By Peter Sandercock
Is this the year you try your hand at gardening?
Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Choosing a Site
- Start Small. Although you may have good intentions of growing a huge garden, the easiest way to turn yourself off gardening is to take on too much. Start with a raised bed, small flowerbed size garden or even a patio garden with a few containers of herbs and vegetables.
- Choose a sunny location. Vegetables need at least 6 hours of sun exposure a day.
- Remember that afternoon sun will be hotter and more drying than morning sun. Windy areas will also dry out your garden more quickly.
- Make sure that the site drains well so that your plants are not sitting in water after a rain.
- Choose a site close to a water source.
- Don’t establish your site too close to a row of trees because the trees deep roots may draw moisture and nutrients away from your garden. It might also create too much shade for the vegetables to grow.
2. Preparing the Site. How’s the Soil?
- Once you have chosen a spot, you will need to till up the soil with a shovel and garden fork or if you are doing a larger area, you may need to rent or borrow a rototiller to make the job easier.
- If you are using raised beds, once they are built, fill them with soil which can be purchased from your local garden center if you do not have access to any.
- Once the soil is tilled, it is a good idea to work in organic matter such as compost or peat moss.
3.Choosing What to Grow? Planting Tips
- Grow what you and your family like to eat!
- Consider the number of growing days when choosing to grow something from seed or as a transplant. Growing days are the period from the last frost-free day in spring to the first frost of fall which is therefore how many days you have to grow a plant outside without fear of it freezing.
- Check the seed packages to see how many days it takes to grow the vegetable to harvest and then check it against how many frost-free days in your area. Note the chart below is an average over several years but you should also watch the weather during this time as weather in Canada can vary!
- You can extend growing days by starting seeds inside or buying transplant (plants that are already a few weeks old). Transplants also mean you will be harvesting fruit like tomatoes earlier and longer.
- Garden vegetables, such as carrots, radishes, peas, beans, lettuce are easy to grow from seed. Potatoes can be grown from seed potatoes. Tomatoes, peppers, corn, cucumbers take longer to grow, so consider purchasing established plants or transplants to jump-start your garden and ensure that they produce within the growing season.
- The ideal time to plant transplants is on a still, overcast day. This will put the least stress on your new plants.
- Water the plants in their pots the day before you intend to plant.
- Remove the plants individually from their pots as you plant so that the roots don’t dry out.
- If the roots are densely packed or growing in a circle, tease them apart so they will stretch out and grow into the surrounding soil.
- Bury the plant to the depth it was in the pot. Too deep and the stem will rot. Too high and the roots will dry out.
- Don’t press down too hard on the plants as you cover them. Watering will settle them into the ground.
- Water your newly planted garden as soon as it is planted and make sure it gets at least one inch of water per week. You may have to water more often in hot dry summers. Let your plants tell you how much water they need. Some wilting in noonday sun is normal. Wilting in the evening is a sign of stress.
4. Pinching, Pruning and Pulling
- Weeds are inevitable and come from wind, birds, soil on shoes… Weeding can be a Zen activity but too much is just plain hard work.
- One of the best ways to prevent a lot of weeding is to mulch. It truly can make a major difference in a garden. Mulch conserves water, blocks weeds and cools the soil. Further, organic mulches like shredded or chipped bark, compost, straw and shredded leaves, will break down over time and also improve the soil quality.
- Apply mulch soon after planting, before new weeds sprout. Apply a 2-4 inch thick layer of mulch, avoiding direct contact with the plant stems. Piling mulch around the stem can lead to rotting and can provide cover for munching mice and slugs.
- Vegetables will produce more if you keep harvesting while young.
- Taller plants and those that grow on vines may need to be staked, to keep from falling over.
- If something dies, don’t worry– that is gardening! Move on, replace it with something else and try again next year.
- Gardeners can get so busy pinching, pruning and pulling every weed, that we often don’t appreciate what we’ve created. Step back and enjoy what you’ve accomplished.
- Give your garden a theme or add some garden accessories to make it a fun and pretty place to visit.
- Start a garden journal if you are into that. It is a great way to remember what worked and what didn’t and will help you plans to expand next year.
- Enjoy your harvest.