Fashions come and go, and the vegetable garden is no exception. Growing your own vegetables has become hugely popular and the trend now includes small fruit, herbs and even edible flowers. But before you fill your wheelbarrow with bags of compost, shovel, spade, trowel and planter, a healthy dose of preparation and planning will go a long way to ensuring success with your home vegetable garden

Choose the location

Location is one of the most important factors that go into the success of a garden project. So before you start dreaming of the succulent, fresh fruit and vegetables you’re going to harvest, take a moment to thoroughly examine your property. Choose a location that:

  • receives a minimum of 6 hours direct sunlight per day;
  • is open, but protected from prevailing winds;
  • is far from the roots of large trees and the shade they cast;
  • is close to a source of water (rain barrel and garden hose).

Types of garden

Property size, your budget, the time you have for maintenance and the ideal location to grow the vegetable plants you want will all determine the kinds of garden you should plan for. An 8 m2 garden should be more than adequate for a family of four.

In-ground beds

In-ground beds are just that: you set your plants directly in the ground.

To establish an in-ground vegetable garden you need to wait until the snowmelt runoff has been absorbed, then:

  1. Get rid of the grass – use a spade to remove the turf.
  2. Turn over the soil mass to a depth of approximately 20 cm to aerate and loosen the soil.
  3. Remove stones, grass, weeds and roots.
  4. Check soil composition and incorporate amendments if necessary.

Advantages:

  • Economical – you only need to buy soil amendments, seeds and plants.
  • Roots, and especially root vegetables, have all the space they need to develop.
  • Soil retains moisture for a longer period of time, particularly if you cover it with straw or a plastic sheet so that water needs are minimized.
  • Suitable for all vegetables, even demanding plants such as squash and cucumber.

Drawbacks:

  • The work is more physically demanding (soil preparation, maintenance and harvesting on your knees or crawling)
  • It requires more maintenance (weekly hoeing and weeding).
  • You have to wait for the ground to be completely drained after the snow has melted before working the earth in the spring.

Fences

From an aesthetic and practical point of view, you can decide to fence in your vegetable garden, but it’s not a requirement. However, you may decide to prevent animals, both domestic and wild, from eating or damaging your plants.

Raised beds

In a raised bed vegetable garden, plants grow either in a structure built directly on the ground or in a raised structure (on a base).

The ideal structure:

  • Is made of materials that contain no toxic chemicals (wood, brick, concrete, stone, etc.);
  • Is at least 15 to 45 cm deep to promote healthy root growth and development;
  • Is no more than 120 cm wide so that the center is easily accessible for maintenance and harvesting.

Advantages:

  • Maintenance and harvesting is easier (the gardener can work either sitting down or standing up).
  • There a fewer weeds.
  • Soil fertility and drainage is maximized since you only use good soil.
  • Space is optimized with denser planting and no paths between rows.
  • This is a good solution for uneven ground.
  • Raised soil drains and dries out more quickly in the spring.

Drawbacks:

  • Water needs are greater, particularly during heat waves, because the soil dries out more quickly.
  • Initial costs are higher since the price of materials to build the structures has to be included.
  • Denser planting may result in a higher incidence of disease.
  • It does not suit demanding plants such as pumpkin and peas.

Vertical garden

In a vertical garden, plants grow on vertical plant supports. This is the ideal solution for people who have very little space, who want to hide a less attractive area in the yard or who want to create an original privacy wall.

Types of vertical garden

In-ground plants that climb a wood or metal trellis. Integrates well with an in-ground garden for demanding plants such as peas, squash, climbing beans, strawberry plants, and cucumbers.

Plants in a wall structure containing earth. Ideal for herbs, lettuce, spinach, radishes, garlic, green onions, strawberry plants, and pansies. Note: ensure that materials used for the structure haven’t been chemically treated.

Plants in containers hung on a vertical structure.

Advantages:

  • Good solution when space is at a premium.
  • Very easy maintenance and harvest.
  • No weeds.
  • Soil fertility and drainage are maximized since only good soil is used.

Drawbacks:

  • Not suitable for all plants, depending on the type of vertical garden.
  • Watering needs to be more frequent and can be difficult depending on the type of vertical garden.

Container planting

Pedestal planters, hanging planters or planters hooked on the railing: all containers can be suitable for growing vegetables, herbs, small fruit and edible flowers as long as the containers have holes on the bottom for drainage purposes. Clean and disinfect your containers before planting.

Advantages:

  • Ideal for urban agriculture and balcony gardens.
  • Very easy maintenance and harvest.
  • Soil fertility and drainage are maximized since only good soil is used.

Drawbacks:

  • Suitability is restricted to plants that require minimal soil depth.
  • More frequent watering is necessary since the soil dries out more quickly.

Soil composition

 

Soil quality will impact directly on the quality of the fruits and vegetables you harvest from your garden. You want balanced, well-drained, and nutrient-rich soil. Have a soil analysis done at your local BOTANIX garden centre for detailed information about the soil you want to work with. This analysis will provide you with the following information:

Type of soil

Sandy soil = lacks organic matter

Clay soil = heavy and compact

Soil type dictates the choice of plants and amendments to be applied

The application of compost and fertilizer loosens the soil and provides necessary elements.

