Last year I planted a vegetable garden for the first time. I had started using fresh herbs in my cooking on a regular basis, and thought that growing my own herbs would be a sustainable option. Not having any real light in my house, indoor pots were not an option. So I decided on a garden. I quickly realized that if Greg was going to create a garden bed for my herbs, we might as well go bigger and have room for some vegetables too.
And so my small garden came to be.
Experienced gardeners tell me that last year, with the cool and rainy weather we had, was not a good one for gardens in this area. Despite that, I had some success, especially with my lettuce, which is a cool weather crop. My herbs did very well too, except for the dill. It just never took off.
My successes were cause for celebration. Each time I went out to the garden to pick the lettuce for our dinner salad, or herbs for whatever recipe I was making, I felt proud. Yes, proud. I had grown that food we were now eating. It was a very special feeling.
Buoyed by last year’s success, I planted my garden again this year. Last Sunday afternoon I was in the backyard, planting the vegetables and herbs that I had purchased at the farmers market and the garden centre.
My garden is small. It is about 10 feet wide by four feet deep. My yard is small, and I didn’t want the entire yard taken over by the garden. I selected the sunniest part of the yard for it.
I am new at this gardening thing. I am not an expert by any means. But I had some success with my garden last year. If I can have success, so can anyone. So I will share my gardening adventure here this year, because maybe it will inspire someone to try planting a vegetable garden too. I hope others can discover the joy and feel the pride of growing some of their own food.
If you aren’t convinced, check out these reasons to plant a vegetable garden.
The great thing about planting a vegetable garden is that it is a low cost investment. If something doesn’t work out, that’s okay. My goal is to learn from it and try something different the next time.
Planning the Garden
- Learn from past mistakes: One mistake I made last year was buying too many plants. A small garden means I can’t plant a ton of things. Plants need space between them. Last year I overcrowded the garden. I even had extra pepper plants that I planted in a section at the end of a flower bed. That area was too shady, so those did not do well at all.
- Think ahead: This year I really thought about what I wanted to plant. I decided what were must-haves (mixed lettuces, cucumbers and rosemary), what was a maybe (spinach, peppers, dill and rhubarb), and what was a definite no (zucchini and beans). I also wanted some room in my plan to be inspired by what I found at the garden centre.
- Fewer plants: I made sure to buy fewer plants than last year. When I went to another garden centre to buy some composted manure, and saw a couple more herbs that I would like, I opted to wait until after I planted what I already had, to see if there would be room. It’s a good thing I didn’t buy those extra herbs.
Prepping the Garden
- Weeding: After the snow melted and it started to warm up, my garden became one big bed of weeds. All those weeds needed to be cleared out before I could plant. Greg was kind enough to pull all the weeds, then rake the earth, picking more weeds out, rake again, and pull more weeds from the loose earth. He raked the garden really well to turn over the earth and to try to level it. We have a small slope in the backyard.
- Feeding the soil: Before planting, I picked up a bag of composed sheep manure to spread in the garden to help enrich the soil. We are lucky that although we don’t have a nice rich loam soil, which would be ideal, our soil is somewhat loamy, but on the sandy side. That ensures that the garden has good drainage. I am grateful for this, as one of the suburbs on the other side of town is built on clay, and their soil does not drain at all. That soil would not be good for gardening.
- Leveling the soil: After spreading the manure, I raked again to mix it into the soil and tried to make it level. Now I was ready to plant.
Laying Out the Garden
- Planning the rows: As I was selecting my plants, I was already thinking about how everything would be laid out. This year, I chose to lay it out differently than last year. This time, I made short rows than run front to back, instead on the long rows I did last year. The exception to this is the cucumbers, which I planted along the fence, so the vine-like plants can be supported.
- Line everything up: Before planting I laid all my plants out along the outside edge of the garden, in line with where they would actually go. This helped to make the plan more real and see if there was enough space. I am glad I did this, as I made a few changes as a result.
