Cultivate your green thumb.
Getting outside to spruce up your outdoor living space is a wonderful rite of spring. If you have access to a garden centre or an online garden supply store, why not look at adding some variety to your green space with a few veggies.
The world of vegetable gardening is vast and, frankly, can feel a bit intimidating. But with some down to earth advice, you might be amazed at what’s possible – even if your outdoor area is only a condo balcony.
As with any project, spending a bit of time determining your end goal can guide the process of getting started. A few things to consider include the size of your space, a realistic estimate of the amount of time that you can dedicate to gardening, your financial budget for this new venture and the types of veggies you’d like to grow.
Lettuce get started
Vegetable gardens come in all sizes, but starting small might be the best advice. It’s wonderful to envision transforming that big patch of lawn into a bounty of kale, corn and tomatoes – but the larger the enterprise, the bigger the time commitment.
Container gardening is very manageable, and a few pots on the deck or patio can easily produce a nice variety of lettuce, herbs, cherry tomatoes, jalapeño peppers, carrots, kale, green onions and radishes. And don’t discount beans, peas, zucchini and cucumbers – these bushy plants typically need space to spread out, but there are compact varieties designed for small spaces that grow very well when supported with some bamboo stakes and gardening twine.
It’s important to assess the amount of sun your gardening space receives and plant accordingly. While most vegetables require full sun for best results, some actually thrive in low light. If you’re dealing with a shady space, focus on leafy greens such as lettuce, Swiss chard, spinach, parsley, oregano and cilantro.
After figuring out what you’d like to grow, given space availability and sun exposure, it’s time for a trip to the local gardening centre to stock up on containers, soil, gloves, shovels, stakes, gardening twine and plants. But before you start lugging bags of dirt to the car, make sure you have the right stuff.
For containers, pick up a good-quality potting soil that will give your plants the drainage they need without becoming compacted. To make life easier, some potting soils include fertilizer, as well as drought-tolerant spongy material designed to hold water – cutting down how often you will need to give your plants a drink.
If you choose to do something a bit larger, such as a raised garden bed in the backyard, ordering triple mix by the cubic yard for delivery might be a better option. Just be sure you have the driveway space to accommodate a large pile of dirt, and keep a tarp handy in case rain is in the forecast and you need to cover up.
Friends and foes
Planning is done, containers or garden beds are prepped, and now it’s time for the fun part – getting plants settled into their new home. Did you know that some veggies make better friends than others? Companion gardening has a lot of benefits, including pest control, healthier soil, natural shade and support, and weed suppression.
Tomatoes are often the star of the show for first-time gardeners, and they really benefit from being close to herbs such as basil, parsley and sage, which are a natural repellent for insects. Lettuce, carrots, radishes and beans are also great friends with tomato plants. However, anything from the brassica family can stunt tomato growth – this includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale. It’s also best to keep tomatoes away from corn and potato plants. Corn attracts pests, and potatoes can spread blight to tomatoes.
Growing your own food is richly rewarding on so many levels. Imagine the sense of accomplishment in knowing that you grew everything for that yummy salad or delicious pasta sauce – not to mention the peace of mind that comes when you know exactly how your food was grown. And if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Veggie gardening takes patience and persistence as you learn through trial and error what works best for your garden. But who knows? You just might be amazed at the bounty from even a small patch.
PRESERVING SUMMER’S BOUNTY
Preserving the harvest is a time-honoured tradition that might be easier than you think. Here are a few quick tips to get you started.
Air-drying low-moisture herbs such as sage, oregano and rosemary easily preserves flavour and colour. Gather up bunches of herbs, secure with twine and hang to dry in your kitchen. Herbs with a higher moisture content, such as basil and dill, are better frozen. Simply lay the fresh herbs on a cookie sheet, pop into the freezer and then package in an airtight container for later use.
Don’t let those tomatoes go to waste! Making your own sundried tomatoes is easy, and old window screens are the perfect tool for the job. Wash and dry the screens, and set them outside on blocks where they will be in full sun with good air flow. It takes about three days for the drying process, so the hotter the weather, the better. Slice the tomatoes, remove the seeds and pulp, lay on the screens and then cover with cheesecloth to protect them from insects.
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