Basics of vegetable gardening
I can hear you saying to yourself that you have no idea about the basics of gardening, I know the thought, I too used to think I couldn’t grow vegetables. I mean I once failed at growing grass! No joke, I had a giant dirt patch in my yard for 2yrs because of that battle. Granted looking back at the situation, I should have abandoned growing grass and started a vegetable garden right there I my front yard. Oh, if we could only turn back the clock.
The truth is that you can easily learn the basics of gardening to be cultivating a useful crop very soon, and each moment spent in your own garden teaches you the basics of vegetable gardening. You will learn a lot that is unique to your own situation, such as local soil conditions, your particular position in relation to the sun, and oddities that relate to your local microclimate. This sort of thing is unique to each person’s plot of land, and the only good way to learn these things is to go out and experience them.
The taste of fresh home grown vegetables is better to that of any commercially grown veggie. Ever heard someone complain that tomatoes no longer have any taste? They will have when you grow your own – you will never taste a better tomato. The lack of taste with the commercial crop is not all the fault of the growers, as they are under pressure to produce a massive amount of produce, of uniform size and colour, to the schedule of the wholesale market, and ultimately the supermarket. When you grow your own vegetables, you set the schedule and the standards.
The freshness of home grown vegetables is something that can’t be beat. Vegetables I have bought from the market, and stored in the refrigerator, have started to become inedible after just a few days. I have had home grown produce stay fresh in the refrigerator after 2 weeks!
Typically, a home garden will produce a generous yield, and can readily offset the cost of growing them with lower grocery bills. Besides the fresh vegetables you will be enjoying all summer and into the fall, but if you take up canning, preserving, and/or jelly making, you will have fresh sauces, salsas, jellies, chutneys, or just about anything you can think of.
One of the turn-offs to trying something you have not done before is the intimidating flood of information (and misinformation) you will receive. We here at Downtown Homestead hope to become a way to filter through the noise and find the information you want.
If you are browsing at a bookstore, you may find hundreds of books about growing vegetables – which do you buy? To begin with, look for the simple, basic information. Do not bother with those full of jargon – you will learn the technical terms as you go.
You will hear folklore from the family, such as “Uncle Henry always put … (you name it) … on his … (name it again)”. Folklore is part of our heritage, but there is no guarantee of its usefulness.
You will hear from the office genius, who has done nothing, but still knows all the answers – nod wisely, and then ignore him.
Plants evolved millions of years before humans, and they actually want to grow. It has been said that in many cases plants grow despite what we do to help them. If you provide the basics, and these are reasonable nutrition and regular watering, Mother Nature does the rest – let her do the work for you.
Preparing Healthy Soil for Growing Vegetables
So you’re ready to start learning the basics of gardening, the first part is the most important; the soil. So many “pros” talk about soil vitamins, soil consistency, nitrate levels, and chemical fertilizers, but it really all starts with having the proper make-up to the garden soil. You need to make sure you have the right mixture of sand, silt, and clay, with an ideal mixture of 40% sand, 40% silt, and 20% clay. This is the easiest step to start with.
So many “pros” recommend buying their fancy testing kits to tell your soils makeup, but why not just touch the earth, it will tell you all you truly need to know. Grab a clump of dirt, squeeze it into a ball in your hand, if it doesn’t hold it’s shape and falls apart it has too much sand, if the ball stays clumped but doesn’t crumble when poked with your finger, it has too much clay. You’re welcome, no fancy testing kit needed.
If you’re still unsure about the content of your soil, you can separate each ingredient by using this simple method.
- Put a cup or two of dirt into a jar of water.
- Shake the water up until the soil is suspended, then let it set until you see it separate into 3 separate layers.
The top layer is clay, the next is silt, and on the bottom is sand. You should be able to judge the presence of each component within your dirt, and act accordingly.
After you’ve analysed the content of your soil, if you decide that it is low on a certain ingredient then you should definitely do something to fix it. If dealing with too much silt or sand, it’s best to add some peat moss or compost. If you’ve got too much clay, add a mixture of peat moss and sand. The peat moss, when moistened, helps for the new ingredient to infiltrate the mixture better. If you can’t seem to manage to attain a proper mixture, just head down to your local gardening store with a cup or two of your dirt and talk with your local gardening pro.
Garden Layout for watering
The water content of the soil is another important thing to consider when preparing for your garden. If your garden is at the bottom of an incline, it is most likely going to absorb too much water and drown out the plants. If this is the case, you should probably elevate your garden a few inches (4 or 5) over the rest of the ground. This will allow for more drainage and less saturation. If you don’t want to raise the entire ground area, go ahead and try a raised bed garden.
Garden Soil Nutrients
Adding nutrients to your soil is also a vital part of the process, as most urban soils have little to no nutrients already in them at this point. One to two weeks prior to planting, you should add a good amount of fertilizer to your garden, or better yet, start mixing in your quality homemade compost. Mix it in really well and let it sit for a while. Once you have done this, your soil will be completely ready for whatever seeds you may plant in it.
Check out our Composting Guide to learn how to make your own fertilizer.
Once your seeds are planted in your garden, you still need to pay attention to the soil, now more than ever. The first few weeks, your little seeds will be hungrily gobbling up all the nutrients around them to sprout into a strong, healthy plant. If you starve them, how are they supposed to be healthy plants that will bear delicious vegetables? About a week after you plant the seeds, mix in the same amount of compost or fertilizer, that you had added before. Continue mixing in your choice of plant feed every couple of weeks, even as the plants reach maturity, because they will also be hungry, and need to be fed if you want a thriving garden of vegetables.
Check out our Organic Garden Guide to learn more
Feel overwhelmed yet? Don’t be. Break the process down to learn the basics of gardening; ensure you have healthy soil with a little squeeze, then feed your plants, then water them well. In no time you will be growing vegetables in your own little urban homestead garden.