'Tis the season for veggie gardens
Well, it’s finally here – the beginning of our vegetable gardening season. 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.
In the Lower Mainland, once your garden is cultivated and ready for planting, apply some Dolopril lime at the rate of one bag per 2,000 square feet. Not only does it make the soil less acidic, but it also adds valuable magnesium and the calcium that tomatoes 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. Speaking of compost, a research paper from Rutger’s University compared the mineral content of "organically grown" versus "inorganically grown" vegetables, and the difference was astounding. According to this report, there are 87.83 percent fewer minerals and trace elements in non-organically grown foods. This is important to note because part of the reason we grow fresh vegetables is to receive the many vitamins and minerals found in fresh vegetables.
I admire the folks who try to grow 100 per cent organically, but sometimes it’s not as easy. I personally believe that lots of organic manure and compost used in a garden and supplemented with some organically-based fertilizers is a practical solution. The idea is to enjoy as much flavour and receive as many minerals as possible from our home grown vegetables with the least amount of labour and cost. How you solve this area of concern is up to you, of course.
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 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. 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 always so effective. For difficult-to-germinate varieties, like carrots, parsnips and beets, try throwing them in a plastic bag with a tablespoon of rooting powder. Shake the bag up thoroughly to coat the seed before planting, and see if that doesn’t help.
The last concern I have is the amount of space we use for our gardens. Maybe it’s just me, but I often wonder why most European and Oriental gardeners have small gardens and most of us have huge ones. The fact is that 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, except in North America. Wide-row gardening is space saving and allows a longer harvest period. The outside vegetables always mature first, while the ones on the inside, because they are more shaded, mature later.
Now that daytime temperatures are up around 10°C and we seem to be past night frosts, most cool loving vegetables can go in now. Be patient, however, when it comes to planting tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers etc. They need temperatures well above 10°C. Usually the end of May is the right time to plant these heat lovers. Have a nice weekend in your garden!
Brian Minter is a master gardener who operates Minter Gardens in Chilliwack.