Everything You Need To Know About Gardening
- Know Your Growing Zone
- Planning Your Garden Plot
- In-Ground Vs. Raised Garden Beds
- Container Gardening For Beginners
- Buying Garden Seeds
- Online Resources For Garden Seeds
- Starting Garden Seeds Indoors
- Planting Your Garden
- Caring For Your Garden
- Enjoy The Harvest
Gardening Tips – Know Your Growing Zone
Your growing zone is specific to where you live in the world. It refers to the overall climate, particularly the amount of days in the year that are free of frost.
Knowing your growing zone helps you plan for when and what to plant. For those in the United States and Canada, you can find out your growing zone here.
Here in central Alberta, we are zone 3. Our growing season is short, approximately mid May to mid September (this refers to the approximate last frost date in the spring and the first frost date in the fall).
Some food crops can be planted directly in the garden after the last frost date. For plants that need a longer growing season, start seeds indoors and transplant them after the risk of frost or purchase plants already started for you from your local greenhouse.
If you’re in a warmer growing zone, you would be able to directly plant your seeds in the ground and skip the step of having to transplant altogether.
Planning Your Garden Plot
If you already have a garden plot, then you’re set. If not, there are some things to consider.
Choose your location. Where will your garden go? Make sure your garden has access to sunlight. Plants need at least 6-8 hours of sunlight a day.
Access to water is another consideration. Hand watering is an option but depending on your garden’s size, having access to water will be more convienent.
Size of garden. If you’re just starting out, begin with a small garden and expand as you gain more experience.
Quality of soil matters. Test your soil with these simple DIY methods to learn what kind of soil you have and what you can do to improve it.
In-ground vs. Raised Bed Garden
Both in-ground and raised beds work well for growing food. It really comes down to what you already have access to, the amount of time, labour and cost you’re willing to invest.
In-ground gardens (unless you already have access to one) requires sod removal, either through manual labour of cutting and removing the sod or using a lasagna bed technique of smothering the grass with cardboard, compost and mulch. The lasagna bed technique takes time for the cardboard to decompose and is best to do in the fall prior to next years growing season.
Container Gardening For Beginners
This is a great option for small space gardening or for someone just getting started with gardening. You can repurpose flower pots to grow food instead. There are also grow bags you can buy for growing potatoes.
Food You Can Grow In Containers…
- Leafy Greens
- Edible Flowers
Considerations For Container Growing…
- Proper Watering & Drainage
- Soil Preparation (use a quality potting soil)
- Size of Container
Gardening Tips – Consider Using A Gardening App
Every year I find a scrap piece of paper to draw out my garden beds, filling them in with the vegetables I plan on growing. The problem with this method is I often lose my scrap pieces of paper from the year before, leaving it up to memory of what was planted to know if I need to rotate any crops.
This year, I decided to see if there was an app I could use to help keep me organized. I downloaded this garden planner app. It also has an extensive plant library with information on growing zones, sun or shade preference as well as companion plants that grow well together.
Buying Garden Seeds
Grow what you eat. What do you already buy at the grocery store that you could grow in your garden instead?
Make a list of food that grows well in your growing zone that you like to eat and buy seeds accordingly.
Where to buy your seeds. I am a big supporter of buying organic, heirloom or heritage seeds because I value having this option in the marketplace and think it’s vital to keep it there.
Certified organic seeds guarantee they are not GMO (genetically modified organisms) and have been grown and collected without use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides.
Heirloom and heritage seeds have genetic lineage dating back 50-100 years and are also not GMO.
Organic, heirloom and heritage seeds are open pollinating, meaning you have the option to save your own seed for next years harvest.
Local greenhouses and retailers may offer these options. Otherwise, you can find online resources for buying seeds.
Saving Seeds. This may be something you decide to do at the end of the growing season. Plants like spinach and arugula are great to learn seed saving from.
Allowing a few plants to go to seed is a way to learn more about them, how to collect, dry and save seeds for next years growing season. You can store your seeds in a dry container, kept in a cool, dark cabinet.
Online Resources For Garden Seeds
Starting Garden Seeds Indoors
Depending on your growing zone and what you are planting, you may want to start some seeds indoors.
For me, these are plants like tomatoes, peppers, and squash. Seed packages will often have this information on them to reference.
Most seeds should be started 6 weeks before last frost date.
To start seeds indoors, you will need…
- Container (repurpose small flower pots, yogurt containers, or even egg cartons)
- Soil (use an organic potting or seed starting soil mix)
- Water (a small watering can that disperses the water lightly will work best or you can also use a spray bottle)
- Access to a bright, sunny location. This is often a south facing window.
