So, you want to garden. Is it the allure of a-just-off-the-vine tomato or the crunch of a carrot just pulled out of its bed? Or do you want to start being a part of combatting global warming? Or do you want to bond with nature and improve your mental and physical health? Or perhaps you want a hobby?
Eating a variety of home-grown vegetables will provide you with the vitamins and minerals and most of the protein you need in your diet. Garden soil with lots of compost and no use of invasive pesticides or herbicides will grow healthier vegetables than those sold in our grocery stores.
Gardening is my passion, and, as Frank Sinatra sang, I do it “My Way.” Gardening is a labour of love and a lifetime challenge, intellectually and physically. The challenge is always to grow bigger, tastier vegetables and prettier flowers, while always trying to minimize the damage to the environment. I am contributing to reducing carbon emissions by reducing the costs of growing, processing, transporting, and selling food. And I provide a bird and insect (even the pests) friendly environment. And I save money.
Gardening is a never-ending journey, with successes and failures along the way. As someone said, “To live is to change, and to become perfect is to have changed often!” Some of my changes have been successes, others failures. But a failure is only a step in becoming a better gardener, or person.
Over the years when I worked full time, I continued to garden without much thought – walking on the garden and compacting the soil, no compost, no planning where I would plant each year, and so on. When I retired, I researched different ways of gardening, on the internet, gardening magazines, gardening books, fellow gardeners, and from my own successes and failures. I learned about double digging, raised beds, the broad fork, no-till, crop rotation, and many other aspects of gardening. In the process, I have found many ways of reducing labour and increasing yield. I estimate I now garden at least 50% more efficiently.
My next articles will explain these and many other practical aspects of urban gardening. For now, let’s look at what you could be doing in the winter months of January and February.
Let’s start with what vegetables and flowers you plan to grow. Some, such as tomatoes like it hot with lots of light. Some, like spinach or cabbage like it cool. Some, like carrots, can be planted early, others like potatoes or beans must be planted after the last frost. Most annual flowers must be set out after the last frost. If you are a beginning gardener, start small and plan to grow each year.
Look over your yard and plan. Don’t forget the front yard; there are many alternatives to grass. Many interesting front yards have no grass, only a variety of shrubs, flowers, and even vegetables. Make a plan of your yard, indicating where, what, and when you are going to plant. It doesn’t have to be fancy, and it can be changed.
Even if you only have a balcony, there are many opportunities for growing vegetables and flowers in containers.
What do you like to eat? Determine what you want to grow and how much of each. What are the easiest vegetables and flowers to grow in your “Garden Hardiness Zone?” In subsequent articles, I will share with you my favorite vegetables and seeds and the best way to plant each.
Start a log of your activities, on paper, or online. Record your gardening plan, the what and where to plant. Throughout the year record when you planted, weeded and thinned, pests, your harvest, and yield. Record the problems you encountered and how you solved them. The log will help you to improve each year. And, keep a list of proposed activities and changes you plan for the next gardening year.
All for now, time to start planning.