Veggie Tales: a steep hike up the learning curve

This vegetable gardening stuff is harder than I thought. It doesn’t help that I’m such a newbie I didn’t even know how to plant garlic. But as I go along I’m finding that there is a lot involved here that many more experienced gardeners probably take for granted.

First and foremost, organization appears to be key. Problem is, it’s hard to plan when you really don’t know what you are doing. This, my first year, is my experiment year and I’m hoping I’ll learn enough to plan it right next year. For example, yesterday I went to the garden centre. I bought pole beans, bush beans, zucchini, two kinds of winter squash, and corn. Back at home I discovered that zucchini requires a 3’x3′ section of my 4’x4′ Square Foot Gardening box – basically almost a whole box! I didn’t have that kind of space. The squashes required 2 plots each so I only had room to plant the buttercup squash. I can’t plant the corn yet because the soil needs a few days to warm up, but as I was reading the instructions on the packet about needing to plant a whole bunch and making sure they get pollinated my head started spinning. You mean I can’t just plant 4 in a plot and see what happens? And since when did I have to concern myself with pollination? I’ve ended up with a garden shed full of seeds and onion starters, more than I’ve planted in my gardens. I hope I can use them next year – and I’m definitely going to need more garden plots!

And this brings me to my second gripe – and perhaps I’m still raw because I don’t spend much money anymore and when I do it hurts – but this SFG method is not as cheap as I thought it was going to be. It has already cost me about $100 to make enough soil for two boxes. Then yesterday I bought the materials to make the trellises. Three 10-foot 1/2″ steel electrical conduit pipes (which I had to cut myself with a hacksaw – so much for service at the hardware store); fine, they were about 5 bucks each. Rebar was also cheap at $2.50 apiece. But the elbow joints were $7.50 apiece – I paid $60 for the frames for two trellises!

Then there was the netting. Mel says to use “tomato trellis netting” which is made of nylon that won’t cut into the plants, is strong enough to hold up squashes, and has large 7″ holes. I phoned every garden store in town and nobody had anything other than “sweet pea and bean mesh”. Nobody even knew what I was talking about. I ended up going back to the hardware store to get some – its 5″ squares were the largest I’d found anywhere and it was apparently made of nylon (it looks like fishing line). But I’m finding it hard to believe this stuff is going to hold up heavy produce…still, I had no choice. My sugar snap peas were desperately in need of something to climb and had wound around each other and were threatening to wrap around my onions!

Back at the garden centre I was hoping to find seedlings to plant (especially tomatoes). They had lots of tomato plants but I wanted to know where they came from and how they were grown. There were no organic starters and the guy in the veggie section actually looked at me like that was the strangest question he’d ever heard. Now THAT was a bizarre feeling, living as I do in the crunchy capital of Canada! Looking at the labels on the plants got me nowhere. Oh sure, they listed the fancy names of the varieties. Some did say “hybrid” and others said “heirloom”. None said “open pollinated” and not a one of them said whether fertilizers or pesticides had been used to grow these little seedlings. Most of the tags said to use fertilizer at various times during the growth period. What, nobody can raise seedlings without fertilizers? Am I missing something here? So I came away with no plants and am hoping that I will see Albert at this weekend’s Farmers Market and that he will have some tomato plants (having already supplied me with chard, broccoli, and gai lan).

I wish I could find a good organic gardening book for total beginners (if any of you dear readers know of one, please tell me!). Every book I read is intimidating, except for SFG, but that book simply doesn’t have enough room to describe the needs of every plant in detail. There’s just too much information out there and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all. I guess it’s a good thing that I’m not expecting much from my garden this year. I just hope I can figure it out before it is time to start planning next year’s garden!

But so as not to sound whiny, I will end on a positive note. I’ve harvested a few salads now (and learned that I could eat even more; note: plant more greens next year!) and some more radishes, green onions, and herbs from my Aerogarden (which I transplanted into a container filled with leftover Mel’s Mix). It’s a pretty cool feeling to get ready to start dinner by grabbing a bowl and some scissors and heading out into the garden.

Categories: gardening, know your food | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “Veggie Tales: a steep hike up the learning curve

  1. Hi there, I’m getting ready to do some square foot gardening for the first time, too. I’m going to the hardware store next week. I think the idea of SFG is to shell out a chunk of money at the beginning and then not have to worry about it in the future. Having said that, yeah, I’m not looking forward to the cost, either. Good to know about the trellis netting ahead of time, thanks. I’m not sure where I’ll get mine, but I haven’t planted anything yet (just moved in) so I have awhile to find something.

