Buying produce from local sources is a fast growing trend among the quintessential health-conscious consumer. I’d like to take things a step further, and suggest that growing your own fruits and vegetables would be even better. This year, it is predicted that home-grown fruit and vegetables will increase in popularity at a greater pace than we have seen in a generation. There are too many reasons for this phenomenon to get into here, but suffice it to say that if you are choosing to grow your own food for the first time or expand on your previous attempts, I am here to help.
For the three or four months of the year when your garden is producing fresh food, you have complete control over the quality of it. You can pick it and eat it when it is fresh, you can choose whether to spray it or what to spray it with, and you can decide what to grow for your own table, rather than have someone at your local market do so for you.
The best advice I can give to someone planning their first vegetable garden is “start small.” Even a modest planting can produce more servings than one family can possibly consume. Plant a few vegetables the first year and increase your plantings the following year based on your consumption and growing success.
Your ultimate success will hinge on proper soil preparation and positioning your garden in a sunny spot. This is most true of vegetables than any other form of gardening. The results of your “ground work” will make it all the way to your mouth – and what could be a better judge?
- Soil Prep Many vegetables are heavy feeders, so the soil has to be nutrient-rich from the outset with plenty of organic matter. Before planting, the entire vegetable garden should be covered in at least three centimeters (a generous inch) of finished compost and turned over with a spade.
- Light Most vegetables need no fewer than six hours of sunlight a day. If possible, plant your vegetables in a south-facing location. If this isn’t available, choose a southeast or southwest exposure.
- Water Vegetables need daily hydration when at the seedling stage, with consistent watering as the surface of the soil dries thereafter. Be wary of mature trees in any area you want to plant vegetables. Not only do they create shade, but they also deplete the soil of moisture and nutrients with roots that are more
aggressive than most any vegetable.
- Mulch A thick layer of mulch helps to retain moisture and also encourages earthworm activity in the soil. I recommend a mulch of finely ground-up pine or cedar bark about 5 cm thick or a layer of straw at least 15 cm (six inches) deep.
- Planting Times The best planting times for individual vegetables are often given on the back of the seed packet and expressed in the number of weeks before or after the last spring frost. You will have to know what the average last frost date is for your area before you plant. Your local weather bureau should be able to provide average dates for you.
- Sowing Seeds The rule of thumb is that seeds should be sown to a depth equivalent to two to three times their diameter. Very tiny seeds can be pressed lightly into the soil with a finger or can be spread lightly and then covered with a little soil. All seeds must be kept moist until they sprout. For seeds started indoors, mist the surface of the soil so it doesn’t crust over.
- Dealing with Pests Inspect vegetable plants regularly and remove pests as soon as you see them so they don’t multiply.
If you spot only a few interlopers, simply pick them off. If you are dealing with an infestation of common insects they can often be controlled using ladybugs, other natural predators, or Diatomaceous Earth [Green Earth ‘Dio’].
If you are concerned about failures in your garden, remember that there really are none – just composting opportunities.
What You will Need…
- Organic compost as soil amendment.
- Sharp sand to improve drainage [critical for root crops]!
- Garden fork for soil prep and at harvest time.
- Tomato spirals to support plants and keep tomato fruit off the ground [Note: staking will double your tomato crop]!
- Sharp hand pruners for harvesting.
- A quality hoe for regular weed control [and a bastard file to sharpen it with regularly].
- Mulch to retain moisture and control weed growth.
- String line for straight planting rows.
- Diatomaceous earth to control a host of common insect pests.
- Sprinklers or soaker hose to provide daily moisture.
- A comfortable chair to rest in and enjoy the scenery!
by Mark Cullen