Acidity/Alkalinity

pH 4 = very acid

pH 8 = very alkaline

Add lime

Add sulfur

A pH level between 6 and 6.5 is ideal for a vegetable garden.

Phosphorus (P)

 

Phosphorus is vital to root development, plant growth, fruit production and ripening.

The three numbers on fertilizer bags refer to Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) levels.

Potassium (K)

 

Potassium increases plants’ resistance to insects and disease. It also enhances flowering, fruit colour and taste.

The three numbers on fertilizer bags refer to Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) levels

 

Planting

The long awaited moment has finally arrived! When all risk of frost has passed, you can sow seeds directly in the garden or replant young plants you have either bought or started indoors as seedlings a few months earlier.

Planting from seed

Before you put your seeds into your carefully prepared soil, read the instructions on the seed packet carefully. You should understand the:

  • Sunlight requirements
  • Depth required
  • Correct spacing between plants
  • Maturation period
  • Planting period

Staggered planting of certain fast-growing vegetables over a number of weeks means that you’ll be able to harvest and enjoy those vegetables throughout the season. For example: sow one third of your row of radishes; wait two weeks and then sow another third; wait two weeks and then sow the final third. Now do the same for your spinach and lettuce and you’ll be able to eat fresh radishes, spinach, and lettuce all summer long!

Prick out seedlings and young plants

When you’re getting ready to plant out young plants, acclimatize them gradually by setting them outside for a little longer each day over a period of approximately ten days. To avoid drying out young roots, choose a cloudy day to prick out your seedlings.

  • Water the roots;
  • Dig a hole twice the width and two and a half times the depth of the roots to make sure the roots are not compromised in any way;
  • Insert the roots;
  • Fill in the hole;
  • Water thoroughly.

Maintenance and fertilizing

Maintenance of an in-ground bed is a little more demanding than maintaining flowerbeds.

Weeding on a weekly basis is a main feature, as is hoeing and cultivating to ensure adequate water penetration. Observe your garden carefully while you perform these tasks. Be on the lookout for signs of insect pests, rodents or disease. Your vigilance will pay off if you can stop a problem before it becomes too difficult to contain.

To keep weeding to a minimum and conserve soil moisture, spread straw mulch between the rows or mulch the garden with a black plastic or geotextile sheet.

Ideally, watering should be done early in the morning. Watering between 10 am and 4 pm when the sun is at its strongest can result in plant burns. It also wastes water since a good deal of it simply evaporates. If you water in late evening, plant leaves will remain damp longer, making them susceptible to fungal diseases. It’s much better to water for a longer period and less frequently than often at the wrong times. Roots will grow deeper, making plants stronger and more drought-resistant.

To maintain good yields, fertilize two or three times during the summer. Long-term planning will include crop rotation, which means you won’t plant the same vegetables in the same area of your garden more than two years in a row. Since different vegetables have different nutrient requirements, crop rotation averts soil depletion.

What should you plant?

Most vegetables, small fruit, herbs and edible flowers need a lot of sunlight to develop their flavours and beautiful colours. All are welcome in the vegetable garden!

Beginners:

  • Lettuce, spinach
  • Radishes, carrots
  • Zucchinis, cucumbers
  • Peas
  • Shallots, onions, garlic
  • Beans
  • Basil, chives, parsley, cilantro, dill, oregano, thyme
  • Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries
  • Tomatoes

Container-growing:

Small pots Lettuce, spinach, kale, almost all herbs
Large pot, minimum 30 cm deep with stakes Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers
Very large pot, very deep Carrots, radishes, beats, potatoes

Fast-growing:

  • Cress, lettuce, spinach, arugula
  • Kale, Swiss chard
  • Bush beans
  • Turnips
  • White onions (bulbs)
  • Peas
  • Radishes

Slow-growing:

  • Garlic
  • Eggplants, peppers, tomatoes
  • Beets, carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Cabbages (all)
  • Cucumbers, squash, zucchini, melons, pumpkins
  • Shallots, onions, leeks
  • Celery
  • Fennel
  • Beans
  • Corn

Shade seekers:

  • Arugula, lettuce, spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Peas
  • Brussel sprouts, kale
  • Beats
  • Swiss chard
  • Radishes
  • Leeks

Edible flowers:

Not all flowers are edible, and some are even very toxic, so be sure you can eat what you pick. If in doubt, abstain! Those flowers can remain in a vase to appreciate. Edible flowers include:

  • Nasturtium
  • Gladiola
  • Daylily
  • Impatiens
  • Daisy
  • Pansy
  • Phlox paniculata
  • Marigold
  • Elderberry
  • Tulip
  • Violet

 

A biodiverse garden

“Mixing it up” in the vegetable garden is an excellent way to promote biodiversity. Companion planting is one method that can provide great results. For example, you can integrate aromatic plants and flowers into the vegetable garden and place them judiciously next to vegetable and fruit plants in such a way that each plant attracts insects useful for the neighboring plant.

A biodiverse garden can have fewer problems with pests by being welcoming to birds and insects that keep pests under control. Certain plants act as natural repellents, while others attract insects that are useful in the garden. Sweet Nasturtiums attract aphids, which are then too busy eating them that they don’t attack the vegetables.

Find out which are the best and worst companions for your favourite vegetables. You’ll learn, among other things that tomato plants and potato plants are not good friends, but that carrots live very happily alongside radishes, tomatoes, cilantro and chives!

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