Do you have limited yard space, but you are wanting to grow your own vegetables? Are you unsure where to start, or how to map it out? I don’t blame you. I had no idea where to start 3 years ago when I began my gardening journey and now, I don’t know where to stop. The options are endless.
Being in Alberta, we have a very short growing season. Nothing like the long stretches of sunlight seen in southern Ontario, or the lingering mild temperatures in Victoria BC. We sit in a short, dry, cold climate at least 7 months out of the year. This can make gardening challenging, but not impossible as there are many varieties of vegetables that thrive here.
Every journey needs a plan and a road map to help you reach your destination. Gardening is no different. Running outside into the yard with a fist full of seeds and not a clue where to put them can be exciting, if you are a gambler. I personally prefer to take a bit more measured, albeit conservative approach. The first step for me is always to figure out the lay of land.
Sun vs. shade
When standing in your back yard, at the side of your home, or even your front porch, look at where the sun is shining. When is it shining the brightest? For how long? Is there any shade or roof cover? Any wind blockers or pests to consider? How close are you to the garden hose? All of these questions will help you to decide what vegetables to plant where because brace yourself, not all vegetables thrive in full sun.
Planning based on companion planting is an effective way maximize your yield as well as your space. The easiest way to do this is via your pallet. What foods do you like to eat? What are your favourite vegetables? For example, if you don’t like zucchini, don’t grow it. It thrives here and you will be giving it away by the truck load. Instead focus on potatoes, or butternut squash. Love beets? Put them on the list.
Taste testing companion planting
Normally, what goes together on your plate, grows together in your garden. For example, if you are a fan of Italian food or pasta and tomato sauce, you can safely guess tomatoes and basil will grow well together. Love Borsht? Well beets and dills are definitely garden buddies. How about a great garden salad? Lettuce seems to really like almost everyone. There are some great resources online to map out the best friends in the garden. You can find a great grid for companion planting here.
What goes together, grows together…Or so the rumour claims.
Now you are going to want to choose the varieties of vegetables to grow. To do that, you need your notes on sunshine and favourite foods. I like to shop online and have the seeds arrive in the mail right about now. Using Canadian seed manufactures as often as I can I would suggest West Coast Seeds, or Veseys Seeds.
Choosing your seed varieties
When choosing your seeds look at the information on the package or summary online for maximum growth height when they mature, and how much sun vs. shade they need. Tomatoes for instance, need full sun and have two distinct varieties; indeterminate and determinate. The Indeterminate varieties can grow to a size as large as the space will allow. Mine have been known to reach 8 – 10 ft in height. They tend to produce fruit continually throughout the season and will continue to do so until killed by frost. These types require staking and caging. Determinate varieties grow to a determined height and only produce fruit once. They are known to be short enough caging is optional, and seem to do really well in pots. Determinate’s die after one harvest. Hence the importance of reading up on your seed variety.
Add some beauty to your plate
Something to consider as well as vegetables are edible flowers. When choosing your seeds, look into grabbing some flower seeds too. They work as a dual purpose for beauty and pest control. Marigolds have been known to be wonderful bug traps in gardens and their peppery flavour is great in salads.
The next thing to note is whether or not your seeds are to be started indoors and then transplanted. Again, Tomatoes need to be started inside for at least 4-6 weeks before heading outside to flourish. Any seeds that need to be started inside, begin preparing for that adventure. It is honestly my favourite part. Bringing these little seeds to life and sending them out the door to continue is a thrill for me.
Putting your plans on paper
Now map out a grid on graph paper showing what plants will go in what pots based on the information you have acquired. I like to make themed pots such as the Italian Garden. This large pot houses tomatoes, basil, oregano, parsley, and peppers. Be sure to account for the fact that these plants will grow, so leave enough room in your plans to allow for that. Every beginner gardener over crowds their space. I know I have in the past. So plan for growth and success and give these new plants room.
Now stay tuned for my next post on how to prepare your soil. Great soil means great plants. Success always starts from the ground up.