Saturday, May 4, 2013

Beginner Gardeners

Photo courtesy of Moncton Gardener

A friend of mine, we'll call her Aly-V, made a gigantic life shift last year. She decided teaching was no longer her gig and successfully applied to an Occupational Therapy course at McMaster University. Needless to say, going back to life as a mature student has been an adjustment. She recently e-mailed me and said she'd love to "try to keep a garden alive" this summer and could I recommend any good vegetables for beginners.
Could I? COULD I????

Aly-V, you made my day.

Here is my advice to anyone setting out on a new adventure of backyard vegetable growing who wants some nearly-guaranteed success.

First of all, there are two categories of crops. The ones you can plant now (while the threat of frost is still lingering) and the ones that need to be planted after the threat of frost is gone. Some folks feel that the long weekend in May is a good tangible start-line for their gardening. For average frost-free dates for your area click here.

Also, vegetables can be categorized into the plants you can sow as seeds right into your soil and they have enough time to make food in your garden within our growing season, and the plants that need a head start to the growing season and if you're a beginner, you should buy as seedlings (small plants that already have leaves and you can get at the Farmer's Market or a local garden centre).

Photo courtesy of briannaorg
Go ahead and plant lettuce and swiss chard from seed as soon as you can work the soil. Swiss chard is a nice alternative to spinach because once spinach is ready to be eaten, within a few days it turns bitter and flowers. Swiss chard has a much longer harvest period and is a lot more flexible about waiting until you're ready to eat it.
Build a trellis and plant some peas as soon as the soil can be worked too. Spring onions are also a very nice addition to your garden in the early spring. We harvest our spring onions as our culinary needs require all season long.

In a few weeks, plant beans from seed into your garden. They germinate quickly so the pay-off for planting them comes quickly. I plant a row every two or three weeks so the harvest is staggered. A word of warning though, rabbits love bean leaves. They will methodically eat every leaf off every plant from one end of a row to the other. Only plant beans if you can muster up the energy to fence in your garden to prevent rabbit attacks.

Take a nice Saturday morning trip to your local Farmer's Market or garden centre and buy some seedlings to plant after the frost-free date. Tomatoes are very nice and a zucchini plant, if you have the space. I learned the hard way that zucchini plants are VERY prolific and may take up to a metre squared of garden space. Well worth it though, if you want to feel like a successful gardener.

I am also going to say something very un-politically correct here and advise that you avoid the fancy heirloom varieties of tomatoes for now. I find sometimes the mainstream varieties of tomatoes give higher yields and greater success rates for beginner gardeners. Next year, with a little green under your belt, you can try your hand at an heirloom or two.

And for now, I would stay away from growing peppers, which are finicky even for experienced gardeners. Don't grow broccoli either, which tends to flower before you fully realize it's ready to be picked. And watermelons, although they're exciting, tend not to always get as big and pink as you'd like before the growing season is over.

If you think you'll be in your 'hood for a while, invest in your future gardens by buying a few rhubarb roots or asparagus crowns. These plants will come back every year. Rhubarb needs a lot of space. Asparagus will grow tall (or so I hear, I have yet to successfully establish my asparagus patch). And don't harvest and eat any of the asparagus you may see growing from your plants this year or next year. The plant needs to expend all its energy in establishing a good footing before it can handle you stealing its appendages for your stir-fries.

Hope that helps, Aly-V.
Happy Gardening!

~Miss Greenish Thumb~

Photo courtesy of samenstelling


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much! I will get to it ASAP!

Rachelle said...

Great advice. I'd just like to add that the first year I gardened, I happened upon a variety of spinach that lasted me ALL SEASON!! Yep, I just picked leaves whenever I wanted until the end of the season. Or maybe I replanted another generation once. I was pretty surprised, I think it had to do with variety and a relatively cool summer. Just wanted to share that that is possible!