The Five Easy Vegetables To Start Gardening

I know, I know you want to grow every vegetable in the catalog. 🙂 However, let me suggest you take a deep breath and consider the five vegetables you like to eat.

Or will eat may be more to the point. I say this because many folks start gardening and decide they’re going to grow some of everything; a noble goal but only in the spring.

By August, they’re bogged down, wondering why things aren’t growing, amazed at how many weeds there are out there and staggered by the amount of work it takes to actually grow food.

Frankly, it’s no darn wonder that we have farms and we no longer do all this work ourselves. It can be hard.

I have a major reason to garden myself – the taste of fresh vegetables right out of your garden can’t be beaten by anything you can buy. And they’re good for you (but don’t admit that to your mom) 🙂

Tomatoes

The most popular plant in the vegetable garden is the tomato. Man, we grow a lot of these; largely because they’re easy to grow and so useful in the kitchen.

The first thing to understand is that this plant loves warm soil so the first week of May, you’re going to lay some clear plastic on the garden, weight down the edges and walk away. You’re going to turn this area into a mini-greenhouse to warm up the soil.

You’re going to plant tomatoes the third or fourth week of May; but remove the plastic just before you do. If you don’t remove the plastic, the soil will get too hot and kill off the plants.
Plant your transplants so that only the top 12-15 cm (6-inches) is showing, the rest can be buried and will form roots along the buried stem.

Two points: if you have a mulched garden, pull the mulch back to lay down the plastic and then return the mulch after planting and plastic-removal and yes, can lay down compost without digging it in, simply toss it around the base of the plant. The rest of the summer is about making sure the plants have adequate water. I’ve written entire books about growing tomatoes but getting them started properly is the single most important thing you can do in our region to ensure a good yield.

Peas

Peas are one of the easiest vegetables to grow if you follow a few really simple rules.

The first is to plant them in mid-April. This is perhaps the earliest seed to go into the ground and if you do this, you’ll get great crops. If you wait until the soil warms up and plant them along with the rest of your garden, you’re going to be very disappointed in the harvest.


Do try some of the wonderful sugar snap style peas; being an edible podded pea, I dare you to not eat any as you harvest or walk to the kitchen. These tasted amazingly wonderful right from the vine.

Plant them about 1 cm deep and keep damp until the new shoots start poking through the ground. We grow ours up a trellis to save garden space and make them easier to find. Do make the supports quite sturdy because this plant will develop quite a weight and will knock down a flimsy support. The advantage of growing peas is that while they’re giving you a crop to eat, they’re also producing nitrogen in the soil for the following crop. After the peas are finished, pull them out and plant some seeds in there for fall harvests.

Spinach and Lettuce

Note you can combine the seeds of mixed greens into one bed.

Most folks like a good salad and growing several of the main ingredients will make your taste buds jump. Lettuce and spinach form the basis for many a salad and (mostly) take the same growing conditions so let’s deal with them in one section. Plant these early if you want to eat them.

I’m talking getting both of these plants into the garden about the same time as peas. You want them early.

Now, you can start them a few weeks beforehand in the house and transplant or simply plant the seeds.

I prefer seeding because you get good germination, can eat the thinnings and it’s less work. You want to plant them early because a late planting will turn lettuce very bitter

and spinach will grow and produce seeds in the heat. Try planting 1-2 metres of row every week so you’ll have multiple crops coming along.

Harvest the outer leaves and when the temperatures start to rise, and the lettuce get bitter, switch to spinach salads. Stop planting through the heat of the summer but start again in mid to late-August when the nights start to cool again. You’ll have great fall crops of both of these easily grown plants.

Zuchini

The most easily grown squash is zucchini. Put this plant anywhere near the ground and you’ll have more summer squash than you know what to do with. Let me suggest however that you only grow one or maybe two plants.

Anything more is overkill and you won’t be able to eat them. Trust me, your friends and neighbors don’t want them either as vegetable quickly becomes a glut on the market. The best two tips I can give you with this plant are to sow seeds (the seeds can be easily saved for several years) when the ground warms up (about the last week of May) and to harvest the squash when they are about 20-25 cm (8-inches or so) long. After the fruit reaches 30 cm or so, it starts to become woody and not good eating.

Those are the five easiest growing vegetables I can think of and those with the most use in the kitchen.

Having said that, grow what you’ll eat and enjoy – that’s the most important gardening decision.

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Ten Steps For Successful Container Vegetable Gardening

Container vegetable gardening is simple if you give the plants regular care and commitment.

