In response to the coronavirus, I bought several packs of vegetable seeds. I haven’t worked in the vegetable garden since I was a kid. Could you give some basic instructions for a beginner? I will probably turn part of my lawn into a vegetable garden.
Seed companies are seeing much greater demand for vegetable seeds this year.
Choose a sunny spot for your vegetable garden. Vegetables prefer sun all day but need at least half a day sun.
My recommendation for beginners in growing vegetables is to use grow tents. Sides for a grow box must be at least 10 inches high. The most common material is rot-resistant cedar, but I’ve seen many other materials used, such as leftover cement blocks.
Shur-way Lumber in Vancouver specializes in the manufacture of various sizes of cedar grow boxes. Their prices are not much higher than the cost of the wood. A 4 x 8 x 1 foot box costs about $100. If one is not enough, you can add another. Smaller sizes are also available.
Simply place the box on your lawn and fill it with a three-way soil mix. It requires about 1 yard of mix to fill a 4 by 8 box. One yard of soil is equivalent to 14 2 cu ft bags of bagged soil mix. The soil mix kills the lawn so you don’t have to kill or remove the grass.
Three-way soil mix is available from several suppliers, including full-service garden supply stores. You can pick it up with a truck or have it delivered. You can also combine it with an order of bark dust for a mulch in your garden for a more reasonable delivery cost. Fill the box to the top as it will settle a bit after watering.
Another benefit of grow box soil is that it is loose and well-drained, so you can plant inside even in light rain. Our clay soils are very difficult to work with when they are wet and sticky. You may have to wait a month if planting in the ground instead of a box. Improve the substrate by mixing in organic material such as bark flour, compost or peat.
If you don’t have space for a grow box, planter boxes, large nursery pots, tubs or other containers for growing vegetables can be used. Just make sure they have holes in the bottom for water to drain. Wire cages may be required to support larger vegetables like tomatoes. Vine tomatoes or determinate tomatoes do best in containers.
I recommend planting small seeds like lettuce, spinach, radishes, carrots, and onions in rectangles rather than rows. A 6 x 12 inch rectangle of carrot seeds will yield as many carrots as a 4 or 5 foot row. I can plant a small piece of lettuce or turnips between flowers or shrubs. Once the seeds sprout, you can thin them out.
Leaf lettuce and spinach do not need to be thinned. Their tops can be trimmed for salads within four to five weeks of sowing. They will grow back for a repeat harvest. Lettuce and spinach begin to sprout six to ten weeks after planting, so save space for a second planting five to six weeks after the first.
Peas and all root, leaf and flower bud vegetables can now be planted. Wait until May to plant all fruiting vegetables except peas. Nursery starts are now available for some vegetables.
Beginning seeds inside
Tomato and pepper seeds can now be planted indoors for planting outdoors in May. If you grow some of your own seeds indoors, place them near a south-facing window or use additional artificial light. Seeds sprout best at a temperature of 70 degrees. Electrically heated seed starting mats are available for less than $25.
Once the seedlings have developed four leaves, they can be placed outside during the day and brought inside at night. This combination of cool daytime temperatures and warm nighttime temperatures causes plants to grow more compact. Plants should be shaded for the first two to three days and then get full sun. Plants dry out quickly outside and may need to be watered more than once a day.
I add some all purpose fertilizer – like 16-16-16 – when I plant seeds or start. Then I do a second application after about six weeks on vegetables like tomatoes and squash. My favorite is Osmocote Flower and Vegetable Fertilizer (15-15-15). This coated fertilizer is gradually released over a period of four to six weeks, producing optimal, even growth.
Direct seed in the garden
Every time you add organic matter to the soil, you improve it. When I was redesigning my front yard a few years ago, I put about 3 inches of bark dust on heavy clay soil and rototilled it. Since then I have not had to spade or till the soil. Each year I add at least an inch of bark or other organic material to this area. The soil has become very similar to the grow box soil.
I recently planted some petunia plants in this area. It was easy for me to dig holes for each plant with a trowel.