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Growing Vegetables

I can hear you thinking that you have no idea about growing vegetables. The truth is that you can easily learn enough to be growing useful crops very quickly, and each session spent in your garden teaches you even more. You will learn much that is unique to your own situation, such as local soil conditions, your particular aspect in relation to the sun, and oddities that relate to your local microclimate. You will learn most of this by getting out and giving it a go.

The taste of home grown vegetables is vastly superior to that of the commercially grown produce. Have you heard people complain that tomatoes no longer have any taste? They will have when you grow your own – you will never taste better. The lack of taste with the commercial crop is not all the fault of the growers, as they are under pressure to produce a crop, of uniform size and colour, to the schedule of the wholesale market, and ultimately the supermarket.  You set your own schedule.

The freshness of your own crop is a big plus. Vegetables I have bought from the supermarket, and stored in the refrigerator, have started to become inedible after a few days. I have had home grown produce still fresh in the refrigerator after 2 weeks!

Typically, your home garden will produce a generous yield, and can readily help pay for the cost of growing them. You can effectively end up having free vegetables. Summer, especially, is usually a time of abundance, even glut, as family and friends leave your place with perhaps more produce than they had expected to see. A tip – when giving away fresh produce, try to limit your generosity – it is better to give a small amount to many rather than to give to the few more than they can actually use.

One of the turn-offs to trying something you have not done before is the intimidating flood of information (and misinformation) you will receive.

If you are browsing one of the major bookstores, you may find hundreds of books on the topic – which do you buy? To begin with, look for the simple, basic information. Do not bother with those full of jargon – you will learn the technical terms as you go.

You will hear folklore from the family, such as “Uncle Henry always put … (you name it) … on his … (name it again)”. Folklore is part of our heritage, but there is no guarantee of its usefulness.
You will hear from the office genius, who has done nothing, but still knows all the answers – nod wisely, and then ignore him.

Plants evolved millions of years before humans, and they actually want to grow. It has been said that in many cases plants grow despite what we do to help them. If you provide the basics, and these are reasonable nutrition and regular watering, Mother Nature does the rest – let her work for you.

No Dig Gardening

The idea of no-dig gardening was developed by an Australian named Esther Deans. It was originally both developed both as a labor saving idea, and a method to rejuvenate badly depleted soil in a vegetable garden.

The process involves starting with layers of newspaper, and by adding lucerne hay, straw and compost  in succeeding layers, you can create a growing medium without resorting to heavy digging, and one that is rich in nutrients and which will simplify weeding and encourage your much desired plants to grow. The layers compost together, and greatly encourage earthworms. The gardens are maintained by adding manure, compost, etc., and should not be dug up, as this will undo the good work. I have used this approach to creating vegetable gardens, and it certainly does work.

The principle of not digging has sound foundations. Excessive cultivation of the soil, especially when very wet or very dry, will damage the structure of the soil, and lead to compaction. Such excessive cultivation can also discourage the earthworms, and they are the best free labor a gardener has.

Some followers of permaculture and organic gardening have translated no-dig into never-dig, which I believe is sadly mistaken. If you start with a base soil that is badly compacted, then your no-dig garden will initially work well, but you may find your garden does not continue to perform well. The fertile layer you have built up will encourage the earthworms, but we do know that the worms need to shelter from excessively hot, dry, cold or wet conditions. They have been found to seek shelter from extreme conditions by burrowing more deeply into the soil, sometime many feet down. If they cannot shelter in this way, it is my contention that they will die out or move out.

My belief is that an initial cultivation of the soil before you apply the no-dig system will guarantee a better environment for the worms, and thus a better garden for growing your plants, over the longer term.

By all means give the no-dig approach a try – you will be pleased with the result.

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