So you want to start a garden.
Never done it?
Did it years ago?
Tried but had bad luck?
Don’t give up.-We have learned way more from our failures than our successes and even after 20 years of growing we still have challenges.
Growing a garden is the single best thing you can do for the environment.
While there is tons of tips and advice out there, don’t get overwhelmed as the best thing is to try. Everybody has a different approach and every garden is different in terms of soil, light etc. You in no way need to be an expert.
So here are some basic guidelines and resources to help you get started, and please always feel free to contact us.
All gardening, and especially organic gardening, starts with good healthy soil. With good soil plants grow stronger and are much better able to deal with weather, pests, diseases and other stresses. There are whole university courses just on soil, but lets cover some basics.
Raised beds work great in our climate, or at least create beds and permanent walkways. The less you have to step on your actual growing dirt the better. If you have decent soil to start, you can add compost as you go. If not you might want to consider getting a load of dirt delivered.
The easiest way to get a garden started is to plan ahead the fall before and lay down some mulch (cardboard, leaves, wood chips). This will help to kill the weeds and make it easier to work the soil. Rototillers are very hard on your soil and in our opinion unnecessary. If you can’t dig yourself there is usually a teenager in the neighbourhood you can hire.
You never want to work the ground when it is too wet, so either work it in the early fall and mulch it or wait until it dries out (usually May). Work it with a fork first, then add any amendments and work with a hoe or potato fork.
The first amendment to consider is lime. If you do not have the proper PH your plants will not uptake nutrients properly. The options are to get a complete soil test (We use Agrichem Analytical) or if you want you can pick up a PH test kit at your local garden centre. The home test kits are not very accurate for nutrients but are fairly reliable for PH. Here is a guide for the different PH requirements of different fruits and veggies. If your soil is too acidic than you will have to add lime. Adding lime is best done in the fall and should never be done at the same time as fertilizing or adding manure. Oyster shell or egg shell are both great at slowly releasing lime for maintenance over time.
Once you have your PH right it’s time to think about fertility. Different crops have much different needs. Here is a helpful guide. We use compost to help with soil structure and water retention but compost does not generally have high amounts of nutrients. For heavier feeding crops we use well composted manure, but do not use manure for root crops, herbs or light feeders. We use organic fertilizers from www.gaiagreen.com. Their 4-4-4 is a great general purpose mix. They are usually available at Garden Centres in bags or sometimes in bulk. The numbers relate to the N-P-K ratio. N: Nitrogen helps foliage, P: Phosphorous Helps roots and flowering, K: Potassium Helps general health. Make sure to follow directions and do not over apply manure or fertilizer. We generally mix in our manure and or fertilizer at the start of the season and then we do not worry about additional fertilizing. There are fertilizers out there though that you can mix with water and apply during the season.
So now that you have your soil ready you are ready to plant. This is a good general guide: (https://www.westcoastseeds.com/garden-resources/west-coast-seeds-planting-charts/) Local conditions vary widely though even in the same neighbourhood. For example cold sinks, so if you are in a draw it can be colder than on a ridge. Ask your neighbours when they plant or your favourite farmer at market. In general seasons are getting less defined and sometimes you get away with planting early and sometimes the weather gets quit warm and then turns cold again.
We prefer to directly plant everything we can right in the garden. This does create a bit more work thinning etc. but overall we find plants do better when they never go through the shock of transplanting. For certain plants, like say tomatoes, though it does help to get a head start. You can get plant starts for this and this is a bit easier. You are much more limited in varieties though than going from seed. The farmers market usually has a broader selection of varieties than in most stores. If you want to do your own starts you will need trays and pots and you will either have to make your own soil mix or buy a pre-made potting mix. Regular garden soil will not work for starts as it is too heavy and does not allow the proper aeration/feeding of the roots. You will notice in the planting charts that they recommend a date for starts and a date for either transplanting or starting outside.
Generally you need at least an un-heated greenhouse to start. A sunny window in your house works to get things to germinate but sometimes plants will get leggy as they might not get enough light.
To get plants established (either getting seed to germinate or transplants) it is important to have a well watered bed. This is best done by hand watering with a watering can or a hose on “soaker” setting. Once the plants are going each variety will have different watering needs. Here is a rough guide (http://www.almanac.com/content/when-water-vegetables) Obviously it depends a lot on weather. In general people tend to over water. This can be especially damaging if you are doing starts or when plants are young as they can rot and die. It is better to water deeply 1-2 times/week than a shallow watering every day. Once plants are established we use drip irrigation.We use T-tape for this, but for a home garden soaker hose works best. You can lay soaker hose under mulch. Mulch is a great way to cut down on watering, but just be careful as slugs love to hide under mulch.
Well now that your head is spinning with TMI go back to the start and read “Never give Up” again. While a bit intimating to start, it gets a lot easier with experience.
Good luck and Happy Growing!!!!