How To Grow Plants From Seed…
Fill your containers with soil mix.
Place a few seeds in each plot to ensure at least one seed will germinate. Once the plants begin to grow, you can thin extra seedlings so each plot has only one plant.
Lightly cover the seeds with soil, following the directions on the seed packet. Usually seeds only need a depth of 1/2 centimetre.
Give a very light watering. Monitor soil for watering as the seeds germinate and grow. Usually sticking a finger into the soil will indicate if it’s too dry or too wet. Soil should feel cool and moist.
Hardening off. This is a process of taking the seedlings outside during the day as you are getting closer to transplanting them. This allows the plants to acclimate outdoors. Your goal is to try to minimize temperature fluctuations between indoors and outdoors to minimize shock when it comes time to transplant.
Once plants have two or three sets of leaves, they are ready to transplant into the garden, assuming the risk of frost has passed.
Gardening Tips For Transplanting Seedlings To Garden
Watering seedlings first will help with transplanting.
Dig your hole in the garden for the plant you are transplanting (a little wider and deeper than the plant). Add a little soil and compost to the hole, put in your plant and gently fill. Give it a good water.
If you’re worried about transplant shock, cover your plant with an upside down flower pot or repurpose a plastic milk jug (cut off the bottom of a 4L plastic milk jug) to cover for the night. Make sure you remove the container in the morning so your plant has access to sunlight.
Planting Your Garden
No-till gardening supports soil health by causing minimal disruption to the mycorrhizae (fungus and bacteria) in the soil. If you want to till, try to till at the end of the growing season, incorporating a layer of compost and mulch into the soil as you go.
Row Spacing For In Ground Gardens
When planting an in-ground garden, I like to use a measuring stick to mark out my rows. I also use a long string (tied to garden stakes at each end) to mark a line for my seeds to be planted.
Consider leaving enough space between rows to comfortably walk and have access to weeding throughout the season. I find two feet allows enough space for me to work.
As you mark out your rows, add a garden marker to show where the seeds are planted. Once everything begins to grow, they can be removed.
Planting An In-Ground Garden Bed
Using the garden string as a guide (placed from one width of the garden to the other), create a small valley with a garden hoe where your seeds will be planted.
Plant your seeds according to package directions. Give a light watering and gently cover seeds with soil. Give another light watering.
Planting A Raised Garden Bed
Depending on the size of your raised garden bed, you may want to plant in rows, blocks, quadrants or simply seed the whole area with one plant.
Having space to access plants for weeding and watering should be considered. Also, following growing guidelines and allowing enough room for certain plants to grow will determine how you plant your seeds.
For example, one raised bed or large flower pot could be used to grow carrots and nothing else. Alternatively, you could plant leafy greens in square foot blocks (one block for spinach, one block for arugula, one block for mixed salad greens, etc).
Gardening Tips – Companion Planting Guide
Companion planting is growing different plants together for mutual benefits. Certain plants attract beneficial insects and pollinators while deterring others. Some plants provide essential nutrients while other plants provide microclimates and supports for other plants.
Companion planting also helps reduce the need for outside interventions such as pest control. For more information and a companion planting chart to reference, this guide shares some of the most common garden vegetables to plant together.
Caring For Your Garden
As your garden grows, enjoy watching the transformation. Daily walks through the garden is a nice way to enjoy the plants while also pulling a few weeds. Water as needed.
A healthy garden depends on healthy soil. Use fertilizer teas throughout the growing season to give your plants an added boost of nutrients.
Plant wildflowers and other plants that attract pollinators and beneficial insects to help with pest control. If an outside intervention is needed, try using natural pest control methods like this DIY insecticidal soap or food grade diatomaceous earth.
Gardening Tools And Supplies
There are only a few essential garden tools needed to garden. As your experience grows, you may find you want to add to your collection. I have created a list of garden tools I use but don’t feel you need all of them to get started.
- Hand Shovel
- Watering Can / Sprinkler
- Garden Hoe
- Weeding Hoe
- Pruning Shears
- Measuring Sticks And String Marker
- Row Markers / Plant Markers / Plant Supports
- Gardening Gloves
Enjoy The Harvest
Eat from your garden as it grows. It’s so nice to wander out to the garden for fresh herbs and vegetables for dinner. What you cannot eat fresh, plan ways to preserve through cold storage (root vegetables), canning or freezing. Share your harvest with friends and family and donate excess to your local food bank.