Todays post is based on questions I have received over the last month. I sell plants to new and seasoned vegetable gardeners and find there are always issues that come to light as we talk about their vegetable gardens.
Light-One issue is not having enough sun. Okay, as much as I see stuff on the internet about all the vegetables you can grow in the shade, you need some light. Yes, I tried it and the only vegetable that grew well was parsley. You need at least 5-6 hours of sun to have a decent crop. Maybe you don’t have any sun in your backyard. If not, grow food in your front yard. Before your decide where your garden will go, be sure to watch the sun as it falls on your garden. In the spring the sun is lower in the sky than it is during summer. As we go into August the sun drops again. An easy way to track the sun is to go out at 10am, 1pm and again at 4pm to see where the sun shines on your garden. If you have the sun from 10am until 4pm it will be a good spot for a garden. Remember that the ideal growing time for the west coast of BC is from April to September. Each month will be a bit different when light is checked.
Crop rotation– If I could tell a first time gardener one thing it would be this. Never plant a vegetable crop in the same place each year. I have seasoned gardeners saying they have grown tomatoes in the same spot for twenty years and wonder why they did so poorly one year. Think about it, the soil is depleted of nutrients. It needs a rest. There is a reason farmers leave some of their fields to fallow. It’s not that they don’t want to make money from a crop. They know the soil has to be renewed by growing a cover crop to add nutrients back. It’s all about the soil. By not rotating your crops you will have the same pests and diseases return year after year.
If you don’t think wire worms are hiding deep in the potato bed you used last year waiting for you to plant potatoes there again, shake your head. They have tiny forks waiting for lunch to be served. You need to fool them by planting your potato crop somewhere else. See all those holes in the potato. Wireworms are hiding in there.
Successive planting-Remember to plant short rows of crops and plant every two weeks so they don’t mature all at the same time. No one wants a garden bed that has 30 heads of lettuce ready at the same time. Even a vegetarian would be hard pressed to use up all that lettuce. If you grow that much be sure you have lots of friends and family to give it to or share it with a food bank. Lettuce is a quick-growing crop so plant more seed every 2-3 weeks as long as the weather is not too warm.
Soil nutrition-Feed the soil, not the plants. Take care of our earth as if your life depended on it because it does. Without good soil you will not have the harvest you hoped for. So where do you start? Have a soil test done if the garden is new to you. Add organic matter to the soil to improve structure and porosity. Use organic fertilizers when you plant.
Integrated Pest Management-This is the practice of monitoring your garden for pests and disease. Take a walk each day to see your garden. Check out plants that have known issues. For example, some plants are prone to aphids. You need to spot these bugs early to control them as aphids have live babies every three days. Grab the hose and give the aphids a hard spray to knock them off your plants. This week I have leaf miner mining leaves on my beets. I am out there every couple of days pinching off affected leaves and placing them in the trash. You want to break the life cycle of the pest to control the problem.
Don’t let pests get beyond control. Catch them early. The last thing you want to do is use any chemicals on your food. After all, you will be eating those vegetables. Encourage beneficial insects by planting to attract them. You want your garden to achieve a balance so the good bugs eat the bad ones. Don’t forget the birds love to eat insects too.