants aimed at resisting pesticides and beneficial insects and animals. Calousa also worries about the direct connection that Monsanto, who is the leader in bio-food production, has with our food, due to their invention of highly toxic chemicals, like RoundUp and Agent Orange. Calousa is worried about the company’s involvement with chemicals and now food. “Monsanto is a chemical company that is genetically changing the way our produce is being grown. I don’t want to eat foods from a chemical company!”
Calousa is also concerned about recent studies she has read that have shown a possible link between major health problems and GMOs. Although it is hard to determine the long-term effects of the produce since GMOs have only been being used since the 1990’s, but many countries have already banned the use of GMOs, while the United States stocks their grocery stores with the unlabeled crop.
Calousa began his organic gardening journey with self-education and by talking with experienced gardeners. This led to his knowledge of what grows best in St. Pete’s coastal climate. He explains that the best way to figure out what grows best is through trial and error. “I don’t replant something the same way, ever. That way I am always trying to improve the quality of my vegetables, while learning what works and what doesn’t.”
He has found that greens like collards, spinach, and lettuce grow best in the winter. During the summer, he tends to plant things like corn, squash, melons, and beans. He recommends not letting that dissuade you from trying other kinds of produce, though. Calousa feels that most fruits and vegetables grow well in St. Pete’s climate. He also trusts that the key to successful organic gardening is variety. “You should grow things that you can’t buy at the store, like Chinese red noodle beans! Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and energy on something you can buy for a couple bucks at any organic market.”
When starting a garden, all that is needed are seeds that do not come from GMO farms. Calousa recommends buying seeds online though Baker Creek Seeds, an organic seed company that offers heirloom and GMO free seeds. “I choose seeds that are Florida friendly, which means most of them thrive in our conditions. I like to plant smarter, not harder.”
Additionally, for fruit trees, he favors Jene’s Tropicals in St. Petersburg for their Florida-friendly variety of fruit trees. For soil, Calousa likes to mix his compost, a variety of coffee grinds, tea bags, egg shells, vegetables, and fruits, with the dirt from the backyard. As far as watering goes, he waters lightly with collected rain that he traps in empty garbage cans.
Many students like Eric Calousa have found many benefits of organic gardening and always support others who are interested in starting their own. So for those who want to try out their green thumbs with organic gardening, the best piece of advice Calousa can give is to “get out there and get your hands dirty!”
Originally published on Mar. 30, 2014.