- Dig first, then plant: Even though everything was lined up outside the garden, I was careful as I was planting each row. I found that it was easier to get the spacing more consistent between plants of the same species if I dug all the holes for that plant first, instead of making one hole, planting, next hole, planting.
What I Planted
- The Vegetables:
- Lettuces: Starting in bottom right corner, you see spinach, romaine lettuce and red leaf lettuce. Those items I bought at the farmers market. They were grown locally.
- Carrots: Behind the lettuces, you see some carrots. They are leftover from last year. I guess I missed these in the fall. I harvested them this weekend. They were edible and quite nice.
- Cabbage: To the left of the red leaf lettuce are my four Napa Cabbages. Those were not in my original plan, but when I saw them at the garden centre, I thought they would be a great addition. Having discovered Napa Cabbage recently and loving it, I decided to give it a try. I thought I had enough room (just) for them.
- Peppers: To the left of the Napa are the green peppers. There are six of those. Last year it was not very warm here, and so the peppers did not grow well. Usually harvested in August, I wasn’t able to harvest mine until September and October. I thought I would try again and see what happens.
- There is also one large red pepper plant to the left of the green peppers. That one is a different variety, and is supposed to be one that matures early. We will see.
- Cucumbers: Along the back fence, you might be able to spot four small cucumber plants.
With all the lettuce, spinach and Napa cabbage, we will be eating lots of salad if these do well. That’s okay; salad is part of our meals most days.
- The Herbs:
- Rosemary: In front right is a rosemary plant. It is new this year. The one from last year did not survive the extra cold winter. I wasn’t expecting that it would.
- Chives: Next to the rosemary are the chives. As you can see, they are about to bloom. This means they won’t have much flavour. I did not cut them back enough last fall, and this is the result. I decided that I will let them bloom to admire the pretty flowers (I really like allium flowers), and then cut them back. I did plant some chive seeds in a small patch behind these.
- Lemon balm: Behind the chives is some lemon balm. This one is totally new to me. A friend of mine has some and really likes it, and when I saw it, I decided, why not, it could be a nice way to add some lemon flavour to dishes without always needing to have lemons on hand.
- Thyme & Sage: The final two herbs are thyme at the front and sage just behind it. Those are from last year. As you can see, they did well and survived the winter. I had to cut a couple of branches off the sage plant as it was spreading out too far and taking up way too much real estate. I used the sage to make some pesto.
Maintaining the Garden
The easy part was planting. Now I need to take care of my garden if I want it to thrive. I watered it right after planting, and have been watering every day since, as we haven’t had any rain this week. I’m hoping all the plants will adjust to being transplanted and survive and thrive. I am also on the lookout for weeds. I haven’t spotted any yet.
Cost of this Garden
I bought plants that were already started, as I just don’t have the time, space or sunlight to start seedlings indoors. If I planted everything from seed at this point, I would take quite a while to be able to harvest anything. We have a relatively short growing season in most parts of Canada (SW Ontario and parts of BC being an exception). So my cost is higher than if I started from seed, but it is still quite reasonable to me. Including the sheep manure that I purchased, my total cost was just under $30 Canadian. That might seem high to you if you live in the US, but the cost of everything, including food, is significantly higher in Canada than in the US.
Things I Did Wrong
I did buy too many plants for the size of my garden again this year. It’s not as bad as last year, but still too crowded. It’s the Napa Cabbage. It’s a big plant and really should have had more room between each. The cucumbers too. I accidentally beheaded one of the plants just as I was planting. That’s okay, one less to crowd the others. The cucumbers are still too close. Those items might not produce too well, because they are competing with their neighbours for food (the minerals in the soil). Hopefully, not all the plants will be affected.
I will post more about my garden throughout the season. Not each week, but once in a while. This will help me to keep a better record of this year’s garden, and maybe others can learn from it too.