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Commentary: So, you want to garden

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Start dreaming and planning now for the garden you want in 2021. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

So, you want to garden.  Is it the allure of a-just-off-the vine tomato or the crunch of a carrot just pulled out of its bed?  Do you want to combat global warming?  Or do you want to bond with nature and improve your mental and physical health?  Perhaps you want a hobby?

Eating home-grown vegetables will provide you with the vitamins and minerals and most of the protein you need in your diet.  Garden soil with lots of compost and no invasive pesticides or herbicides will grow healthier vegetables than those sold in our grocery stores.

Gardening is my passion and, as Frank Sinatra sang, I do it “My Way.”  Gardening is a labour of love and a life time challenge, intellectually and physically.  The challenge is always to grow bigger, tastier vegetables and prettier flowers, while trying to minimize the damage to the environment.  I am reducing carbon emissions by lowering the costs of growing, processing, transporting, and selling food. I provide a bird and insect-friendly environment (even for the pests).  And I save money.

Gardening is a never-ending journey, with successes and failures along the way.  As someone said, “To live is to change and to become perfect is to have changed often!”  Some of my changes have been successes, others failures.  But a failure is only a step in becoming a better gardener, and person.

Over the years when I worked full time, I continued to garden without much thought – walking on the garden and compacting the soil, with no compost and no planning where I would plant each year and so on.  When I retired, I researched different ways of gardening, online and with books and magazines, or through fellow gardener and my own successes and failures.

I learned about double digging, raised beds, the broad fork, no till, crop rotation, and many other aspects of gardening.  In the process, I found many ways of reducing labour and increasing yield. I estimate I now garden at least 50% more efficiently. 

Let’s start with what vegetables and flowers you plan to grow.  Some, such as tomatoes, like it hot with lots of light.  Some, like spinach or cabbage, like it cool.  Some, like carrots, can be planted early. Others, like potatoes or beans, must be planted after the last frost.  Most annual flowers must also be set out after the last frost. If you are a beginning gardener, start small and plan to grow each year.

Look over your yard and plan. Don’t forget the front yard; there are many alternatives to grass.  Many interesting front yards have no grass, only a variety of shrubs, flowers, and even vegetables.  Make a plan of your yard, indicating where, what, and when you are going to plant.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, and it can be changed.

Even if you only have a balcony, there are many opportunities for growing vegetables and flowers in containers.

What do you like to eat?  Determine what you want to grow and how much of each.  What are the easiest vegetables and flowers to grow in your “garden hardiness zone?”  In subsequent articles, I will share with you my favourite vegetables and seeds and the best way to plant each. 

Start a log of your activities, on paper or online.  Record your gardening plan, the what and where to plant.  Throughout the year, record when you planted, weeded and thinned, the pests, your harvest and yield. Record the problems you encountered and how you solved them.  The log will help you to improve each year.  And, keep a list of proposed activities and changes you plan for the next gardening year.  

For now, time to start planning.

Charles Schroder gardens in St. Albert. See more of his gardening articles at www.learningbygrowing.com