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Rebecca Small - April 27 2021

Successful Veggie Gardening for Beginners

Since the start of covid-19 we’ve noticed a huge increase in the number of customers, particularly beginners, looking to start their own veggie garden. For many it began out of fear that food would become scarce if the supply chain was compromised and the desire to provide healthy, fresh food for their family without risking exposure at the grocery store. As lockdowns and restrictions carried on throughout the summer months and fresh food was still readily available at the grocery store, vegetable gardening became a therapeutic hobby and a way to teach children while keeping busy too. If you’re a newbie looking to join in the veggie gardening revolution, here are our top tips for beginners! 

Start with what's Easy

Some of the most common vegetables available at the grocery store are actually very difficult to grow on your own. Heads of lettuce, celery, cauliflower, watermelon, and sweet corn can be a challenge, especially for new gardeners. Carrots can be difficult too, unless you have sandy, loamy soil that is free from rocks. Instead, opt for green beans, peas, radishes, beets, peppers, and tomatoes. Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and swiss chard are usually quite easy, as well as leafy lettuces. Avoid head lettuces such as iceberg and romaine which can be tricky to grow.

Radishes are a quick and easy crop you can grow in early spring, even while the weather is still cool

Which Veggies to Grow From Seed

Not all plants are easy to start from seeds, likewise, not all plants need to be bought already growing. Beans, peas, leaf lettuce, and other leafy greens are all easy to start from seed. They sprout and grow fairly quickly when planted directly in the ground, often only taking 2 or 3 months to reach maturity. Root vegetables such as beets, carrots and radishes are best grown from seed planted directly in the ground or a large container since they do not like their roots disturbed by transplanting from a starter pot to the garden. When planting seeds make sure not to space them too close together or you will need to thin out the seedlings later on to prevent overcrowding.

Which Veggies to Buy as Plants

Plants such as peppers, tomatoes, cucumber and zucchini can certainly all be grown from seed if started indoors early enough. If you’re a new gardener who is anxious to succeed you may want to buy these veggies as plants. This is a good way to ensure your plants have a good chance of making it to maturity -- there is nothing quite as disheartening as watching your seeds sprout, only to have the entire tray of seedlings wither and die from damping off! This is also a great option if you have limited space both indoors and out. You won’t need to rearrange your living space to fit seed trays, and you won’t wind up with too many plants for your small outdoor veggie garden. One pack of tomato seeds can grow 30 plants, all of the same variety. By buying individual plants you can mix and match multiple varieties and avoid having your yard dominated by 30 beefsteak tomato plants!

Consider your Space

Nearly all vegetables will need full sunlight for most of the day so plan your space accordingly. Also consider the size of your plants. Zucchini, squash, melons, and pumpkins can take up a huge amount of space as they grow. Vining tomatoes will take up more space than bush varieties. For small spaces or container gardens look for dwarf or patio varieties which will stay small, even once they are mature enough to bear fruit. Some plants such as tomatoes can even be grown in a hanging basket to save space. 

Containers and raised beds can provide extra space to grow. Make sure to opt for smaller plant varieties and avoid crowding in too many plants

When and How to Water

As a general rule, plants in containers will need much more water than those planted in the ground. Container plants may need to be watered every day depending on the size of the container, the size and type of plant, and the weather. Keep soil evenly moist. For both in-ground and container plants, stick your finger into the soil, if it feels dry an inch or two down then it’s time to water. Make sure to keep tomatoes watered consistently to avoid cracked and splitting fruit. Avoid splashing water onto the leaves of the plant which can cause mildew and spread disease. Some plants may wilt during the heat of summer days, but if the soil is still moist you do not need to water them yet. 

When and How to Fertilize

Avoid fertilizing seedlings until they have at least 3 sets of true leaves. True leaves look like smaller versions of the mature leaf, not the two round cotyledon leaves that first emerge from the seeds. Seeds have stored energy reserves that the plant will use during its first few weeks of growing. Applying fertilizer too early can do more harm than good. Once your seedlings are mature enough you can use liquid fertilizer or fish emulsion, but make sure you dilute the fertilizer with about twice as much water as the package recommends to avoid burning your seedlings. Apply this watered down fertilizer about once a week and make sure you never fertilize a plant with dry soil. 

Only fertilize seedlings once they have grown their first several sets of true leaves

For more mature veggies planted in the ground or large containers you can add slow release fertilizer granules. These granules are long lasting and only need to be applied a few times a season. Each time they come into contact with water they will release a little dose of fertilizer. Look for fertilizer specially intended for vegetables as this may help produce a higher yield. For tomatoes look for tomato specific fertilizer with added calcium as this will help reduce the chances of blossom end rot. If you are looking for an organic option consider dried hen manure which has the added bonus of deterring squirrels.

When it comes to planting vegetables to feed yourself and your family, keep it simple for the first year or two. You will soon be growing your own food and your confidence as a gardener. It’s easy to go overboard and overwhelm yourself with too large of a garden or too many plants, so stick to a few of your favourite vegetables. When in doubt you can always ask an expert at Parkway Gardens!