Container Size Is Critical – This Is The Number One Cause of Problems

The first thing is to find suitable containers. I know I can grow a tomato in a green garbage bag holding six shovels of soil but unless I want to water it twice a day, I need a container that will hold twice that for my efforts at container vegetable gardening.

I could add twelve shovels of soil to my garbage bag but that is pretty ugly sitting on an entertainment patio.

You could use one of those Styrofoam flowerpots that resemble clay; I’d want a big one (twenty-four inches across is ideal) and clay will be a little too heavy to move around for some folks.

You can use anything you like for your container vegetable gardening as long as it holds approximately ten to twelve shovels of soil. Six shovels is the minimum for tomatoes – but you’ll wind up watering twice a day.

Half whiskey barrels are ideal but you won’t move them very far. I use my eighteen-inch clay pots because they’re big enough and I like the clay “look”.

I could add twelve shovels of soil to my garbage bag but that is pretty ugly sitting on an entertainment patio.

But you have to be prepared to water twice a day with almost any container and a massive tomato plant!

Ensure Drainage Holes In Your Containers

Ensure there are holes in the bottom for good drainage because vegetables really do not like to have wet feet and if we have a summer like last year’s deluge, we’ll both need all the drainage we can use. If I had a wooden deck, I would probably put several bits of wood under the pot to keep it off the deck and prevent staining.

The Soil You Use Is Critical

I am going to fill my pots from top to bottom with a soilless soil mix like Pro-Mix.

Remember you do not have to put anything in the bottom of the pot (like old clay pot shards or stones) to “help” the drainage. These supposed helpful bits only reduce the water movement according to modern soil science research.

The soilless mix will not compact like real garden soil and when I feed it with my compost and weekly compost tea, it will produce great crops.

Never use real garden soil in a container. It will compact, turning to concrete over the summer and your plants will not grow well.

Grow Any Vegetable You Want

It’s a great gardening myth that you can only grow a restricted number of plants in container. You can grow anything you want! (if you give the plant enough of the right soil, enough water and food.)

Let the kids have a pumpkin, let the old geezer across the street grow a potato or turnip (that’s what old geezers grow) the old hippy couple can grow all the herbs they can use for an entire winter and you can grow anything you like because it’s your container.

Squeezing More Vegetables Into A Container

I start with a tomato in the middle. I’ll stake it with a tall bamboo pole so it will grow straight up and once it gets a few feet tall, I’ll remove the bottom leaves to admit more light to the soil. Tying it up to the pole will be a weekly event as it gets tall enough to attract squirrels.

This will leave lots of room around the bottom of the plant so this is where I’ll grow my salads. I’ll start my spinach and lettuce from seeds approximately six to eight weeks before I want to eat them. Spinach can go into the barrel quite early – about the beginning to middle of April – and it will be up and ready to harvest the smaller leaves before the tomato is planted in the middle of May.

Sow lettuce every two weeks for a steady supply of greens over the summer. If you like radish, consider planting them with the lettuce so as you harvest the radish, you thin out the rows giving each lettuce plant more room. The basil seeds will go into the ground at the same time as I plant the tomato. I do need fresh basil for my tomato sandwiches.

Remember not to plant seeds too deeply and to keep them well watered until they germinate a week or two later.

Consider combinations you might grow in your containers. If you like salsa, combine tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, and cilantro together.

Colour Conscious

If you like your veggies to brighten up the garden, why not use purple eggplant and red peppers together?

Herbs are a natural combination and your basic window box can produce more than enough taste sensations for an entire family.

What You Use The Most

The key here is to grow what you’ll use.

Don’t grow lemon grass if the closest you’ve ever been to Thai cooking is watching somebody eat it on television but do grow tomatoes and oregano if you like making pizza or toasted tomato sandwiches.

Note that radishes, bush beans, basil and carrots are great for kids.

Throw in a sugar snap pea or two to trail over the edge and the kids can enjoy their own garden all summer long.

Watering: Everybody Ignores This One So Don’t Make This Mistake

Remember that we have to water regularly and feed our container vegetable gardening experiments with a compost tea or fish food fertilizer at least once a week to keep the harvest coming.

Every time you water – water should run out the bottom of the pot to ensure you get it wet all the way to the bottom.

Then you wait until the surface is “just” dry to the touch and you soak the pot again.

  • Regular soakings take water to the bottom of the pot and keep roots alive right to the bottom
  • Light waterings dry out the soil at the bottom of the pot, restrict root growth and reduce the yield.

The rule is simple: water until the water runs freely out the bottom of the pot every time you water.

