Growing a Vegetable Garden 101

growsome(My contribution this month to Stacey Fokas’ Freshalicious website)

Recently, a friend asked me for some advice on starting a garden.  She wanted to grow her own organic food, but had never grown a garden before and needed to know everything.  I discovered how much I had taken for granted, knowing all about growing food, because I had been doing it since my childhood.  Wow, where to start?

The first advice I gave her was to make sure she was starting with good, healthy, fertile soil.  Depending on where you live, you may have sandy soil, heavy clay, or if you’re lucky, some beautiful sandy loam.  Most garden centres will be able to help you identify your soil type and to suggest what soil amendments you may need to make.  Regardless of your soil, a good layer of compost should always be added….every year, in fact.

Next is the selection of where you’re going to plant.  Most vegetables need to have lots of sun to grow, but there are some that will be fine in light shade.   If you don’t have space in your yard, don’t give up!  The solution is container gardening….pots, large boxes, hanging baskets and bags – use your imagination and you’ll be surprised at how much food you can grown in a small amount of space!  Again, just be aware of how much sun/heat or shade your plants will be getting.  Remember that small pots will need much more frequent watering than larger containers.greens

And then there is the matter of what to plant…  As my friend remarked, going through a seed catalogue or the seed racks at the garden centre was almost overwhelming, there was such a huge selection!

For instant gratification, there is nothing like radishes or lettuce.  They germinate easily and quickly, and will produce something you can eat in about a month. However, keep in mind that soil and air temperature are also factors on when you can plant your seeds or plants.  The list of veggies that can be started now, as soon as the ground is dry enough, includes peas, radishes, spinach, lettuce, green onions, kale, chard, beets and carrots.  I start all of these plants from seeds, rather than purchasing plants.  Once all risk of frost has passed, you can plant the heat-loving veggies, such as peppers, tomatoes and beans.  (If you haven’t already started your tomato or pepper plants, I would suggest you purchase them this year, then consider starting your own next year, around the beginning of March.)


The chart on the left shows optimum soil temperatures and the number of days it takes for the seed to germinate.  Most seed packets will tell you how to plant the seeds, when you can expect them to germinate (ie. sprout), and how many days it will be before you can harvest your vegetables.

You will also have to decide on how big to make your garden.  Some plants can be grown quite close together, such as lettuce, while others (tomatoes, potatoes), will take quite a bit more room.  The chart below helps explain how densely you can plant your garden.squarefootplantingguide

Finally, there is the decision about what varieties of plants/seeds you will be buying…For example, there are hybrid and heirloom types of tomatoes.  Hybrid seeds have been bred to grow consistent produce, with specific traits, such as no seeds, or a thick skin/rind (which makes for better transportation). The downside is, when you use hybrid seeds, you cannot save seeds from this year’s crop and grow them next year.

Open-Pollinated, heirloom seeds, on the other hand, have a much wider diversity, and can be saved and re-planted, year after year.  There are many benefits to this.  Obviously, there is the cost-saving factor, but more importantly, as you grow your own saved seed each year, the plants will adapt to your specific garden environment (climate and soil type), and produce more robust plants each year.

Whatever you decide to grow, and wherever or however you do it, my last suggestion is to get everyone involved.  There is something so satisfying about pulling a carrot out of the ground, knowing that you’ve grown it yourself, and eating it.  Picking peas and munching them in the garden is almost as wonderful as popping a warm cherry tomato in your mouth… The more helpers you have with the planning and planting, the more involved they will be with the weeding and harvesting!

Eating local and organic starts at home! Happy planting and good luck!

6 responses to this post.

  1. Oooh!!! Thank you! This is so helpful!!


  2. You’re very welcome, Jennifer! I do remember seeing a post of yours a while back, talking about starting a garden. There is lots of information out there (sometimes, too much!). I look forward to hearing about your gardening adventures when I see you at the market.


  3. Posted by Martina on April 23, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Hallo Elli, ih verstehe einiges, aber kannst du das auch in Deutsch shreiben?
    Ganz lieb guck


  4. Posted by Blanka on April 23, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    Looks like your site could be a very great help to me planing my garden, thank you! I’ll have to read it again, once or twice, as my gardening-english isn’t as good, as it could be 😀 Thanks a lot!


  5. Posted by kristenburkholder on May 17, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    Ahhhh this is JUST what I needed to read tonight. I’m doing just this: starting my first garden this year. Thanks so much for the great tips!


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