Break out the soil and seeds and start gardening already with these beginner gardening tips
Spring is in the air! This year you're going to start a veggie patch to enjoy the fresh and rich flavours homegrown vegetables have to offer. You are not alone; in fact you are part of a growing movement—some call it a revolution—of people reconnecting to the pleasures of growing food.
Here are some pointers on how to get your garden started, what you can plant when, and the best places to find help! Most of this information is as applicable to container gardens on apartment balconies as it is backyard plots.
Choosing a location for your garden to grow: soil, sun/shade
Back in the day, many of Vancouver's homes had a veggie patch. When I moved into my place I was excited to find the back quarter of the yard had rich soil that had obviously been home to a flourishing garden many, many years before. We had to do a lot of weeding to bring it back to a vegetable garden, but it has been worth it.
Take a spade and do some digging in your own yard; you're looking for dark crumbly textured soil that is rock free.
If you're dirty reconnaissance reveals rocky, sandy or hard pan clay, then you've run into the common soil of our region—a result of till deposited with the retreat of glaciers. Not the best for growing veggies in!
The solution? I would suggest building up your soil with lasagna gardening, picking up some free soil or buying a good garden blend.
Make sure that the spot you choose for your garden has at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. You can still grow veggies if have a shady garden space, but you’ll have to re-think the varieties you plant.
Look for a spot that is not surrounded by big trees or neighbouring buildings. If you are south facing, align your garden running east to west; this will mean that your plants get a more even distribution of sun. Tall plants (pole beans, tomatoes, peas) go north of shorter plants (basil, bush beans, zucchini).
Leafy greens (kale, lettuce, spinach) can tolerate some shade because they prefer cooler weather.
Square-foot gardening provides high yields and is super easy to do.
Start small and try square-foot gardening
If this is your first gardening year then start small. A 2-x-3-metre plot is more then enough to get you started!
I would recommend taking Square Foot Gardening out of the library. This system of planting is great for beginners because it breaks down planting a garden into a small area (one foot at a time), which is less intimidating, it provides high yields and is super easy to do!
Composting keeps plants healthy and disease resistant
Vancouverites are good at staying in shape, and we can keep our plants healthy too with a regular dose of compost. Making your own compost is easy in your backyard or apartment. And I've found great success with vermiculture (a.k.a. worm composting).
If you are just not ready to become a Compost Captain, you can also try organic fertilizers from Gaia Green or the Kelp Man to make sure your plants are getting the nutrients they need.
Once you've chosen a spot to garden you'll have to figure out what you want to plan. (Image: Flickr / Advait Supnekar)
What are you going to grow?
Here is a rough guide for planting your garden. The West Coast Seeds Planting Chart is an excellent resource and a more comprehensive list.
Many gardeners in the Lower Mainland use the May Long Weekend to mark the date that it is safe to plant their garden. This works well for tomatoes, beans, basil and other heat-loving veggies, but you can start planting lots of cool weather loving veggies today!
Sow: arugula (or rocket), broad beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, kale, leeks, lettuce, onions, peas, radish, spinach, swiss chard, turnips, potatoes
Sow indoors: peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, melons
Sow: To plant your seeds; can be done directly in the garden, or inside to protect from cold weather.
Transplant: To take seedlings that are growing indoors and planting them out in the garden.
Sow: arugula (a.k.a. rocket), bush beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, kale, leeks, lettuce, onions, peas, spinach, swiss chard, turnips
Sow indoors: cucumbers, squash, pumpkin
Sow: arugula (a.k.a. rocket), soy beans, corn, bush beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, kale, lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, turnips, squash
Transplant: melons, eggplants, tomatoes, cucumber, squash, pumpkins
Sow: arugula (a.k.a. rocket), bush beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, kale, lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, turnips, squash, peas
Sow: arugula (a.k.a. rocket), carrots, lettuce, peas, spinach, swiss chard, turnips
If you want to get snazzy in your garden, explore companion planting to maximize synergies between plants.
Vancouver gardening workshops
Need more hand holding? Check out some of these fantastic gardening workshops around Vancouver in May, June and July.
More expert tips for beginner gardeners
Sharon Hanna gives some sage advice to beginner gardener Granville Online editor Hilary Henegar.
Check out GardenWise Magazine's vast online bank of articles and resources from some of Western Canada's foremost gardening experts. Visit online or search the site using Google: "site:gardenwiseonline.ca [insert gardening question]".