Feeding For Success

You have to feed the plants weekly

With soilless mixes (with any soil actually) you have to feed weekly. You see, nitrogen is the engine of plant growth but it is water-soluble. So as you water from the top, the water dissolves the nitrogen and carries it out the bottom of the pot.
In order for the plant to keep growing, you have to replace the nitrogen from the top on a regular basis.

I like to mix compost at around 10% by volume into the soil mix and then feed weekly with a fish food emulsion. It does tend to drive cats and raccoons nuts with the smell but it surely grows great plants.

Prune Vegetables Upward

  • Prune vegetables upwards.
  • Stake tomatoes.
  • Watermelons can grow on a net supported by stakes.

Cucumbers can do the same. Pruning or growing upwards saves space and prevents the weight of the fruit from breaking trailing vines or pinching them against the side of the pot.

You can allow some vines like cucumbers to trail over the edge of the pot while you stake a tomato up the middle (use a really large container like a half-barrel for this trick).

The Word On Varieties To Use

Some writers suggest you use varieties that are specialized container plants. For example, grow a bush cucumber rather than a vining type. Pick a “determinate” or bush tomato rather than an indeterminate one that will grow forever and take over the patio or balcony. Use mini-varieties.

When I grew tomatoes in the greenhouse, we grew the biggest, tallest varieties you can imagine. Massive vines we had to top out at 7-feet tall so we could harvest the fruit. And the same for other plants.

Here’s the truth of the matter. You can grow anything you like – big or small – as long as you have enough soil, enough food and enough water. Restrict one of those and you’ll fail with anything you grow.

Harvest Regularly

Harvest regularly There’s few things worse than not harvesting vegetables regularly when they are in a container. You’ll quickly see them grow rank and ugly and become unsalvageable. Picking regularly keeps them growing and producing.

Pest Control

There’s nothing special about this – it’s the same in a container as it is in the garden soil.

Use environmentally sound methods of pest control when container vegetable gardening Most of those are found on this site and will not be repeated here.

What’s Different?

You can grow a garden anywhere if you use containers. On docks, balconies, on a boat. Anywhere.

Here’s my ebook on Container Gardening – it will explain the details you want to know

What’s Important

Enjoy! yourself and involve the kids in your container vegetable gardening. This goes without saying.

Growing cherry tomatoes or sugar peas comes with its own rewards when you watch the kids harvesting vegetables (or sneaking them because they taste so good)

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On Building A Vegetable Garden For Seniors

Well, it has come to this when we talk about building a garden for seniors. Sigh…

  My sweetie and I are seniors.  And I’m blaming Covid for this state of numerical affairs. Before Covid, I was any age I wanted to be or felt like being when I woke up. After Covid, I’m “at risk” because of my numerical age and it’s been impressed on me that I “should” be careful, avoid strangers and indeed look both ways before I cross the street to retrieve the mail out of the mailbox.

Well crap. (I’d use another word here but this is a family-themed garden blog.)

As Seniors We Needed A New Garden Design And Operating System

Just between us, I used this “seniors” excuse to revamp our vegetable garden and “steal” a few square feet for my perennial propagation and breeding adventures.

But having said that…

The First Decision Was About Where To Put The Compost Bins

To accomplish this new garden adventure, I’m eliminating a rather large compost bin and creating two smaller ones I can dig by hand. The older one is a tractor sized digging job and frankly between the two, I prefer that the tractor does the digging.  This fact alone apparently convinces some people I’m a senior. 

I note I’ve never liked digging and that’s why I was the owner of a nursery and employed other folks to do any necessary digging.

The Compost Bins Were Moved Inside The Vegetable Garden

I’m putting the compost bin inside the garden because it makes it easier to create compost (the garden is where a great deal of the organic matter originates) and this new location is closer to the kitchen door. (See concrete block construction below)

Closer to the kitchen door really counted this winter when I made a mad dash to empty the kitchen bucket without having to dress up like a three-year old in a snowsuit to venture out. And moving forward, who knows where we’ll be, so closer is better.

And, even if I could empty the current bins by tractor, I had to wheelbarrow and shovel the finished compost within the gardens. The tractor weight leaves tracks across the finished beds that would have to be repaired (i.e. lots of hand digging.)

gardens under construction

I Wasn’t Saving Labour

It turned out I wasn’t saving any labour by using the tractor, simply changing what I had to dig.

Note: keep your garden stuff as close to the garden as possible.

Using Raised Beds In My Garden For Seniors

I immediately started designing raised beds that would be marvels of surrounding wood construction. But my sweetie pointed out that when we were on our knees or leaning into the bed, it would be easier if I didn’t build walls around each bed. 

