Updated: May 21
Vegetable gardening is so rewarding in many ways! Not only are you providing healthy, nutritious food for you and your family (and maybe even enough for your friends!) but it can also be very peaceful and therapeutic, encouraging you to get fresh air and exercise while doing something you enjoy (at least I hope you enjoy it!). If you want to grow your own food but are unsure how to start your own vegetable garden let me share with you a few things I have learned over my years of gardening!
What you Need to Grow a Vegetable Garden
The requirements needed to grow your own vegetable garden are simple, soil, water, sunlight and seeds. Truly, if you want to grow your own food, that is all that is needed! The amount of space, hours of sunlight and quality of your soil will determine what you can grow, how much you can grow and how well your plants will grow.
1. Choosing a Location for your Vegetable Garden
When searching out the ideal location for your new vegetable garden things to consider include hours of sunlight (for gardening in zone 3 Alberta, the more hours of sunlight the better!), access to water, soil quality, predators (If deer may be a problem check out How to Keep Deer out of Your Garden) and roots from existing trees. (I made the mistake of establishing my garden in a location that is close to poplar trees. NOT a good idea! Each spring my raised beds are filled with new poplar tree roots! I even had poplar roots growing right through my potatoes!)
2. Garden Soil
Unlike the potting soil you use for your flower pots, garden soil needs to have organic matter to provide nutrients for your vegetable plants in order to grow flourishing vegetable plants. If you are building an in-ground garden try simply adding a good quality compost to your existing soil. If you are building raised garden beds a good vegetable garden soil mix can be made from 1/3 topsoil, 1/3 compost and 1/3 peat moss. For more on garden soil and amending existing poor quality read this.
Most vegetables need at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight to grow well. Your first choice for your vegetable garden should be a southern exposure. This will give you the most heat and sunlight. If that is not possible choose western or eastern exposure. If you have a small backyard with only eastern or northern sunlight it will be difficult to grow vegetables. If the area you have to garden with has 6 hours of sunlight or less a day check out Vegetables that will Grow in Shade.
Choose a garden location within range of water hoses. When possible, use rain water to water your vegetable garden. If not on a well, tap water contains chlorine and often fluoride, both of which are toxic to plants. Rain water pH is slightly acidic, making it the ideal pH for most vegetables. Rain water also contains micronutrients and minerals that benefit plants.
5. Raised Beds vs. In-Ground Vegetable Gardens
Whether you wish to build a raised bed or an in-ground vegetable garden is simply a matter of preference. The top 4 things to consider when choosing what type of garden is best for you include:
Your Back - I find working and weeding in raised beds so much easier on my back and body than in-ground gardens!
Your Soil - If you have exceptionally poor soil (clay, rocky or alkaline) it may be worthwhile to build a raised bed to grow your vegetables in.
Temperature - Raised beds tend to warm up sooner in the spring as well as be warmer during summer days. The higher soil temperatures benefit vegetables being grown in the cool climate of zone 3, Alberta. On the other hand, perennial plants such as strawberries, chives and asparagus will be more insulated and have a greater chance of surviving cold winters in-ground vs. in a raised bed.
Price - Raised beds cost you the price of wood to build them and potentially the soil to fill them. In-ground gardens can be built for no cost whatsoever!
6. Building Your Vegetable Garden!
Now that you have chosen your location for your vegetable garden it is time to build it! Check out Raised Garden Beds That will Last for directions on how to build a raised vegetable garden bed. If you choose to go with an in-ground garden, check out the "no till" gardening method to see if that may be right for you. I built my first in-ground no till garden about 3 months ago. I am hoping it will be good to plant in the spring! I also used this method for my slightly raised garlic bed this fall. I am unable to tell you how well it works as I am brand new to this method myself!
Choosing Vegetable Seeds
The last step to creating your vegetable garden is choosing your vegetable seeds! This part is so exciting but can also feel completely overwhelming! If you are planning far enough in advance, you may want to order your seeds online. My favorite company to order vegetable seeds from is Heritage Harvest Seeds. Other great options for seed companies in Canada are West Coast Seeds, Pacific Northwest Seeds, Veseys Seeds and T&T Seeds. If you are shopping in store the more common brands I have seen are McKenzie, Pacific Northwest and Mr. Fothergill's. When available I like to stick to the most local brand, figuring these seeds are designed for my Alberta climate.
Vegetables that grow well in zone 3 vegetable gardens include beans, beets, carrots, kale, lettuce, onions, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard and zucchini. Vegetables that are more difficult to grow in zone 3 include tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, and peppers. Consider waiting until you have got the easier veggies down to attempt growing these!
If you are looking for vegetable seed varieties that grow easily here are a few of my top choices. A favorite bush bean variety of mine has been the McKenzie Tendergreen Bush Bean. For beets I love Detroit Dark Red. My favourite variety of carrots is always the Nantes (any brand). For potatoes I love Norland and Kennebeck. (Check out Eagle Creek for local Alberta seed potatoes!) Other varieties of seeds I don't have a specific favorite. When in doubt, go the option there multiple rows of. That is likely a best seller and the reason they carry more of that specific variety.
Read this to find out when to plant vegetable garden. Follow the directions on the back of your seed packet to find out details on ideal seed spacing and planting depth.
Vegetable gardening is definitely a learning experience and to be honest, will likely hold many failures. Once you are harvesting from your garden and have the satisfaction of eating a meal that you grew yourself, the memory of those failures will fade. I was hit with hail three times this spring! I felt devastated each time. I was absolutely amazed at how resilient most of my plants were! Some of them died and I had to pull them out, but I was able to plant quick growing veggies in their place. Learning to expect bumps along the way and knowing that most of your vegetable garden will likely thrive and produce in spite of these setbacks, makes dealing with them easier.
For more great gardening ideas, check out these tips for creating and maintaining a home garden by Mike Cahill.
I wish you all the best with your vegetable gardening endeavour and hope that you grow to love the process as much as I do!
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