    I would have made the same zucchini mistake if I had not read about it in your blog!

  2. Way back when I started gardening for the first time I found the “New Northern Gardener” (which was known then as the Harrowsmith Northern Gardener) to be a very unintimidating introduction to gardening. There are short blurbs on the particular needs of each of a hundred or so vegetables, each entry about half a page in length. Just enough info to give you the basics. And the short-growing-season focus was very helpful for me.

  3. Awesome looking salad greens! I’ll be harvesting my first stuff tomorrow morning so your way ahead of me.

    On the square foot gardening, I began writing a post with a couple of hints, but honestly it would have taken way too much space. I will be planting my plants this weekend and will make it a point to write a dedicated post to this subject. I have a lot of very inexpensive ways to get around the $$ issues. Basically my best advice for SFG is the same as it is for every other “system”. There are always parts of things that will work well, and others that will just be a detriment, like searching all over for trellis mesh. (buy a large roll of white nylon mason line and you can pretty easily make your own. I’ll cover that.) Take what you can and modify the rest to best suit your environment and conditions. Mel came up with his way of doing things by doing just that; questioning the way things were done.

    A quick comment on buying plants. Yes, open pollenated heirloom varieties are the best thing you can get, but ask yourself what your initial reasons for growing your own food were? I’m guessing it was to have healthy, organic, flavorful food of the best quality and freshness for yourself and your family. Open pollenation and heirloom’s will come with time, time you are quickly losing in a Northern climate. Get the healthiest plants you can, grow them organically and learn your lessons. Each year will get better, and each year you will be more prepared. Your doing great, don’t get frustrated. Just keep plodding along and don’t get “lost in the tall grass”.
    Thanks for your very kind words today by the way.
    Hope to hear from you more often.

  4. Hi – I’m not sure where in “the Crunchy capital of Canada” you live, but if you’re anywhere near the Trout Lake Farmer’s Market, I’d suggest checking out seedlings there. Not only do they have organic, heritage, open-pollinated varieties (one stall had 88 varieties of tomato!) but the people in the stalls are SO helpful and keen to answer any questions you might have. They also know which are best suited to our growing conditions.

    As for the Squarefoot Gardening, I agree with P~, do what works, leave what doesn’t. I stake my tomato vines, tying them to the stake with the stockings that ran after I only wore them once. 😦

    As for quick easy tips, I get a lot of my information from the West Coast Seeds catalogue – easier to carry around than a book and offers quick tidbits of information. Other than that, my neighbours are always keen to wander by and give me “tips”. πŸ™‚

    Keep at it – you’ll find the system that’s right for you.

  5. ruralaspirations

    Thanks, everyone! Late Bloomer you were right – at the Trout Lake Farmer’s Market yesterday was a cornucopia of organic local plants! I will report on my next Veggie Tales post. And P~ I’ve been enjoying your blog for a while now. I’ll stay tuned for gardening tips!

  6. Wow — those salad fixings look great!

    I know what you mean about the initial cost of setting up a square foot garden — but, after you do then it’s done…. So overall, it will be worth the initial cost.

    You’ll find that there are things that you can do to make setting up new gardens less expensive. Make your own compost to use to amend the Mel’s Mix before replanting is one. Another is to use left over materials to construct your garden — and don’t forget that raised beds can be made from many different material including rocks πŸ™‚

    Also, don’t get too hung up on the little things and don’t let them worry you too much. For example the trellis for tomatoes… I am just using tomato cages but will have to do something soon because my tomatoes are outgrowing the cages LOL I will probably just stake the plants so they don’t fall over everywhere.

    And remember, your first couple of years are going to be a big experiment to see what works best for you πŸ™‚ I’ve been square footing for a couple of years now and I’m still learning new things.

    There are some awesome sites online that you can check out for information and also to connect with other square foot gardeners. If you have a chance, check out the — there are 2 blogs there and also a message board. Also check out — Patti has some awesome videos on gardening!

  7. ruralaspirations

    Wow, thanks for all the tips, Judy. I’ll definitely go check out those resources you listed.

  8. Try Steve Solomon’s “growing vegetables west of the cascades” for a good beginner book. It won’t completely apply since you’re farther north – but he has great info on most of the plants that we grow in this area. Just try not to take some of his wackier ideas too seriously…

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