For those just starting out, there's a dizzying amount of information out there. I think one way I can help is by sifting the information somewhat and providing a few reliable resources. What follows are my suggestions' for the new veggie grower.
Take time to learn the basics
The basic primer at balconygardenweb.com offers the 12 best beginner tips for starting a kitchen garden. If you take time to read and plan based on these tips, you will be well on your way to success.
If you are establishing a new vegetable bed, be sure to evaluate the location of your garden. Veggies need lots of sun.
The article, How to Plant a Garden, at the Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology includes a valuable section on building your garden soil. New gardeners often underestimate the importance of developing your soil's balance, texture and water-holding capacity. Try to access the best weed-free soil amendments you can afford.
Plan your garden crops
The beginner's guide from Better Homes and Gardens advises new gardeners to grow what you love to eat. This was an important lesson for me. I remember the first season I grew lettuce, but not enough to make more than a few salads. Now I do successive sowings to keep lettuce varieties coming on through the season. On the other hand, it's best to think about how much you and your family can eat. There's no point growing dozens of sugar pumpkins if you won't have storage space or time to cook them. I like the fact sheets on individual vegetables offered in the BHG article.
I love the way The Old Farmer's Almanac has moved its resources to the web. Here's a link to Over 20 Vegetable Garden Layout Ideas, including backyard gardens, square-foot gardens, raised bed gardens, and kitchen gardens. These garden plans help you learn how to space out your plants.
Here are growing guides for the Almanac's top ten vegetables. Handy, eh?
Northern gardeners know that our growing season is quite short. Some vegetables can go into the ground as seeds, but others won't have enough time to mature and give you a harvest. These plants do better if they go into the garden as seedlings. Radishes, lettuces, chard and beets will grow from seed. Tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers yield better if you plant young plants. Fortunately, there are many nurseries and smaller growers who will provide seeds and plant starts. Ask gardeners in your neighbourhood for their recommendations. Many seed companies are very backlogged this year because of the tremendous interest; others are sold out. You may do best to visit a nursery to get seeds ― but look soon.
Early care is critical
Spring weather can be dry and unkind to tender plants and newly-germinated seeds. How often should a vegetable garden be watered? In their FAQs, the folks at Produce for Better Health say "when trying to germinate seeds, many short waterings are more beneficial. You would then switch to longer, more infrequent waterings to encourage root growth and strength" once the young plants are established. They add that "most plants require an inch to an inch and a half of water per week. But variables such as wind speeds, humidity, rainfall, air temperatures and the consistency of your soil can cause this to vary. When the soil feels dry an inch or two into the ground it’s time to water. A deep watering is more beneficial than a shallow or short watering period."
It takes time, patience and experience to grow vegetables successfully and every season is different. But if this is going to be your FIRST season, celebrate that decision. And with luck, you'll get tomatoes!
Since sharing this post, I've done a little more research. GardenMaking magazine continues to publish online and is a great resource on many gardening topics. You may find Judith Adams' articles useful. In particular, see Starting Seeds Indoors which includes also a PDF summary you can download for future reference. This article explains how to test for seed viability.
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