Are you new to vegetable gardening?
Read this first to give you an idea of what you need to know to get started. Growing your own food is rewarding but here are a few tips to get you started.
How much sun does your garden get?
If you are wanting to grow vegetables you will need between 6-8 hours of sunlight. Few vegetables survive in full shade but if you have a lightly shaded area you can grow leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach and kale. Before you plant your garden watch the sun during the different seasons to see how it shines on your proposed garden site. You want as much sun as possible between April to October as this is the main growing season.
How much space can you devote to planting?
As the size of our properties diminish with high density housing being built, people are struggling to find enough room to garden. If you live in a condo you may only have a balcony. Check with your strata to be sure your balcony will hold the heavy load of soil, pots and plants before you begin. Think about using blocks of compressed soil to make it easier to get upstairs. If you live in a townhouse, find out from your strata if you can add to your existing garden. If you can, choose your plants wisely as you have limited space. Only grow plants you love and ones that pay the rent. If you have a detached home, you probably have lots of options for garden space. Be sure to add space for your family to play and one for entertaining before you plant. Try to make each space work in conjunction with each other.
Are you growing in the ground, in containers or raised beds?
For some people containers are the only way they can have a garden due to space limitations. Containers are portable so you can move them around to take advantage of the sun. They also let you amend the soil easily before planting. The only drawback is they dry out quickly so watering will be a daily task. Growing in the ground is one of the most common ways to plant. Garden soil often tends to warm up slower than that of containers or raised beds so you may have to wait a week or two longer to get started. Amending your garden soil is hard work but good preparation is key to having a successful garden. Perhaps you want to build raised beds. Raised beds warm up earlier in the spring, are easy to maintain and weed and allow you to amend the soil easily. The only drawback with raised beds is the cost to build one.
What is your growing season like? Is it a long season or a short season?
Know what type of climate you have and grow plants that will work in it. Buy seeds that have been grown and tested in your climate. Most of your local seed suppliers are a wealth of knowledge and will guide you in the right direction. If you have cool summers choose seeds that will mature sooner. Most seed packages have the days to harvest on the package.
How much time are you willing to spend watering?
There is a saying in community gardens that people who come for five minutes to water their garden bed are ‘splash and dash’ people. Five minutes of water with a hand held hose sprayer will not be sufficient moisture for new seedlings. You need to check your garden to see if it needs water. Do the finger test and feel below the soil for moisture. If the top two inches are dry, give it some water. If not wait a day. When watering, give your garden a good soaking by aiming the water at the soil level. I always go over the bed twice as it often only wets the top inch of soil the first time around. You want the water to get down deep to the roots.
Is your garden close to a water source?
When planning your garden be sure to have it as close to a water source as possible. You don’t want to be hauling long garden hoses hundreds of feet away. If your only sunny spot is far away from the water source, think about installing irrigation lines to make your life easier.
Do you go away for the summer?
This is often one key issue when starting a garden. People love the idea of getting started in the spring but like to get away for a holiday in the summer when the gardens are at their peak. Your garden will need watering every few days. You may need a friend to water while you are away. Don’t think you can go away for two weeks as your garden will not tolerate a lack of water. All that precious time you spent planting will be wasted. Think about sharing a garden with a friend who can reap some of the harvest while you are away and help water it.
For more detailed information on getting started, check out Homegrown 101.