Pioneer organic gardener Jay North has been plotting the path to sustainable agriculture for almost four decades at a time when "organic gardening" was a hippie term for homegrown cannabis crops; when "green" was a synonym for a naïve person or a patch of well-manicured grass on a golf course; and when "carbon footprint" was a term plucked from a Ray Bradbury novel.
The organic gardening guru, who so far has authored 18 books, became the go-to expert on the topic. In his latest book, "The Windowsill Organic Gardener," now in its second printing this year, North gives a step-by-step guide to armchair gardeners who long to have fresh organic herbs, veggies and edible flowers at their fingertips in as small a space as an apartment windowsill or condo balcony.
"Another boon to windowsill gardening," jokes North, "is you can do it all in your pajamas."
That, among other factors, accounts for a great resurgence in patio crops, porch gardens and windowsill faves, a kind of savvy reincarnation of the Liberty Gardens during World War II when folks were planting crops like mad in their front and back yards due to the wartime produce shortage.
Today the sour economy, a plethora of advice dispersed via the Internet, and people's health concerns about Frankenstein crops grown by big agri businesses that have contaminated soil with chemical fertilizers and pesticides have caused windowsill gardening to explode into a phenomenon.
According to the gardening maven, all a neophyte needs is to follow the three steps below and consider the Hopi Indian philosophy that has inspired him over the years: "Plant a seed, speak kind, loving words to your plant, and save the world."
- Invest $25 in assorted planting materials, such as, an inexpensive window box, a bag of potting soil and organic fertilizer, a composting bin and a few packages of seeds of your choice. North recommends hardier veggies for winter (kale, chard, broccoli, Brussels sprouts) and for spring, anything but tomatoes and corn, which will not grow well indoors, along with fruit trees that require direct sunlight. Standing advice — always buy organic seeds to avoid GMOs (genetically modified organisms) that are injected into conventional seeds.
- Set the box inside or outside the sill where it is exposed to plenty of photosynthetic light.
- Place a lidded compost bin under your kitchen sink and feed it anything that breaks down — like banana peels, orange rinds, coffee grinds and eggshells. Toss in some earthworms and turn it top to bottom. Sprinkle this mixture in your planting box frequently.
"The biggest mistake new gardeners make is in the watering," North said. "They either over or under water their boxes that need to be watered like Baby Bear's porridge — just the right amount."
North recommends sight and touch as a guide. If the plants are drooping or wilting then they need more water, which is typical in hotter months. If the plants are turning yellow and the soil feels drenched, then put the skids on watering.
As for the best time to harvest your plants, North suggests picking a lot of them when they're young, as "many vegetables are nice to consume as babies like carrots, lettuces, squashes and beets."
One last morsel of advice from the master is emblazoned on his favorite fishing cap: "If it ain't fun, don't do it."
North admits some people just don't have a green thumb, and should buy locally grown, organic gems from others.
For now, North is a happy camper involved in a commune-style 2 1/2-acre plot in Ojai, where he teaches organic gardening, writes bestsellers, maintains his entrepreneurial spirit through consulting, practices social activism and inspires others.
If you'd like to talk organic gardening with Jay North, he can be reached at