VEGETABLE GARDENING FOR BEGINNERS
Keep it simple!
The biggest mistake made by beginner gardeners is starting too big. They are soon overwhelmed by the task, feeling discouraged and guilty. Vegetable gardening should be fun! If it becomes to big of a chore to water, weed, thin and pick vegetables, you will probably give up. We all live busy lives. When you start grumbling about going out to the garden after a days work, the garden is going to suffer. Start small so you can enjoy and be proud of the work you put in. Then slowly build on what you learn and choose to grow vegetables that you enjoy in future seasons.
- Start small, gain confidence. A single raised bed 2m (6ft) by 3m (9ft) or 4m (12ft) is large enough. You can always add beds later as your confidence and skill grows. If you already have a large bed to begin with, consider dividing it up into smaller sections. Maybe plant some flowers or herbs to fill in the area? If your area is large, another idea is to plant squash or pumpkins - they cover a large area and help reduce maintenance
- Choose a site that gets at least 6 hours or sunlight per day. Vegetables require a reasonable amount of sunlight to perform well.
- Remove the sod from the site, shake off the soil and add the sod to your compost bin
- Framing in the bed area and creating a raised bed will help the soil warm up sooner in the spring and help to keep weeds out of the bed. The soil also tends to stay more loose and makes it easier for roots to grow. Use 2x10 boards. A 30-45cm (12-18") deep bed works well.
- For an in ground garden you will repeat most of the above steps however you will need to also remove some of the existing soil if it is really rough in order to add enough fresh soil to make growing a garden worth it.
- Start sowing cold tolerant crops early in the season, as soon as the soil is workable.
- Remember, only grow what you and your family will eat. At this point in your gardening career, don't worry too much about trying to supply yourself with vegetables that will last all year. What you are trying to do is have small successes that build into something greater over time
- This guide, catalogues, gardening books, and the Internet can be used to help you plan what to grow at different times of the year.
- In early Spring, seed radishes, broad beans, mustard greens and peas.
- In mid-Spring, seed cabbage, salad blends, peas, beets, parsnips, radihes, onions and spinach.
- In late Spring seed spinach, green onions, carrots, cabbage, lettuce and Swiss chard.
- After all risk of frost, seed pole beans, turnips, bush beans and corn.
- In June, seed bush beans.
- In July, seed spinach, mustard greens, Swiss chard and rutabaga.
- In August, seed onions and radishes.
- In September, seed radishes, broad beans, Oriental greens, salad blends and arugula.
Warm season vegetables, such as tomatoes, squashes, and peppers, are best bought from a local nursery. These are best planted in late May and early June. You want to buy them already started from a nursery because they take longer to get to their harvest times and if you just seed them when the danger of frost is past you will not have a long harvest season for them.
Other vegetables can also be purchased from the nursery and planted earlier. In the early stages of gardening we recommend this to help with the success of your garden.
- Weeds rob moisture and nutrients from vegetable plants, therefore by weeding you are helping to increase harvests by eliminating competition. Weeds also block sunlight.
- Have a positive attitude about the task. It provides exercise, helps make compost and produces better veggies.
- Hoe regularly, even when you don't see a lot of weeds. This helps to kill germinating weed seeds and cultivates the soil.
- Avoid walking on newly cultivated beds. The soil compaction helps weeds to germinate and destroys soil texture.
- Make sure you get all the roots of perennial weeds. A tiny root of a dandelion or buttercup will quickly re-grow into a full sized weed!
- Herbicide - you decide if it's right for you!
- To help combat weeds, you can mulch between the rows. Organic mulches are best. When they breakdown, they benefit the soil. Use straw or grass clippings
- Mulching also helps to conserve moisture and modify soil temperature.
- Black plastic can also be used. You can use cheaper fabric which will need to be replaced each year or you can get tougher fabric which can be reused for many years.
- Mulches should be applied when soil is moist
- Deep regular watering is best. This allows for better root formation, plant stability and nutrient recovery.
- Hand irrigation is least effective (but is better than nothing).
- You can use sprinklers however you have a higher chance of disease if you are constantly watering overhead and getting water on the leaves
- Drip irrigation and soaker hose systems are the most efficient and best for the health of plants. This is because they get no water on the leaves and are able to water more deeply into the soil. With these systems you will need to hand water until the plants are big enough to reach the water coming out of the dripper lines or you will need to transplant already started plants.
- Seeds and transplants need to be kept moist. Watering every day may be required. For seeds that are planted deeper, such as beans, drying out is less of a problem.
- Best time to water is early morning as the water will have time to dry off the leaves, the plants are less stressed from heat, and if you are using overhead watering less of the water dries up before it hits the ground.
- Do not wait for plants to show symptoms. Check soil regularly, grab a handful and squeeze it. If particles cling together, it is fine, but if it feels dry and particles separate, it needs watering.
- Lack of moisture shows itself in different ways. Beets stop growing and become fibrous. Radishes grow hollow and stringy. Melons will not set fruit. Corn ears will not fill to the top. Leafy vegetables become bitter. Beans grow distorted. Tomatoes will show physical disorders such as blossom end rot. Squash wilt.
Pests and Diseases
- Try not to get crazy about insects chewing on your plants. If you fret about every little thing, gardening will not be a fun activity. Remember, bugs need to eat too.
- Do not use pesticides other than as a last resort, poisons are not fun. They often kill beneficial insects along with the unwanted ones.
- Practice companion planting, e.g. onions and garlic around carrots and other root crops.
- Attract beneficial insects by planting certain flowers around your vegetable plot. Fennel and dill both attract a beneficial wasp that preys on aphids.
- Become observant. Check for aphids and rub them out with your hand or blast them with the hose.
- Look for cabbage butterfly larvae under the leaves and pick them off. A few holes is not a problem, as it is usually the outer leaves that are affected.
- Slugs can be trapped with beer or kept away from vulnerable plants with eggshells.
- For plants that have a more major aphid problem you can cover them with a row cover (lets light and moisture in but keeps bugs in). You can then purchase some lady bugs from the nursery and release them into the tunnel. The lady bugs love to feed on aphids and since they cannot fly away due to the row cover they should make short work of any aphids.
Some Final Thoughts
These are the basics that should allow you to have a simple yet productive garden. With early success will come enthusiasm. The rest is up to you. Read books, talk to neighbours, use online forums, resources on the Internet, experiment, and above all, have fun. You will soon take the net step, trying new varieties and techniques for an even more rewarding experience. Happy eating and enjoy!