Vegetable Gardening facts new gardeners should know
By Brad and Susan Emery
To The Haldimand Press
Grow things at different times
Succession planting is simply the act of planting one crop after another in the same garden space.
Succession planting made simple:
- Plan in advance. It’s crucial to plan, map out your garden, and make decisions about what to grow in each bed and what crops will follow the initial planting. For example, if growing peas in one bed, follow that with a mid-summer planting of broccoli or cucumbers. Come early autumn, those crops will be replaced with hardy winter greens like spinach, arugula, or mache.
- Feed the soil between crops. To keep production high, work in compost or aged manure between crops. A balanced organic fertilizer will also help encourage healthy growth.
- Use your grow-lights. By mid-May, most of the seedlings that grew beneath my grow-lights have been moved into the vegetable garden. However, I don’t unplug the lights for the season. Instead, I start sowing fresh seeds for succession crops; cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, kale, cabbage, and more.
Not all crops are easy to grow
New gardeners may want to stick to ‘beginner-friendly’ crops like bush beans, cherry tomatoes, peas, and lettuce, giving themselves a chance to flex their gardening skills before they tackle more demanding crops. We now have about nine years of gardening under our belt and there are still crops that continue to challenge us such as carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower.
I’ve gotten them to grow, just not consistently. Sometimes the problems can be weather based – too much rain or not enough for example. Then there are vegetables that are prone to insects or diseases, such as squash bugs, potato bugs, cabbageworms, and cucumber beetles. How many times have I cried over squash bugs on zucchini?
This obviously doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grow a vegetable garden; every season brings successes and failures, and if one crop (spinach, lettuce, cabbage) doesn’t appreciate the long, hot summer, others will (peppers, tomatoes, eggplant). Don’t get discouraged, learn from the problems. Learn to identify the pests and the beneficial insects that you see in your garden, and how to deal with them. Sometimes pest control is as easy as covering crops with a lightweight row cover, other times it’s including plants that attract beneficial insects to munch on the bad bugs.
Keep on top of weeds
As with garden pests, you’ll probably notice that you fight the same weeds year after year. One of the most important vegetable gardening facts that you can learn is that staying on top of weeds will make you a happy gardener.
Trying to clean up a jungle of weeds is exhausting and discouraging, yet I seem to tackle weeding this way most of the time. However, every season I start with the thought, ‘It’s better to do a little weeding, often, rather than a lot of weeding at once.’ Really, 10 to 15 minutes, twice a week, weeding my beds is the plan.
Plan to pull weeds after a rain. I recommend this because the moist soil makes weeding easier and the long-rooted weeds, like dandelions, are easier to pull up from the soil. This is also why I sometimes hold off weeding and wait for the rain.
When it comes to weed prevention, mulch is your best friend. Add a 3- to 4-inch-thick layer of straw or shredded leaves around your crops. This will suppress weed growth and hold soil moisture, therefore requiring less watering!
Keep pathways clear of weeds with a layer of cardboard, or several layers of newspaper, topped with bark mulch, pea gravel, or another material.
Never, ever let weeds go to seed in your garden beds. Letting weeds set seeds equals years of future weeding. Do yourself a favour and stay on top of the weeds.
Vegetable gardening can save you money (but it can cost a lot too!)
As with almost anything, getting a garden started can be costly. How much you spend will depend on the size, design, and materials of your garden, as well as the site and what you want to grow.
If budget gardening is your goal, and your site has full sun and decent soil, you will be able to start saving money sooner than someone who has to build or buy raised beds and bring in manufactured soil. But, even raised beds can be made from materials like logs or rocks, or be free-formed with no edging. Existing soil can be tested and amended with compost, aged manure, natural fertilizers, chopped leaves, and so on.
Food gardening also offers other benefits to the gardener besides cost-saving; mental satisfaction, physical exercise, and time spent in the great outdoors. In my opinion, the benefits far outweigh the costs and work.
Susan and Brad Emery are members of the Dunnville Horticultural Society. For more information, visit their Facebook or dunnvillehortandgardenclub.org.