With the weather finally starting to warm up and trees beginning to bud, the inner gardener in many of us is waking up from a long winter slumber.
If you’re anything like me you’ve had your growing plans out since February. Thinking about which new varieties to try this year, crop rotation plans, and stocking up on some classic seeds less commonly found.
Before these plans come to fruition you’ve got to lay the groundwork needed to get there.
First, start your seedlings indoors for a head start, especially if you live in a cooler climate like that of Ontario. With a shorter growing cycle, your months of efforts might be lost in a cold snap before the fruit gets a chance to ripen.
Try these 4 tricks for growing bigger vegetables so you don’t get left out in the cold this year.
#1 Use natural fertilizers!
Luckily for us gardeners, organic materials are all around us, you just have to look in the right places from nitrogen in coffee grounds to the potassium in dried banana peels! Many forms of food scraps can be processed to make a free fertilizer or added to a compost pile for a greater concentration of nutrients.
Don’t have a compost pile? Look for bagged or delivered dirt that is “compost” or “composted manure”. Good soil can make a world of a difference and will create a better soil structure than peat moss and perlite which is the growing medium of typical store-bought planters.
Eggshells are another great form of fertilizer. Carefully crack your eggs to leave behind a little nest for calcium loving plants like peppers and tomatoes. Keep the carton for the eggs to sit in for easy transportation to sunny areas of your home. Other great benefits of using eggshells in your garden include:
Food for your soil – Once the plants have outgrown their little eggshell home, simply crush it to bits and work into the surrounding area. This will feed the plant as it grows without keeping its roots constrained.
Natural bug repellant – snail’s, slugs, and even some small animals are deterred by eggshells in your garden. Usually, where there is an egg there’s a chicken! For most, it’s not worth the gamble.
Have little ones stuck at home? Take this as an opportunity to teach them a science lesson about the nutrients a plant needs. They might be surprised to see the circle of life.
# 2 Build up and away
This year I’m adding a new bed to our garden, much to the debate in our household as to how many garden beds are “too many” this year I’ve apparently won! I also have a plan for next year’s debate which involves teaching our little one—so, look back next year for an update! Garden beds are great for the growing season; they offer a controlled way to keep your soil together and avoid nutrient runoff. When given the option I always grow up off the ground.
When planning a position for your garden bed there are a few points to consider:
How much sun is this location getting? – find yourself staring out the window waiting for normality to resume? Make note of the shadows in your yard at different points of the day. For best growth, plants need 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. If you’re battling with the shade of a surrounding tree, consider planting cool climate plants like lettuce, broccoli, or beets. The shade will provide a haven from the sweltering summer heat.
When building a raised bed- What type of wood will I use? For anyone growing vegetables it’s a good idea to avoid the use of treated wood. This wood is soaked in a strong chemical solution that will naturally leach into your soil. Not good if you are interested in organic gardening!
So, what are the other options? From here it comes down to cost. The two most popular options in hardware stores are pine and cedar. While pine is much cheaper, cedar will last much longer.
I plan on sticking around for a while, so I went with cedar. This new bed is home to romaine lettuce in the front and broccoli in the back.
#3 Vegetables have friends too! – Learn who they like.
When getting into the nitty-gritty of growing vegetables you will start to find that some plants don’t grow well together while others tend to flourish. There are many great books and blogs out there that go into the details behind these beneficial relationships also known as companion planting. Here are some general tips for the guidance of growing the most common veggies in your garden.
Beans – plant among heavy feeders like tomatoes, cucumbers, corn. Beans play host to a unique fungus that pulls nitrogen into the soil for plants to feed.
Broccoli- Plant next to herbs and other cool-climate vegetables that can be prone to aphids and other pests. The strong scent of dill, oregano, or basil help to deter these little pests.
Beets & Carrots – Grow next to or below tomatoes. This makes good use of limited growing space when the tomato plants are young. By the time they mature the carrots will be ready to pull.
Corn & Squash – Grow together alongside beans. Also known as “the 3 sisters” these plants have been touted as companions for centuries. Beans feed the corn while the corn provides a trellis for the vines of the squash to grow.
Potatoes & Tomatoes – Cut from the same cloth these vegetables grow well with beans, carrots, and other root vegetables. Both are heavy feeders and require lots of water. Avoid planting next to squash or cucumbers which are prone to powdery mildew in damp conditions.
Peppers – Hot or sweet peppers are great companions to their variety. They are one of the few in their class that enjoys close quarters. Plant in an area with plenty of sunlight!
#4 Save your seeds!
One of the most rewarding parts of vegetable gardening is the harvest season. After months of planning, preparing and caring for these plants you get to reap the rewards from what you sow. This is a great time to sit back and look for plants that flourished and question why some might have been a flop. Did they get enough water, are they spaced too thin? All your errors will become widely apparent and can be taken into account next year.
While looking for plants that did well be sure to look for those seeds you might be able to save. While it may not offer any help this year around it will set you up for success next year. Now is your time to pick the “best in class”, whether it was tomato plant that never stopped producing or a cucumber vine that outlasted them all. Pick your star seeds wisely to ensure your only growing the cream of your crop.