There’s nothing like serving fresh, home-grown vegetables at a dinner party or rustling up a fresh salad for yourself. The satisfaction you get from growing your own food is complemented by the knowledge that you’re also helping save the environment and save money. It’s a great time to get started on a new garden now that the weather is picking up! But for those of you who have little experience with gardening and don’t know where to start, here is a guide to help you begin your transformation from greenhorn to green thumb.
Make sure you have space
First thing’s first, be sure you have sufficient space. The area you have to work with will define how ambitious you can be with your planting. Living in a small studio apartment, you’ll struggle to find space to grow much more than a few cherry tomatoes, although there may be room for more if you have a balcony (as long as it doesn’t get in the way of your balcony BBQ!). A grassy back garden would be ideal to accommodate your vegetable patch, but remember to keep your ambitions within property’s capacity.
When choosing your space to plant, make sure it gets sunlight for as much of the day as possible. Sunlight not only helps plants grow, but also helps them become more disease resistant and gives veg like carrots, onions, tomatoes, and chillies a sweeter flavour. Most vegetables will still grow fine in partial shade, but at least half a day of sunlight is preferable.
Manage your soil
Your garden soil should be okay for growing vegetables or, if you’re growing inside, you can buy fertile soil from the store. There are different types of soil, some of which are suited better to certain vegetables. The three main types of soil differ based on their key components: clay, sand, and silt. Each type of soil has its own advantages and disadvantages. Sandy soils allow water and nutrients to drain away freely, thanks to their large particles and gaps between them. This means sandy soils are less fertile, but warm up quickly in the spring, giving seedlings a good start at growing. Sandy soil is ideal for root vegetables, such as carrots and parsnips, but veg that requires a lot of nutrients like cabbage or broccoli will struggle to flourish.
The alternative is using a soil with clay or silt as its main component. These soils are ‘heavier’, meaning they have smaller particles and don’t let water drain away so easily. On the plus side, this means more nutrients in the soil; on the negative side, the soil is more likely to become waterlogged. Clay and silt soils are more difficult to dig and take longer to warm up in the spring. While it is difficult to grow root vegetables in heavy soils, they are ideal for nutrient-heavy vegetables and even shallow-rooted trees, such as pear trees.
In addition to having the right soil, you need to make sure you have enough of it. If your garden soil is less that one spit deep (i.e. the length of your spade’s blade) then your soil is too shallow. In this case, a raised bed or large pots are a good alternative.
Weeds among your crops mean that your vegetables have to compete for both space and nutrients. They can take the water and nutrients from the soil and even the sunlight your vegetables need to thrive. Key nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium will go to the weeds, leaving other plants prone to insect and disease infestation. They can also create a nutritional imbalance in the soil, which could cause abnormalities in the plants.
There are several ways you can deal with weeds and your options depend on whether or not you are OK with chemical weedkillers. Chemical weedkillers come in a few different forms. Contact weedkiller kills the part of the plant the weedkiller touches – it’s fast-acting and great for annual weeds, but less so for perennials. Systemic weedkiller is suitable for both annual and perennial weeds, however. It works by moving within the sap stream to kill the root, stem, and leaves. Lastly, there is residual weedkiller that kills weeds below ground as they germinate. It’s great if you’re trying to get rid of weeds in paths.
Non-chemical weed control means using a hoe or fork to take out the weeds manually. Perennial weeds can be pulled out, but you should hoe annual weeds. This is when you dig out the weed’s roots and allow them to dry up in the sun.
Dealing with slugs and snails
One more nuisance you might want to deal with is the slugs and snails that like to eat up your produce. By dealing with weeds, you are also removing hiding places for molluscs. If you can, try to avoid having your vegetable garden directly next to a dense flower bed or any long grass. Ideally, you would have a pathway between flowerbeds and vegetable plots to discourage snails and slugs from making the journey.
Other options for disposing of these garden pests include pellets or spray, which can effectively kill any slugs and snails. There are also more humane options. One example is to put copper strips an inch below the soil line and an inch above to create a small electrical charge that will deter slugs and snails from going any further forward. Alternatively, try planting marigolds – a natural slug repellant.
That should be all you need to know to make a start on your very first home vegetable garden. Did we miss out any crucial tips? Are there any titbits of information that you think an amateur gardener would find particularly useful? Let us know on our Facebook and Twitter pages, and until next time, happy planting!