COLUMN: Gardening success all about timing

NANAIMO – The May flowers and showers signal the start of another vegetable gardening season in the Harbour City.

The May flowers and showers signal the start of another vegetable gardening season in the Harbour City.

This year I am planting the usual lettuce, carrots, beets, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, peas and beans in the backyard, alongside the herbs and flowers.

For those who haven’t tried growing their own food, the superior taste of home-harvested produce is well worth the effort.

The reason your backyard produce often tastes better than the stuff you buy at the grocery store is because when it is harvested, some produce begins to lose its taste quite quickly. For example, the sugar content of some varieties of corn begins to decline after harvest.

Growing your own food also means less waste. You can harvest just a few leaves of lettuce – enough for your dinner – rather than picking the whole plant and having half of it wilt in the fridge.

But while many articles circulating out there talk about how easy it is to grow your own vegetables – don’t get me wrong, it can be – there are some things people need to think about before getting those hands dirty.

So this column is devoted to passing on some tips about growing your own food – from one gardening newcomer who fumbled her way through the process – and sometimes failed miserably – to another.

Since all of this information was learned the hard way, perhaps it can save someone a bit of wasted effort.

The biggest thing is to have a plan – you should know what you want to plant and where.

Every year, I start thinking about the garden in February and I decide what to grow based on what I like to eat and what has worked well in previous years with the space I have.

If your yard gets a lot of sun, then heat-loving plants are a go; if not, tomatoes and other sun-loving vegetables might not do well.

There are some plants that get along well together like tomatoes and basil; others should not be planted near each other, such as onions and peas.

I have made this mistake in the past and as a result, things don’t grow as well as they should and I haven’t gotten the harvest I was looking forward to.

West Coast Seeds has an excellent summary of companion planting that can be read at www.westcoastseeds.com/topicdetail/topic/companion-planting.

The most important part of the plan is the schedule, a rough outline that takes into account the weather.

Timing is everything.

I rushed out to plant carrots and beets last week – about two weeks ahead of when I was thinking of planting – to take advantage of the rain promised in the forecast. Carrot seeds can take longer than two weeks to germinate and it is hard to keep that top layer of soil moist at all times, which is what the seeds require.

Another mistake I make constantly is planting corn too late – the plants don’t have enough time to make the corn before fall sets in – or planting things too early. I wasted a batch of lettuce seeds by planting them just before a cold spell earlier this spring.

And as for the growing medium, light soil is better for growing root vegetables – I try to work all of the chunks out of the soil with my hands and dig deep to make it easier for my carrots to grow down.

Pick as many rocks out of your garden as you can, although they seem to multiply in the rain.

Lighten up a clay-based soil with organic materials like compost and applying fertilizer of some sort is important.

And final tip of the day – on the subject of pests – I deter cats from digging by placing a square of chicken wire or similar material over plants while they are small.

As plants grow and expand across the dirt and your garden starts looking less like a litter box, our feline friends are not so attracted to it any more.