By Brian Minter
In spite of the continuing wet weather, many folks are setting out their ‘cool loving’ early veggie crops. But before you lift even one shovel full of soil, let me offer a few suggestions on how to achieve better success with your vegetable garden this year.
We tend to be creatures of habit. Why not move your vegetable garden to a different part of the yard? Old lawn areas offer the greatest potential for new gardens and even if it’s too late to change for this year, consider it for next season. A little rearranging of the landscape is often a good idea. Insects and diseases come and go in rather predictable cycles, and if you break up that cycle, you may just minimize some pesky problems. But wherever you situate your veggie garden, the key is to have as much sun as possible, especially from 10am to 3pm when it provides the most light and heat.
In the Lower Mainland, once your garden is cultivated and ready for planting, apply some Dolopril lime at the rate of one 10kg bag per 2000 square feet. Not only does it make the soil less acidic, but this lime also adds valuable magnesium and calcium that tomatoes, when planted later, need so much. Remember, however, that potatoes and lime do not get on well together, so keep lime away from the spud-growing area.
Compost can be added any time over the spring planting period, but it is most beneficial applied when rototilling or cultivating the garden soil. Many of the nutrients in organic compost and manures are quickly available, and some are lost if left in the soil too long before the plants go in.
I admire the folks who try to grow 100% organically, but sometimes it is a challenge to find everything you need. I personally believe that lots of organic manure and compost used in a garden and supplemented with some organically-based fertilizers is a practical combination. The idea is to enjoy as much flavour and receive as many nutrients as possible in a sustainable way from our home-grown vegetables with the least amount of labour and cost. How you solve this area of concern is a personal matter. There has never been a better selection of organic soils and nutrients than what’s available today.
When you get down to planting seeds, there are a few tips I’d like to share. First of all, ‘bargain seeds’ are not a bargain! Buy the best hybrid and old reliable varieties that you know work well in your garden, but also keep experimenting with new varieties to see if you can improve the flavour, versatility and production time. I freeze all my vegetable seeds for 48 hours before sowing to help stratify them. This should speed up and improve germination. Most people plant their seeds far too deep. Folks, the deeper you go, the colder and damper it is down there. Keep your seeds up high where it’s warmer and drier. That’s why raised beds are so popular and effective. The favourite size for raised beds seems to be 4 ft. x 8 ft. x 24 in. high.
Maybe it’s just me, but I often wonder why most European and Asian gardeners have small gardens and most of us have huge ones. The fact is less is more and we are needlessly wasting space, fertilizer, compost, water and oodles of time in our gardens. Keep your pathways to a minimum and increase the size of your rows. Wide-row gardening is the norm around the world, saving space and allowing a longer harvest period. The outside vegetables always mature first, while the ones on the inside, because they are more shaded, mature later.
The other trend is container gardening. This is truly the way to go, and so many new varieties of vegetables, hybrids created from traditional breeding, perform well in containers.
The last concern I have is starting many of our vegetables too early. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplants and squashes should be planted out in the later part of May when it’s warm. Even beans need warm soil for the best success. There is still lots of time, and later plantings will often catch up to early ones, especially if the weather stays wet and cold.
I hope a few of these comments will make this wonderful experience of planting your vegetable garden easier and more enjoyable.