Getting Started Growing Vegetables
You too can grow great organic vegetables in your garden. Its easy to do and with practice you can even grow the more difficult things such as eggplant and artichoke.
Many people are very interested in learning to grow vegetables for themselves in the garden. This is a result of a few things. Vegetable prices are increasing every year due to the cost of growing and shipping them (we all know fuel prices have gone up). There are more reports each year about contaminates in our food supply so its nice to know exactly what went into some of our food. Many people are just discovering that being in nature and working in the soil is downright satisfying. Its exciting to plant something yourself and see it grow.
The first step of growing vegetables is just like any other project you undertake. You need to plan. Make a list - what does your family like to eat? Some things are easy to grow, but if you all hate beets, don't grow them. Add to your list - how much of each would you like? If you like a lot of tomatoes for canning then note about how many pounds of canning tomatoes you would like.
Do a little research ans figure out when you should be planting what you want. Some grow best from small plants, for example tomatoes and peppers. You may choose to grow these from seed yourself or buy plants already started. Either way write this on a calendar.
Dig That Soil
Once you have figured out what you will grow, you need space to grow it. Most yards are a lot smaller than a farm so you will likely be limited as to where you can grow vegetables. Not to worry, even if you have a really small garden or have to do it in pots, you can grow vegetables.
If you already have a spot, then turn it over with a spade and work in some compost. Make sure the soil is nice and loose.If you have very clay-like soil it will be hard for the plants to put out roots. In this case add lots of compost, peat moss and even a little sand. If you need to create a garden, take a look at Lasagna gardening here.
Measure your space and map out your garden. Set aside space for each vegetable you want to plant. Remember that tall things will shade short things - so put the tall things north of shorter veggies. That way they all get some sun.
The exception to that is leafy greens. Lettuce and spinach will bolt and taste dreadful when it gets really hot, so some shade wil prolong their edible lives. A vegetable 'bolts' when it sends up a seed stalk.
Once you have started to compost you will be working on improving the soil - so, now, what do you put into that soil?
For anything you want to end up eating, the best way to go is organic seed. At the least, look for GMO free, untreated seed.
GMO - for the uninitiated, stands for Genetically Modified Organism - this is where different species are combined in the lab that would not happen in nature. It leads to risks to the food supply or other beings. For example, recently ladybugs who fed on aphids found on GMO potato plants were very much affected. Their life span was shortened by half and they laid fewer eggs. We need ladybugs to keep down the population of harmful insects (aphids).
Some seeds that you buy are treated with antifungal agents. While this sounds good for the growth of the plant, these chemicals are not good for people. If you plant in well drained soil you don't need antifungals anyhow.
For a source of organic seed go to Organic Heirloom Seed.
Many companies make a commitment not to sell GMO seed. They register this commitment on the Gene Watch web page. They have a list of those who have taken the Safe Seed Pledge.
Once you have your garden laid out and your seed and/or plants ready to go you are ready to plant your vegetable garden.
Garden seed is planted with reference to the last frost date in your area. This is the date from which you determine when to plant your seeds and plants. You can find your last frost date be looking at a plant zone map. Different maps are used for Canada and the United States.
Once you have your last frost date, mark it on a calendar. Its helpful to keep a separate little planting calendar so you can make notes on it and save it as a reference for later years. Then mark on your calendar when you will plant each of the vegetables you are growing.
This book covers growing food in your own garden month by month. It includes material on fruits as well and preserving your food.
Permaculture is the practice of working with the environment with reduced impact in order to grow food. This book helps the home gardener explore this practice.
Food Plants of Coastal Peoples is a really interesting book on the plants that have been traditionally used for food.
Food Plants of Interior First Peoples covers similar information but from the persepctive of the interior of North America
To the Gardener Goes the Spoils
Another thing that you can mark on your garden calendar is the dates when you can expect to start harvesting your vegetables. This will serve as a reminder to go and take a look for them.
For greens - spinach, lettuce, swiss chard - you will be able to start to harvest little leaves fairly early and continue as long as they do not bolt and become bitter. You will know this has happened because you will see the seed stalk sprout from the middle of the plant.
Fruiting plants such as pepper, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumber and melon take longer but if you keep the fruit picked they should continue to produce.
Root vegetables can be pulled when quite small as mini-veg. By taking a few here and there (and eating them) you are thnning out the row. This will allow the remaining vegetables more room to grow larger.