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Gardening within everyone's reach

By Larry Hodgson, horticultural journalist, laidbackgardener.blog and jardinierparesseux.com.

If you dream of growing juicy tomatoes, crisp lettuce, and fragrant basil, why not give it a try? Growing edible plants is not rocket science and is a great savings over buying fresh vegetables. Also, you can garden essentially anywhere! In fact, it is the perfect project for a small family, because even the kids can participate.

Here are two suggestions for a vegetable garden that you can create right in your own home.

Alex Béraud | © Sépaq

A vegetable garden in the open ground

For a small vegetable garden out in the open, all you need is a space: in the backyard, in the front yard, or in a community garden. Remember that vegetables and herbs need sunlight, so a location that receives at least six hours of sunshine a day is highly recommended. But it doesn't matter how good your original soil is. You can even set up a vegetable garden on a terrace or in a parking lot!

The easiest type of vegetable garden to cultivate is the raised garden because it offers better drainage and warms up more quickly in the spring. And it's an easy project to complete in a single afternoon.

To do so, first build a wooden frame, preferably made of rot-resistant word, such as larch. Four 30 cm high and 1.20 cm long planks nailed together at the corners will give you a beautiful square vegetable garden, for example.

Put the frame aside for now and prepare the space. You don't have to remove the grass, if there is any, but do mow any upright stems and leave them on the ground. Now cover the area with unwaxed cardboard, newspaper (7 to 10 sheets thick) or paper bags. This temporary barrier (it will decompose after a few months) will smother the grass and weeds, which will die, become compost, and feed your garden.

Place the frame on the fence and your garden will start to take shape.

Now fill the frame with good garden soil, available at your garden centre. Don't skimp on quality: this soil will feed your family for the next 10 years or more. Ask the dealer for the best soil he or she has to offer and insist that it be free of roots and weed seeds. Fill your frame to the brim with this dirt. And just to make sure the soil is rich, add 2 cm of compost and a slow-release all-purpose organic fertilizer such as Acti-Sol (follow the directions on the package as to the quantity, because each fertilizer is different), and mix them into the ground. And there you have it! A ready-to-plant vegetable garden!

Planning the planting

We grow two categories of vegetables and herbs. Most, like the majority of leafy vegetables (lettuce, cabbage, chard); root vegetables (carrots, radishes, beets, potatoes, etc.); and some fruiting vegetables (beans, squash, cucumbers, etc.), can be sown directly in the ground. Others, such as tomatoes and peppers, and some herbs, such as rosemary and basil, can be started indoors about six weeks before the planting date or purchased as seedlings. For your first experience, take the easy way out and buy seedlings.

Growing crops in an elevated vegetable garden allows you to concentrate the cultivation and thus increase the harvest. Forget row cultivation: wide gaps between each row wastes too much space. Instead, try growing in squares. Think of your garden as a series of 30 cm x 30 cm squares. In each square you’ll sow or plant one large vegetable, such as a tomato or cabbage, 4 medium-sized vegetables, such as head lettuce or chard, and up to 16 small vegetables, such as carrots, radishes, or green onions. That way, there’ll be no wasted space!

Anyone can have a great vegetable harvest. www.jardinierparesseux.com | © Sépaq
A raised vegetable garden yields an excellent harvest in a small space. Marc Vaugeois, Wikimedia Commons | © Sépaq

Sowing and planting

Sow the seeds according to your plan at a depth equal to three times their height and cover them with soil. The children will love to help you. Then water them. All done!

To transplant the seedlings, dig a hole big enough to receive the root ball and put it in. Cover with soil and water. It's as easy as 1-2-3!

Maintenance

When the seedlings emerge and have four to six leaves, add mulch to all bare surfaces to prevent weed growth. The mulch will also help to keep the soil moist.

To know when to water, dip your index finger into the soil until the second joint.

If it's dry, water your seedlings. If not, no need.

Some plants, such as tomatoes, peas, and climbing beans, will need a stake or trellis.

That's all it takes to grow great vegetables!

Harvesting

All that remains is to harvest your delicious vegetables. Some, like radishes and lettuce, ripen quickly, in four to six weeks, and can even be replanted for a second or third harvest. Others (tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, etc.) take a good part of the summer to ripen. You'll know they're ready when they're the same size, shape, and colour as the vegetables you buy at the supermarket. 

You need big pots to have nice vegetables. Federico Candoni, Wikimedia Commons | © Sépaq
Storage boxes make excellent pots for a balcony or terrace garden. DIYAMORY | © Sépaq

A vegetable garden on the balcony

You don't have any floor space? It doesn't matter, because you can create a potted garden on a terrace or balcony, even on a windowsill. Any pot will do, as long as it has drainage holes... and if the container of your choice doesn't have holes in the bottom, just punch some! Aim for 6 mm holes (the diameter of a pencil).

However, the bigger the pot, the easier it is to maintain. Small pots dry very quickly, sometimes in less than a day, and require constant supervision. Big pots (bucket size or larger) retain more water and the need for watering is greatly reduced. Generally, one watering per week will suffice.

A Rubbermaid-style storage box makes an excellent cultivation pot, big enough for many different vegetables. Punch four holes in the bottom. Place a sheet of newspaper or paper towel over the holes to prevent soil from coming out when watering. All that's left is to fill the box with potting soil (readily available at the garden centre). As for a ground-level vegetable garden, mix 2 cm of compost and 2 or 3 handfuls of slow-release all-purpose organic fertilizer and you're ready to plant!

The maintenance of a potted vegetable garden is the same as for a free-standing garden. The most important thing to watch out for is watering.

And there you have it! Growing fresh vegetables and herbs at home is within everyone's reach. Involve the whole family in the project and everyone will agree that they've never tasted such delicious vegetables in their lives!

About Larry Hodgson

A self-taught gardener, Larry Hodgson has worked as a horticultural columnist for over 35 years under the English pen name of the Laidback Gardener ( in French as the Jardinier paresseux). He has served as editor-in-chief of the magazine Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins and writes horticultural columns for Le Soleil de Québec newspaper, among others. He gives conferences across Canada and the United States and is also a horticultural columnist for the radio station CKIA-FM. He has written more than 50 books, including those in the popular series entitled the Laidback Gardener (Le jardinier paresseux). He became best known to the general public during the seven years he was a columnist on the television shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour weekend. He was president of the Garden Writers Association, an international group of horticultural journalists, and has won a number of awards during his career, including the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. A fervent promoter of garden tourism, he acts as an escort on horticultural trips around the world. His daily horticultural blog, laidbackgardener.blog and www.jardinierparesseux.com, receives almost five million views per year. Mr. Hodgson lives in Quebec City.

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