Vegetable Gardening for Beginners
There is something about heading outdoors to harvest fresh produce grown by your own hand that is extremely rewarding and satisfying. Not only that, but it is so much better for you! By growing vegetables yourself you know exactly what was put into and used on them and if you are using nutritious soil, veggies can grow much denser in minerals and nutrients than those purchased from the grocery store. Today I want to teach you how to get started growing your own vegetables from seed in whatever outdoor space you have available.
What is Required for Growing Vegetables
There are 5 things you must have to grow your own vegetables:
Sunlight (You will need a minimum of 4 hours of sunlight to grow your own vegetables.)
A garden or some sort of container to hold your soil.
And that is it! If you have these 5 things you can begin as a vegetable gardener.
Soil for Growing Vegetables
Let's talk about soil requirements for growing veggies. Nearly all vegetables prefer loose, slightly acidic, well-drained soil. A perfect soil mix for vegetable gardens can be made from 1/3 topsoil, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 compost. If you are using existing soil add compost and peat moss to it prior to planting.
If you plan to grow in pot or container bags of premixed soil can be purchased. Don't just go with the cheapest. Without good soil, no matter how hard you try, your plants will not grow well. I suggest staying away from Miracle Grow or Costco potting soil. Instead, look for ProMix or Sunshine (Sungrow) brand potting soil. It is not necessary to add compost to these soils but if you wish to, mix 2/3 of this soil with 1/3 compost.
Choosing Vegetable Seeds
Choosing vegetable seeds can seem overwhelming. The first thing is starting with vegetables that are easy to grow. I suggest staying away from tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and corn until you have mastered these easy cold climate vegges. Here is a list of suggested vegetables and variety type:
Lettuce - Romaine, Grand Rapids or buttercrunch, but feel free to experiment as most lettuce grows easily.
Peas - Green Arrow shelling pea and Sugar Daddy snap pea.
Radishes - Any variety
Carrots - Scarlet Nantes grow easily and well and are good for storing.
Beans - Haricot Tendergreen bush bean is a great variety. Wait until a week after the last frost to plant in the garden.
Spinach - Long Standing Bloomsdale
Beets - Detroit Dark Red
Potatoes - Kennebec, Norland and German Butterball are great.
Kale- Red Russian. As with lettuce, kale grows quickly and easily so feel free to experiment.
Swiss Chard - Fordhook Giant, along with most others.
Zucchini - Black Beauty
All of these vegetables do best seeded directly outdoors 3 weeks prior to your last expected frost. (For me, in southern Alberta, I plant the end of April) with the exception of beans and zucchini which are both very sensitive to low temperatures and even the lightest frost will kill them. All of the vegetables listed also can be grown in a pot or container. Aim to have the soil depth as deep as the plant is tall with the exception of peas which can be grown up a trellis or trail down the side of a pot.
Planting Your Vegetable Seeds
For direct seeding of your vegetable seeds, follow package directions (normally found on the back of the seed package). Plant small seeds (like tiny carrot seeds), on a calm day. Hold package about a foot above the soil and using a gentle constant motion shake package from side to side. This will give you the most even distribution of seeds. Keep soil moist until seeds have germinated (sprouted).
To plant bean seeds, first, soak in water for 12 to 24 hours prior to planting. I have had the best luck with my beans when planted one week after my last expected spring frost (early June) once the soil has warmed up. Zucchini should be started indoors in a 3 inch (don't get too small a pot, they don't like to be transplanted and grow quickly) peat pot at the end of April. Zucchini can be transplanted after the last frost but keep an eye on temperatures and cover with a plastic pot and blanket if nighttime temperatures are expected to get near freezing.
Thinning Your Vegetables
Thinning vegetables involves pulling out 1-inch seedlings that have been planted too close together. If you skip this step your carrots and other vegetables will not grow very large as they will be competing and crowding out each other. As hard as it is to pull out little seedlings, I promise, it pays off. I normally don't think to quite what the package says but try to at least remove seedlings leaving at least half of the suggested spacing distance. Some I will thin again when they are 4 inches tall. At this point, the plants you are removing are usually big enough for use in the kitchen.
Watering Your Vegetable Garden
Two to three weeks after all seedlings are sprouted, water your garden only once the soil is dry two inches below the surface. Use your finger to dig down into the soil to check it. At this point, plants can be mulched with organic grass clippings, straw or other mulch to discourage weeds and help retain moisture.
Setting up a schedule where you spend 10 to 15 minutes a day weeding is a great way to stay on top of the task without it becoming overwhelming. My personal favourite time to weed is in the morning when the air is so fresh and the birds are singing. I like to take my coffee with me as I wander the garden and spend a few minutes pulling weeds. Believe it or not, weeding is one of my favourite summer pastimes!
If you are using high-quality soil mixed with nutritious compost you should not need to fertilize your vegetables unless you are growing them in a pot with potting soil. Check out Figuring out Fertilizer for more tips on fertilizing your plants.
Now all that is left is to enjoy the fruit (or shall we say veg?) of your labour. Vegetables always stay freshest when harvested in the early morning cool of the day, when harvesting to store. Otherwise enjoy the satisfaction of prepping your meals by heading out to your veggie patch grown by your very own hand!
For more tips on vegetable gardening in cool climates check out my blog, www.zone3vegetablegardening, and follow me on Instagram and/or Facebook.