Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Boom of 'Growing your Own'

Over the course of a year, I usually give about 20 to 25 lectures on a wide variety of gardening topics.. In the past, the vast majority - ok, all - of the lectures on my list dealt with the ornamental side of gardening - bulbs, perennials, ornamental grasses, etc. Veggie gardening has always been my passion, but it certainly wasn't a topic that garden clubs or trade shows wanted to hear me natter on about for 45 minutes.

Then, a few years ago - thanks to some unfortunate events including the economic crunch, alarming headlines about worldwide food shortages and questionable pesticides and the surge in interest for local organic food - I started to get some requests to speak about creating an edible paradise. For the past 3 years, my talks on veggie gardening have topped my list of lectures and at this point, 80% of my upcoming talks and seminars for the spring of 2011 deal exclusively with growing veggies!! Yah!

Of course, if you're reading this, you probably already have an interest in 'growing your own'. Maybe you're thinking of starting a new veggie patch (your first?) or expanding your existing plantings. What better New Year's resolution could one possibly have? You certainly can't get more local than your own backyard.. and organic? There's just no better way to grow veggies. Plus, if you have kids, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or even neighbourhood children, teaching them where their food comes from and how it grows is a gift that will stay with them for life.

The photos are from a few years ago when we doubled the size of our garden. Photo one shows the brand new garden in May and the second photo is just 6 weeks later in late June.. The posts that surround the garden hold the deer fencing.

Here are a few tips to get you started on your own veggie gardening adventure!
  • Think ahead - Good planning will enable you to think sensibly about how much ideal space you have and how much time you can devote to your garden. Ask questions - How many people will be eating from the garden? How much time can we devote to the garden? These questions will help you decide how big you should make the plot.
  • What do you want to grow? - Thinking about what you like to eat (or what you've always wanted to try - tatsoi, claytonia, dinosaur kale?) will help you decide what you'd like to grow. Tip - When we had a smaller space, we concentrated on expensive or hard-to-find things like arugula, leeks and heirloom tomatoes. Salad greens are quick and very easy to grow.. but organic greens are expensive to buy from the supermarket. This would be the best bang for your buck in a very small space!
  • The most important piece of advice that I can offer, especially to novice gardeners is to start small. A 4 by 8-foot or 10 by 18-foot garden is large enough for an initial planting. Once you’re spent a season tending and harvesting, you’ll know if you want a larger space.
  • Sketch it out - I do recommend sketching out a garden design before you ever put shovel to dirt. It allows you to play with the size and shape of the garden and helps show what you can realistically grow in that area. Rectangles and squares are the easiest bed shapes to work with, but I’ve even seen kitchen gardens arranged in spirals, circles and triangular beds. It’s your garden, so have fun with it! (Don't forget to add a chair, bench or stump so you have a spot to sit and enjoy the view - our veggie gardens are as pretty as they are practical!)
  • Rows versus Beds - Vegetables are usually grown in rows or beds. I prefer raised beds as it allows me to grow the plants closer together, which offers a larger harvest from a smaller space and helps shade out any weeds. Raised beds also warm up quicker in spring, are better drained and create a very attractive garden. Make your beds no larger than 4 to 5-feet across so that you can easily access the center from either side without actually walking on the garden soil. Tip - I edge my beds in a variety of plants to get the most out of my space. Spicy Globe Basil or baby lettuces make a pretty and flavourful edge, but dwarf flowers such as nasturtiums, marigolds, sweet alyssum or calendula can also be used. Plus, they increase diversity - an essential element in any garden!
Sample Design - A 10 by 18-foot space can be divided up into four main beds that measure 4 by 8-feet, with 2-foot wide paths. Dress it up by making a circle in the middle of the garden (stealing a bit of space from the inside corners of the beds) for a pole bean teepee or a large pot filled with colourful annual flowers (to attract beneficial and pollinating insects) or a large tomato plant. Include favourite veggies, herbs and flowers, and leave room for a cold frame for winter harvesting..

Happy New Year!

1 comment:

  1. If this is an example of what is going to be in your book, I can't wait for it to be published. You are filled with encouragement and enthusiasm while giving solid advice. The comparison photos between May and June, in six weeks, really proves what can be accomplished for those wanting an edible paradise.


Please feel free to leave comments. I welcome your tips, questions, thoughts and ideas (and suggestions for new veggies to grow!)