Backyard bounty: plant now for your very first veggie harvest

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An overhead view of a person planting a vegetable garden

You’re finally in your very own home. Now it's time to look outside.

With the sun shining and the snow a distant memory, that fertile soil in your new backyard is just waiting to welcome your very first vegetable garden.

Not sure you have a green thumb or the knowledge you need to get started? Not to worry. We went to one of Edmonton’s favourite gardeners, Gerald Filipski, for advice. The longtime Edmonton Journal gardening columnist and author of Just Ask Jerry was more than happy to share his tips for success.

A father, a young girl, and a young boy examine a tomato plant in the middle of a large garden.

Shopping list

You can’t start a new hobby without the tools of the trade. You could spend a small fortune in your favourite garden centre, but, says Filipski, there are really only a handful of must-haves for the beginner.

You will need:

  • Spade: Turns the soil and mixes in compost or manure
  • Garden rake: Removes stones and other debris and smooth out the bed
  • Trowel: Used for planting and transplanting
  • Long-handled hand cultivator: Breaks up clumps and gets rid of weeds
  • Kneepads or kneeling pad: Reduces wear and tear on your knees
  • Gardening gloves: Keeps the soil from taking up residence under your fingernails

Be prepared

Now it’s time to get the soil ready for planting. Sandy soil or soil that is rich in clay will especially benefit from some TLC before your seeds go into the ground, but all garden soil needs regular infusions of fertilizer to keep it healthy.

“The best additives for improving the quality of the soil are compost and well-rotted manure,” says Filipski. Spread them all over your soil to a depth of five to seven and a half centimetres, he adds, then mix well with your handy new spade.

A person with green trousers lifting soil with a shovel

Choose your bed

Do you want one large garden bed that takes up most of your yard? Or would you prefer a carefully planned series of raised beds? Perhaps you have a large patio where containers would work best.

They’re all great choices, says Filipski, so select whatever suits your preference and your space. You can probably grow more veggies in a regular garden bed, he says. But “raised beds are easier on the back,” he notes, “and are excellent to use when the existing soil in the garden is very compacted.”

Think you can’t grow your own veggies if you’ve chosen condo living? “Containers are great for gardeners that have small yards or only have a balcony or deck to grow their veggies on,” says Filipski. Planting in pots also means you have the added convenience of portability, so your veggies can follow the path of the sun throughout the day.

Ready, set, plant!

While most experienced gardeners will have started seeds indoors in March, it’s not too late to plant a flourishing garden now.

“Because of the long summer days we have in Edmonton,” says Filipski, “most veggies planted now will produce well.” For a guaranteed crop, he suggests starting with things like lettuce, spinach, zucchini, and carrots. If you plant now, you’ll be able to harvest your first batch of lettuce and spinach in as few as 30 days, Filipski adds.

Check out your favourite garden centre for a variety of seed packets and read the instructions on spacing and depth carefully before digging in.

If you love tomatoes, pick up a few plants and add them to the mix. Tomatoes thrive in Edmonton’s summer climate.

Try something new

Every spring, garden centres are full of brand-new seed varieties. Even if this is your first garden, don’t be afraid to try something new and different.

Filipski keeps his eyes peeled every season for the newcomers, and this year he has a few recommendations.

  • Roly Poly, Eight Ball: dwarf, round zucchini
  • Megabite: dwarf tomato, with beefsteak-sized fruit on 45-cm tall plants
  • Lizzano: trailing tomato
  • Short ‘n Sweet: a newer carrot bred to grow in poor or heavy soils

Care and feeding

There’s an art to planning your veggie garden. Some crops complement each other while others can’t stand each other. Tomatoes and basil are natural companions, says Filipski, and corn is happy growing next to beans. Keep carrots away from dill, though, he adds, and beans away from onions or members of the cabbage family.

One of the biggest mistakes a new gardener can make is overwatering. “Veggies only need to be watered every second day during hot weather,” says Filipski. “The soil should be well drained, meaning no standing water after a rain or watering.” Tomatoes are the exception, he notes. Keep their soil evenly moist but not soaked.

An older man and a young boy dig in the dirt with a trowel.

It’s also tempting to think your precious veggies need bountiful helpings of fertilizer throughout the season. Not so, says Filipski, as long as you’ve prepared the soil properly before planting. However, if you want to feed your tomatoes, Filipski recommends fish fertilizer. He prefers Alaska Fish Fertilizer, which is all natural and suitable for organic gardening.

Most important, make sure your veggies get a lot of light. According to Filipski, they need between six and eight hours of direct sun daily.

Parting thoughts

Armed with these tips, there’s nothing left but to head out and dig in. Let this spring be the beginning of a lifetime of fresh, homegrown, organic vegetables.

“Welcome to the gardening fraternity,” says Filipski, “where we never stop learning and never stop enjoying the fruits of our labours.”