By MARY FRAN McQUADE
You’ve carefully tended those tiny seedlings for weeks, and now it’s time for them to go out into the wide world of your garden. If you’re a new veggie parent, you may be wondering what happens next, now that they’re out there on their own.
Fear not – I talked to four experienced Beach gardeners and asked them to pass along some of their top tips for newbies.
“I’m super casual,” says T (who asked name not be used), who grows a lengthy list of yummies. “Think of this as a fun project,” she adds. “You don’t have to subsist on what you grow – this is to learn.”
Her advice for beginners is to think about how big the plant will be when it’s grown. Zucchini is the classic example. One plant is enough. You don’t need a whole row of these overachievers.
Here’s another tip that may for newbies: “Water in the morning, not the evening. It’s like putting a baby to bed with a wet diaper,” says T.
Other useful things to remember are: Plant a few extra seedlings in case things get nibbled, and keep the harvest going by planting things in succession. “Every two weeks, throw some seeds in.”
Ali, our next gardener, also suggests that beginners “grow what you like to eat,” instead of trying to grow every seed in the book.
When you do plant them out, “follow the sun” and put them in the sunniest place you have.
Greens are about the only thing that will tolerate shady Beach backyards.
She also follows the rule of 10: Wait until night temperatures stay at 10 Celsius before you plant most seedlings outdoors. (If you couldn’t wait to dig them in during this cold, wet spring, that could explain problems you’re having now.)
Many gardeners worry about feeding their plants, but Ali doesn’t. She starts with good soil and then uses leaf mould as mulch, which also slowly feeds the soil.
She’s a big fan of doing what’s easy, and she notes. “If you must have cabbages (a favourite of white cabbage moths), cover them with netting but leave room for them to grow.”
Another gardener, J (who asked name not be used), shares several smart tips to make things easier. “If you’re growing beans, build a permanent structure for them to climb on. You’ll be able to use it from year to year.”
Pick your beans when they’re slim for best taste and tenderness, she adds. (If you want to save seeds, let a few get fat and ripen towards the end of the season.)
You don’t have to get out the canning paraphernalia for your tomato harvest, either, says J. Freeze them on a cookie sheet, then bag several together. Pull a bag out of the freezer to use in soups, stews and sauces. They’ll lose their shape, but they’ll have that fresh tomato taste.
A final surprise for me, though maybe not for you: J told me that you can just leave rhubarb in the ground, and it will come back from year to year. (I grew up gardening in a land too warm for rhubarb.) You can’t eat the leafy bits, of course, but you can compost them safely.
Duncan and Claudia have had an allotment garden in our area for many years, so they know their stuff.
Even so, Claudia says, “Every year is a new experience because of the weather. Some years our tomatoes are fabulous, particularly when it’s hot and sunny. When we have a rainy summer, the tomatoes seem to lack taste, but other crops such as spinach, peas, radishes do very well.”
This year, for example, battling hungry squirrels has been a challenge. Claudia is experimenting by sprinkling her early-season crops with blood meal. “I know from experience with flower boxes that squirrels are repelled by the smell. We’ll have to see if it works.”
The couple have always grown their veg organically, and they top up their beds every year with their own kitchen compost and commercially produced worm compost.
“Worm compost is like gold,” says Claudia. Look for it in garden centres and some Home Hardware stores, or Google to find out where to purchase in bulk.
Like many gardeners, she recommends reseeding all types of beans to grow a good fall crop. In her experience, though, spinach and radishes don’t turn out as well as in the spring.
“Have an adventurous spirit and try new things,” is Claudia’s message to new growers. That’s advice we can all use.