She felt very strongly about this and as every guy out there knows, when your beloved says, “I feel strongly about this,” you move forward in any other direction at peril of your happiness and indeed life.

My contribution to this was to increase the size of the pathways between the beds.

This allows us to get onto our hands and knees to work and makes it even easier to get back to our feet without destroying half the plants in the bed.

Note: The beds are now roughly 3-feet wide and so are the pathways between beds. And I’ll get back to you about the wood edging in another year or two.

vegetable garden for seniors

How Many Beds Do We Really Need?

This is an interesting problem as well.  When I was on the farm, the garden was monstrous. We fed the six of us out of that garden. But the kids are grown up with families and gardens of their own so I can make our garden any size that works for my current lifestyle.

And, normally Mayo and I go south for the winter (if you don’t count this Covid winter) and we really don’t need to produce a year’s worth of food out of this garden. What we need is fresh food as early as we can get it and as late into the fall as we can get it.  This alone makes a massive difference in the kinds of plants, the numbers of plants and square footage of a garden. 

Note: no matter how many beds you have, you’ll always need “just one more”.

I might even go back a decade or three and build some cold frames for extra-early salad green production.  But that’s a next-year kind of thing.

I’ll have pictures and some other thoughts on this in upcoming posts as I sort out the actual operating systems to make our new gardens productive.

But the time is upon us now we’re seniors. 

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p.s. I’ll get back to you about this new “seniors” label. Apparently it comes with discounts at some of the places I haunt for used books (good). But still, I’m not sure I’m willing to adopt this label just yet. I just got over being “mature” so don’t expect me to go willingly into “senior-hood.”

Check out my vegetable gardening ebook right here

Which Way Do Your Vegetable Garden Rows Run

Don’t make the same absent-minded mistake I made when I dug and shaped the rows in our small vegetable garden.

Which Way Do Your Vegetable Garden Rows Run? (and other tips)

And who would have thought the directions of the rows would make a difference? Well, to be honest, I did. But then I went and forgot all about it when I was building the vegetable garden (a fact I’m correcting now).

You can get regular updates here or follow me on my Youtube channel.

You can get more vegetable gardening posts here

The One Thing You Need To Do Before Planting Flowers or Vegetables

If you’ve started your own perennial flowers, (or any other plant) the first thing you really need to do before planting flowers or vegetables is acclimatize them.

This means slowly but surely introducing them to outside conditions.

The short version of this is to get them ready to go outside by putting them outside for:

  • One hour on Day 1.
  • Then two hours on Day 2.
  • Then three hours on Day 3.
  • Then four hours on Day 4
  • Day 5 leave them outside (unless there’s a frost forecast) all day
  • Day 6 – leave them outside all night too.
  • Day 7 – transplant into garden.

Yes, even perennials need to be acclimatized.

Tender vegetables really require this. (All vegetables are “tender”.)

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What If You Purchased Your Transplants?

I’d do the same thing if they were in a greenhouse. Start right at Day 1

If they were on racks outside, then I’d begin with Day 3 or 4.

Check out the other garden solutions on my Amazon ebook list here.

The Most Important Skill In The Garden Is Watering

Watering Individual Plants

A Simple Home Drip-Watering System

  • Take a large plastic bottle – cut off the bottom end about a half-inch from the bottom.
  • Take the screw-cap top off and with a hot needle, poke a hole in the top. Note that a drill is usually too large.
  • Put the top back on the bottomless bottle – and dig a hole about 8-inches deep right beside your tomato plant.
  • Set the bottle into the hole – pierced cap end down. Backfill it and fill the bottle with water through the cut-off bottom end.
  • The pierced cap will slowly leak the water into the soil and will provide a few hours of regular deep watering. If they leak out (emptying the bottle) within an hour, the hole is too large. You want a steady and very tiny trickle of water.
  • The trick is to make one of these bottle waterers for each tomato in your home patch and fill them up once a day. This will keep the ground uniformly moist (but not soggy) and will allow the tomato plant adequate moisture.

Drip Irrigation

There are quite a few drip irrigation systems on the market, and here are a few things you really want to think about.

If you have a well?  Get a filter at the beginning of your system if you live in the country. You’ll be surprised how much “small sediment” can quickly clog up a drip system.

That’s assuming you’re using a by-pass so you don’t filter garden water. If you’re taking it after the filter, you’ll find your filters will clog much faster.

Distance Apart for Tubes

Drip irrigation usually only covers about a foot or so on either side of the hose. This means if you have a 4-foot wide bed, you’ll need two runs (down and back) to properly irrigate. A single run will not provide enough water.

