How to Start Your Family’s Very Own Vegetable Garden

There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of homegrown food. Try planting a garden this summer and taste the difference!


Illustration by Catherine Lepage

Vegetable gardening is quite simple—there are just three simple steps to prepare your bed, says Doug Green, an organic gardener, author and blogger who lives in Ontario’s 1000 Islands region:

  • Choose an area for your garden that’s in full sun.
  • Remove all grass from the area.
  • Work compost into the soil and start planting. Each planting bed in your garden should be no more than three to four feet wide, “so you can reach either side easily to weed,” says Green. If space permits, Green recommends parallel beds, three by 8–10 feet each, with narrow walkways to give access for weeding. With the exception of tomatoes, peppers and early broccoli or cabbage, Green recommends growing your vegetables from seed. It’s easier than you might think: “Too many people think that they have to plant the seed—in other words, that they have to bury it, be it a quarter-inch or a half-inch deep,” says Green. “I sow right on the surface and then just sprinkle a handful of dirt along just to hold the moisture down along the plants.”

How Much Room Will You Need for Your Garden?
How much space do you need to grow your favourite foods? Here’s a simple guide to follow:

  • Leaf lettuces: 3–4 plants per square foot
  • Spinach: 3 plants per square foot
  • Tomatoes: 1 plant per 3–4 square feet (if staked)
  • Peppers: 1 plant per square foot
  • Peas: 3–4 plants per square foot (rows should be about 18 inches apart)
  • Carrots: about 20 per square foot.

Tip: Make the most of your space by planting basil and leaf lettuces around the base of a tomato plant.

Container Gardening
If you live in a condo, an apartment or just have a postage stamp–sized yard, you can still grow vegetables. “I believe that there is no vegetable you cannot grow in a container if you want to,” says Green. The key is to have enough soil volume for the plant (and therefore a large enough container), and to feed and water regularly. “Water should come out the bottom of the pot every time you water,” says Green. This gives the plant uniform moisture and encourages the roots to grow deep. But it also drives water-soluble fertilizer to the bottom of the planter, so weekly fertilizing is a must.

Help Your Plants Grow
An organic liquid plant fertilizer can help your plants flourish, and is vital for container gardens. Green recommends fish emulsion: “It grows a dynamite plant.”

How Will You Benefit from Growing Your Own Vegetables?

• Taste: “There is just no comparison between a vegetable that you pull out of the garden and eat immediately (and store-bought),” says Green. “You just can’t believe the difference.”

• Food safety: “We garden organically, so when we’re eating something that we’ve grown ourselves, we know that there is not a darn bit of pesticide or fungicide in it, that it’s clean and I can feed it to anybody off the vine.”

• Exercise: You get quite a workout when you’re shovelling, mixing in fertilizer and weeding.

• Bonding time with kids: Turn gardening into a game so that you can spend quality time with your family, says Green.

Where You’ll Be By Summer
You will be fitter and stronger, thanks to time spent in the garden. You’ll have plenty of fresh vegetables to show for your effort, which will likely mean you’ll be eating better. As a bonus, you’ll save a bit of money on your grocery bills.

Tips for Easy Gardening

  • Learn to relax: “Beginners just obsess way too much about the details and all the things they think they’re supposed to know,” says Green. “If you water a plant properly and feed it properly, it wants to grow.”
  • Start small: Don’t try to grow your entire vegetable supply your first year.
  • Grow what you’ll eat: “Only plan on growing the things that you eat fresh,” says Green.

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