Last week I had a full class of new gardeners. I hope I was able to cover everything they would need to know to get a garden started. Growing food isn’t as hard as it looks and we all learn from trial and error. I went over some basics for growing vegetables.
Site-When designing or starting your first vegetable garden, you want to choose a site where you get six hours of sun each day. All fruiting vegetables need sun to produce fruit. Leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, kale and parsley can do with some shade. Even peas can take some shade but the harvest will be reduced.
Containers– Many of you may be growing vegetables in containers. You can grow most vegetables easily in containers. Try to use the largest containers you can for a better harvest. The good thing about containers is you can place them on plant dollies and move them around to maximize the sun. So what is a container? A container can be anything. You can use standard nursery pots. Sure it’s not as pretty but they are usually free. You can also use large five gallon white buckets. As long as you drill holes in the bottom for drainage, your plants will be happy.
Raised beds or not? Raised beds warm up earlier in the spring but dry out faster in hot weather. In ground beds hold moisture longer but the soil is slow to warm up in the spring. Containers can be used but watering must be done daily and harvests are not as large. It is easier to amend the soil in containers and raised beds than in the ground.
In ground beds– Most people grow vegetables directly in the ground. It takes longer for the ground to warm up than in containers or raised beds. Generally most in ground gardens are planted right about now, the middle of May.
Tools- You will need some basic tools to get started in your new garden. You will need a hand trowel, claw tool, old pail for weeds, garden gloves, watering can or hose, hand pruners and maybe a kneeling pad. Most of these don’t need to cost you a lot of money. Some tools are made of plastic or cheap metal and can break easily so select a good one and you will have it for years. Gloves come in all kinds. You want gloves that are water-resistant. Wet gloves make for an unhappy gardener.
Soil-All soils are different. If you are using containers, do not use garden soil as it’s too heavy. Use a potting mix that’s lightweight so your containers drain well. In raised beds, use the best soil you can afford as it will be there for a long time. When you need a large quantity of soil for a raised bed you need to order it by the cubic yard. Only use bagged soil for containers. It’s too expensive to use for raised beds. If you are growing your vegetables in the ground you can have your soil tested to see if you need to add nutrients. Soil labs can do that for you. Is your garden soil growing other plants well? Is it heavy soil or sandy soil? Heavy soil such as our clay can be a problem when growing certain crops. One that comes to mind is carrots. Carrots need a very fine soil with no lumps in it to grow without forking or looking distorted.
Water-Be sure to place your garden near a source of water. Water is essential to plants. If you go on holiday, hire a friend to tend your garden for you. You can also hook up a drip irrigation system but they are costly. If you are handy you could do it yourself.
What to plant-Plant vegetables that your family likes to eat. Don’t bother with kale if you don’t like it. Think about whether you can freeze or can your harvest for winter meals. Plant crops like onions and garlic to last you all winter long.
Some vegetables are easier than others so let’s start with the easy ones.
Easy vegetables Peas, beans, squash, pumpkins, potatoes, radishes, spinach, onion sets and lettuce.
Moderate-carrots, beets, Brassica, onions from seed, asparagus, tomatoes, peppers
Difficult-Sweet potatoes, yams, eggplant-Note I am growing sweet potatoes and yams this year so we will see how they turn out.
When to Plant-Planting by using this schedule will really help you.
March 1-15-Broad beans, radish
March 16-30-peas, spinach, leaf lettuce, asian vegetables, turnip, onion sets, shallots
April 1-15-early potato, green onion, bulb onion, kohlrabi, cabbage, leek
April 16-30-beet, carrot, swiss chard, broccoli, cauliflower, celery transplants, onion and leek transplants, parsnip, kale, head lettuce
May 1-15-cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage transplants, main crop potatoes, parsley, asparagus
May 15-30-tomato, pepper and eggplant transplants, squash, pumpkin, cucumber, Brussel sprout, bean, corn
Start by looking at seeds or transplants in the garden center. How do you know what should be grown from seed and what is best from transplant? Most root crops such as radishes, turnip, carrots and beets prefer to be grown by what we call direct sowing.
Direct sowing is placing the seed in the soil to grow on its own. Once the seed is planted its growth will happen when conditions are right, when moisture levels soften the seed coat so the tiny plant can emerge. It’s very important to water your newly planted seeds daily until they are above the ground. Once they are up you can cut back watering to every two days.
Using transplants means you have either bought or grown seedlings to be moved to the garden as fully grown plants. Carefully separate your seedlings and loosen the roots before planting. Always have your planting area prepared by moistening the soil first. Some plants like basil, squash and cucumbers don’t like to be transplanted. If you have to, do it by moving all the soil with the plant to lessen the shock.
How to plant-Each seed needs to be planted at different depths. Now I don’t measure it exactly but think three times the seed size deep. So if a bean seed is about an inch in size, plant it about three times that or 2.5″ deep. Tiny seeds need to be placed on the soil and covered with a tiny thin layer of soil. The tiny plants that emerge from tiny seeds need to be able to reach the surface. Big seeds like beans don’t have that problem.
Plant needs– All plants need good soil, water, nutrients, and air. If you start by feeding the soil and not your plants, your garden will flourish. Be sure to add organic matter to the soil, mulch it when needed to avoid moisture loss and don’t over till as it disturbs the soil and everything living underneath. Water deeply to encourage roots to grow deep and look for water. Watering every day means your plants will have shallow roots. Plant closely to shade the soil to conserve water. Use organic fertilizers at planting time so you don’t harm the beneficial insects.