This story about how to grow a vegetable garden was originally written for Niagara Life magazine.
Seed companies have mailed their catalogues. Green thumbs have gathered at local seed exchanges in search of their next prize-winning squash to plant. And now grow lights are being turned on in homes to get the 2017 edition of backyard tomato crops started. They all mean one thing: gardening season is approaching. But if you’ve never grown anything more than a hosta — heck, if you’ve never grown anything at all — those pre-season gardening rituals can seem downright daunting. It’s true, gardening isn’t for the faint of heart, what with having to rely on Mother Nature and her temperamental ways. It can be incredibly rewarding, however. Few things are sweeter than that first homegrown cherry tomato we pluck off the vine. Garden rules dictate it must be eaten immediately. Gardening gets us outside and active, offering physical and emotional benefits. That connection to other living things can boost moods. It can help us relax and be in the moment. Even better, plants never judge. So don’t sweat it if your Wellies are a little skuffed or you mutter to yourself while plucking your mustard greens. Here are five steps for growing the ultimate vegetable garden and reaping many cherry tomato feasts to come.
Find a space
An underused corner of a backyard is worth considering converting into your own personal salad bar. Just be mindful of the orientation of the spot you choose. A south-facing garden gets the most sunlight. If that’s not possible, aim for an east-west position. Also take note of nearby trees that might throw shade on your dreams of a bumper crop. The types of trees in your yard are important to think about as well; for example, black walnut trees emit a toxin from their roots that kill many plants, and can thwart attempts to become a master gardener. If you don’t have a spot for a garden, ask a neighbour to borrow their backyard, or rent a community garden plot. Container gardening — planting in pots — is also a great gateway to gardening and can produce tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, beans and peppers, to name a few.
It’s easy to want to plant one of everything. Start small in the first year, and grow from there. New gardeners risk being overwhelmed, particularly when it comes to that most loathed task, weeding. Check out gardening books and magazines for visually appealing design ideas that don’t skimp on productivity. A simple raised bed is a great way to start. It can easily be dismantled and moved, if need be.
Everyone needs a friend
Think about companion planting when plotting your patch of earth. There are plants that bring out the best in each other when grown together, and others that can stifle their neighbours. Take, for example, that tomatoes love basil, parsley, stinging nettle, and do well near peppers and marigolds. They don’t get on with kale or any member of the cabbage family. Ditto for peas and potatoes. A visit to your library or quick Google search will help you find each vegetable’s BFF. Keep in mind that Niagara is in climate zone 5b when choosing plants.
Ready, set, grow
Don’t stress about removing grass when starting a garden. Those blades are packed with nutrients to help your garden grow. Simply cover grass with newspaper, thin cardboard or landscaper’s cloth, and top with soil. The grass will decompose, making your soil more nutritious for whatever you plant. Covering grass this way also provides a barrier against weeds. Enriching soil with compost will help a healthy garden take root. A 50/50 split between compost and soil is a good ratio to keep in mind, particularly in the first year. Spreading natural mulch can be helpful, too. It keeps weeds in check and holds moisture in your soil, which means less watering by you.
Remember that no two growing seasons are alike. What does well one year might be a bust the next. Joining a gardening group provides the perfect forum for airing any grievances with the growing season. Other gardeners can answer questions and help you celebrate bountiful harvests.