With all the uncertainty these days around almost everything we do, many more folks are planning to grow their own food this year, especially vegetables.
The good news is that growing veggies can be done not only in traditional gardens but also very successfully in containers and raised beds as long as you have a space that gets full or partial sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you don’t get a lot of sun, you can still grow crops, but leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard will fare better.
Along with many products today, there’s been a bit of panic buying on seeds. In speaking with some of the major seed companies, I have been told there is no shortage of seeds, but there may be a delay in shipping. The usual popularity of some varieties may require restocking or substitutions could be made.
In addition, many local growers are shifting from ornamental production to more food items. Because of this, there will be a good supply of transplant seedlings of peas, beans, all brassicas and lettuce, as well as root crops, like beets, onions and carrots, throughout the growing season. The same goes for later seedlings of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.
Perhaps one of the greatest concerns is when to start our vegetable gardens. Planting too early can be a problem, especially for heat-loving vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers. Early in the season it’s colder, wetter and there is always the chance of a night frost. As well, it’s a time when insects, slugs and birds are also looking for early food.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that it’s better to err on the side of being a little late rather than too early. Remember, right now we get a minute and a half more light each day, and the sun is warmer as its rays edge northward in our planet’s seasonal cycle.
For cool-loving crops I wait until we get a consistent daytime temperature of 10 C, even though it can still get closer to freezing at night. Crops, like onions, brassicas (such as kale, cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli), beets, early potatoes, peas, broad beans, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard and perennial herbs can tolerate the cool weather.
Using a row cover like Reemay cloth, at night when it’s clear and cold will keep the young sprouts somewhat protected from frost. If a heavy frost is forecast, use N-Sulate, a 10 C-rated frost protection blanket. Garden beds that are raised eight to 10 inches will keep soil temperatures five to six degrees warmer.
Open, porous, well-draining soils are far better for an early start. Mixing in as much organic matter as possible will make a big difference, especially once the weather warms up. Composted manures and Sea Soil are great, and provide much needed nutrients to get early veggies off to a good start.
Container food gardening is growing rapidly and, done well, it can be just as productive as ground planting. A few tips, however, can make a big difference.
Large rectangular containers (3 to 4 ft long, 18 inches deep and wide), are best. You can purchase them or make your own wooden ones. I also like to secure a 6 to 8-ft trellis to the back of the container so vines like peas, beans, cucumbers and even tomatoes, can be trained up for better light and air circulation.
The best soils are lightweight mixes, especially on balconies where weight can be an issue. Sunshine, Sungrow and ProMix bales are the most effective as complete soil mixes. There are many other products, but make sure you get a container mix and not a cheaper topsoil. I always like to work in a little composted organic matter, like Sea Soil.
Today, many vegetable varieties are bred specifically for container growing, but some of our traditional compact veggies are also ideal. Seeds can also be started in containers, but transplants will save you four to six weeks in production time.
There is still lots of time for direct seeding of cold crops.
Longer, heat-loving crops like tomatoes and peppers should be started soon in your home or in a small greenhouse. Remember, if you start your seeds indoors, there must be a continuous process of moving steadily though the stages of germination, transplanting, acclimatization to the outdoors and finally planting.
No heat-loving vegetables, like peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, melons and eggplants should go outside until we get consistent night temperatures of 10 C, which usually happens towards the end of May. Don’t start heat-lovers too early or you’ll have long, legging plants that may not do well.
Fortunately, many of our B.C. and Canadian seed catalogues give approximate times for seeding indoors. They also give the best times to direct seed vegetables outside.
When we get a few nice days in late March and early April, many of us are anxious to get growing, but if you wait until late April or May, both for seeding and transplanting, I guarantee you will have far better success.
The goal is to have a very productive and successful garden — therefore garden wisdom is paramount.
There is lots of time, lots of seeds and lots of transplants available. I rarely have time to plant my own veggie garden until the end of June, and I always have good success. So don’t panic.
Even though these are stressful days, you should still be able to enjoy a summer full of produce from your own garden or patio.
CLICK HERE to report a typo.
Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email firstname.lastname@example.org