It’s far better to have the hoses closer than too far apart – so if you have to err, do it on the side of close.

Drip irrigation systems are also quite useful in creating an excellent soil moisture level without losing much water to evaporation. The only problem with them is they do tend to clog up and you’ll have to check them out daily or your plants will quickly suffer.

A drip irrigation system flow rate can be calculated by knowing the flow rate of each emitter and then counting the emitters. Or, by immersing the entire system into a 5-gallon bucket and timing how long it takes to fill up the bucket.

Overhead Systems

If you use overhead irrigation nozzles, water in the early morning so the sunshine has a chance to dry out the leaves. Watering in the evening will bring on fungal problems as the leaves will stay wet all night. (remember that damp and dark create homes for fungus to grow)

And no, watering during the day doesn’t “burn” the leaves. That’s an old wives’ tale.

And definitely, use a form of rain gauge to figure out how long to run the irrigation system. A rain gauge will work quite nicely to tell you how many inches of water you can apply with your irrigation system in an hour. Most gardens do nicely with approximately 1 ½ inches of water per week.

If your hose puts out 1 inch of water in an hour – you need to put 1 ½ hours of water onto your plants. Split this amount into two ¾ hour segments equally spaced over the week (say on a Tuesday and Friday – or Saturday and Wednesday)

Rather than purchasing an expensive rain gauge, I use an old yogurt tub and mark (using a permanent magic marker) every half-inch up the container for a few inches. When I start the sprinkler, I time how long it takes to put a half-inch of water into the container. And that’s my base time. Double that time for an inch of water etc.

Hand-watering The Garden

The last resort but a relaxing one is to hand-water your plants. I say last resort because hand watering is usually not as consistent as a sprinkler or drip system. You tend to water more at the beginning and less as you get closer to finishing. You tend to overwater some plants and underwater others.
Having run a nursery with many different workers doing the watering, I can tell you that these variations do make a difference when spread out over a growing season. I use sprinklers in my gardens (I’m also a lazy gardener who wants super yields too).

However you do it – do not let your plants wilt or suffer from moisture stress if you want a good garden.

Container Gardening

There is a very simple rule when it comes to applying water to container garden plants.

Always water so that at least 15-20 percent of the water poured in the top comes out the bottom.

Having done this, do not water again until the surface of the soil is just dry to the touch.

Until your finger comes away dry from touching the soil, the plant does not require watering.

This system of watering ensures that the entire soil ball is wet so tender young roots do not go begging for moisture. If the soil ball is wet right to the bottom of the pot, the roots too will grow to the bottom of the pot.

Deeply rooted plants are invariably healthier and better able to resist stress than are the more shallowly rooted ones. A thorough watering also ensures that all excess fertilizer salts are always being moved to the bottom and right out of the pot so as not to damage the tender young feeder roots.

“Another reason why plants kept in rooms are generally unhealthy, is, that they are watered in a very irregular manner.”
Ladies Companion to the Flower Garden 1858

You Can Create An Amazing Container Garden By Following The Tips In My Ebook.

When Your Container Goes Bone Dry Because You Forgot To Water

Should the soilless mix dry right out, it will pull away from the sides of the pot as it shrinks. This will allow the water to run quickly and easily down between the pot wall and the soil ball. This, of course, isn’t doing any good to the plant in the process.

The remedy with these types of shrinking soils is to sit the pot in a tub or pail of water for at least an hour to allow the soil ball to absorb all the water it can handle and expand again.

If the container is too large to move into a tub, then very slow and often-repeated waterings will accomplish the same thing. I have often had to trickle water over some of the larger containers three or four times, with a half-hour between waterings, to convince them to rehydrate and soak up moisture.

And it doesn’t matter what kind of container it is, the rules are the same.

Learn Restraint

“A great many ladies kill their plants by extreme kindness; that is, they keep on feeding them until the plants get too much water, when the roots rot and the plants die.”

Heinrich The Window Flower Garden 1887

The secret to this container watering, whether it be inside or outside potted plants, is to learn restraint.

If you touch the soil and your finger comes away damp, then do not add more water. Too much water will kill a plant almost as fast as will too little. If your finger comes away dry – then and only then do you water.

Mr. Heinrich did not mean to be particularly sexist when he refers to the ladies killing their plants by “extreme kindness”. The fact is that at the time of writing, maintaining the container gardens was very much a proper ladies form of gardening.

Women, at least those who would purchase and read a book on container gardening, did not work out in the fields. They gardened on a more refined scale in a container garden.

How things change!

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