It’s a fact; good planning can transform a simple vegetable garden into a high-producing, less-maintenance space. And, knowing a few basic vegetable gardening facts can save you time, frustration, and money. I learned early on that a vegetable garden is not a ‘plant it and forget it’ type of garden, but I’ve also come to realize that growing your own food is incredibly satisfying. Here are four facts to help you up your veggie garden game:
4 vegetable gardening facts you need to know:
Fact 1 – You don’t have to plant everything at the same time
Growing up, we planted our entire vegetable garden on the long weekend in May; rows of bush beans, peas, tomatoes, beets, carrots, and more. As spring turned to summer and we began to harvest those vegetables, the rows were left empty and soon filled with weeds. I’ve since learned that succession planting is the key to a non-stop harvest, especially in small gardens where space is limited. Succession planting is simply the act of planting one crop after another in the same garden space.
Succession planting made simple:
- Plan in advance. In early spring, I like to make a rough map of my garden, indicating what I wish to grow in each bed and what crops will follow the initial planting. For example, if I am growing peas in one bed, I may follow that with a mid-summer planting of broccoli or cucumbers. Come early autumn, those crops will be replaced with hardy winter greens like spinach, arugula, or mache. If you’re like me and struggle to stay organized, try a garden planner to stay on track.
- Feed the soil between crops. To keep production high, work in compost or aged manure between crops. A balanced organic fertilizer will also help encourage healthy growth.
- Use your grow-lights. By mid-May, most of the seedlings that grew beneath my grow-lights have been moved into the vegetable garden. However, I don’t unplug the lights for the season. Instead, I start sowing fresh seeds for succession crops; cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, kale, cabbage, and more.
Fact 2 – Not all crops are easy to grow
I’d love to tell you that vegetable gardening is always easy, but, that’s simply not true. New gardeners may want to stick to ‘beginner-friendly’ crops like bush beans, cherry tomatoes, peas, and lettuce, giving themselves a chance to flex their gardening skills before they tackle more demanding crops.
Even with my 25 years of gardening experience, there are still a few crops that continue to challenge me (I’m talking to you, cauliflower!). Sometimes the problems can be weather based; a cold, wet spring or a long summer drought can affect crop growth. As well, certain vegetables are incredibly prone to insects or diseases. Squash bugs, potato bugs, cabbageworms, and cucumber beetles are just a few of the pests that gardeners can, and probably will, encounter.
This obviously doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t grow a vegetable garden. After all, I have twenty raised beds! Every season brings its successes and failures, and if one crop (spinach, lettuce, cabbage) doesn’t appreciate the long, hot summer, others will (peppers, tomatoes, eggplant). Don’t get discouraged, instead get educated. Learn to identify the pests and the beneficial insects that you see in your garden, and how to deal with them. Sometimes pest control is as easy as covering crops with a lightweight row cover, other times it’s including plants that attract beneficial insects to munch on the bad bugs.
Fact 3 – Keeping on top of weeds will save you time and frustration
As with garden pests, you’ll probably notice that you fight the same weeds year after year. For me, it’s chickweed and clover, but one of the most important vegetable gardening facts that you can learn is that staying on top of weeds will make you a happy gardener.
I love the tidy look of my beds after a weeding and keeping them that way isn’t difficult. I find it’s better to do a little weeding, often, rather than a lot of weeding at once. Trying to clean up a jungle of weeds is exhausting and discouraging. Instead, I spend 10 to 15 minutes, twice a week, weeding my beds.
- Plan to pull weeds after a rain. The moist soil makes weeding easier and long-rooted weeds, like dandelions will just slip from the soil – so satisfying!
- When it comes to weed prevention, mulch is your best friend. A 3 to 4 inch thick layer of straw or shredded leaves around your crops will suppress weed growth and hold soil moisture. Less watering!
- Keep pathways clear of weeds with a layer of cardboard, or several layers of newspaper, topped with bark mulch, pea gravel, or another material.
- Never, ever let weeds go to seed in your garden beds. Letting weeds set seeds equals years of future weeding. Do yourself a favour and stay on top of the weeds.
- Need more weeding tips? Check out our expert, Jessica Walliser’s 12 tips on organic weed control.
Fact 4 – vegetable gardening can save you money (but it can cost a lot too!)
Growing your own food can slash your grocery budget, but it can also cost you money. Years ago, I read the book The $64 Tomato by William Alexander, which details the authors quest for homegrown food. By the time he installed his pricey, upscale garden and grew his tomatoes, he estimated that each one cost $64. That’s a bit extreme, but it’s true that there are start-up costs to creating a garden. How much you spend will depend on the size, design, and materials of your garden, as well as the site and what you want to grow.
If budget gardening is your goal, and your site has full sun and decent soil, you will be able to start saving money sooner than someone who has to build or buy raised beds and bring in manufactured soil. But, even raised beds can be made from materials like logs, rocks or free-formed with no edging. Existing soil can be tested and amended with compost, aged manure, natural fertilizers, chopped leaves, and so on.
It’s also important to keep in mind that certain crops are high-value crops, which means they cost a lot of money to buy at grocery stores and farmers markets. But, many of these are easy to grow; gourmet salad greens, fresh herbs, heirloom tomatoes, and fruits like strawberries and raspberries. That can save you money.
I’d also argue that food gardening offers other benefits to the gardener besides cost-saving; mental satisfaction, physical exercise, and time spent in the great outdoors. In my opinion, the benefits far outweigh the costs and work.
Do you have any more vegetable gardening facts to add to this list?