I’m going to talk about vegetable gardening, and what you need to do, step by step, to start your seeds, get them in the ground, and maintain them.
There are two major things you need to consider about your vegetable garden plot before you do anything, because if these two things aren’t considered, you’re putting yourself behind the eight ball.
1) Does it get enough light? This is so crucial, and a mistake so many people make. Vegetables need a lot of sun. At least 6 hours of direct light a day. If you ignore the light requirement of any plant, be it flower or vegetable, it will suffer. Let’s go back to grade school science here, and think about photosynthesis. Just like we need carbohydrates to look and feel our best (We’ve all seen the pictures of celebs that have over done the ol’ Atkins diet. Not good.) plants need to the sun’s energy to convert water and sugar in to carbs to feed its self. Not enough food means a weak plant.
2) Soil! Ideally you want a nice rich, loose, loamy soil. Black gold is what Farmer B calls it. It’s full of nutrients, holds enough water, but also drains well. That’s the stuff that great veggie gardens are made of. But, very few people are blessed with that kind of soil without working at it. More often soils are clay based, making them heavy, clumpy, easily compacted, too moisture-retentive – or sand based, too loose, tends to blow away, dries out too fast and lacks nutrients. So how can one achieve “black gold”? building healthy soil will be a topic all on its own, but to give you some hints, compost and manure are going to be your very best friends. Trust me, you’ll never be so happy to dig your hands into a pile of dung as you are when your building your soil. And note I said building. This isn’t an over night, or even over one season process. It can take many seasons to achieve perfect soil if you’re in an area with one extreme or the other of clay and sand. And once you do build it, its important to maintain it. But please, don’t let this scare you because you really can improve your soil by leaps and bounds with just a few wheelbarrow’s full of compost and/or rotted manure. But as I said, more on that in another post.
So back to the beginning. What do you want to plant in your garden? This is something you need to know to get a plan in order. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, check out the Mother Earth News Garden Planner. It takes so much work out planning!! If you don’t want to subscribe to it, at least take advantage of the free 30 day trial, plan out what you want to plant, and print off the planting chart! It will tell you exactly when you need to start your seeds indoors, when to start them outdoors, and when to harvest them. It’s pretty foolproof.
Barring that, you need to decide on your desired vegetables, collect the packets, sit down with a calendar, look at your seeds and their recommended planting times (It’ll say on the package ex. sow indoor 6-8 weeks before last frost, sow outdoor after all risk of frost has passed) and RIGHT IT DOWN. Here in Ontario, we are in Zone 5, with an average last frost date of May 21. So that means that things like peppers, and tomatoes need to be started around March 21-April 1. We have a relatively short growing season, of about 3ish months (depending on the year it can be more or less), so we need to give most of our plants a good head start before they go out into the ground. You can find your specific zone here
Next, you need to collect some materials for seed starting.
- Light- either a window ledge with good sun exposure, or a grow light.
- Seed starting mix- this is a soil-less medium and is important for giving your seedlings a good start.
- Containers to sow in- There are many many options out there, and any of them will do the trick. If you’re new to this, you might want to start with one of the mini-green house type kits that have a cell-pack tray, a water tray, and a clear lid, or if you’re more comfortable with seed starting, try making your own mini-pots using newspaper, egg shells, or fiber egg cartons. Either way make sure you have some kind of tray underneath so you can pour the water in to the tray rather than on top of the seedlings (aka bottom watering)
- Plant markers- popsicle sticks, or even plastic milk jugs cut in to strips can be used to label your seedlings. This is important because although you think you’ll remember what’s what, by the time planting rolls around, you’ll likely forget! (especially if you have multiple varieties of tomatoes for example)
- An organic fertilizer- You can easily purchase this from a store, or make your own compost tea! You’ll want to fertilize your little guys as the seed started has no nutrients for the plants. (Check out Urban Harvest, they’ve got some great options)
- Last but not least- SEEDS! Again, these can be purchased from your local hardware store, or ordered from companies like Vessey’s, Terra Edibles, Urban Harvest ect.
OK, that’s what you need to get started, so go! Get your supplies, and seeds and we’ll talk about how to go about getting them in the dirt next!
Also sharing at Natural Mother’s Network Seasonal Celebrations #3