What does vegetable gardening in Canada have to do with grandparenting a type 1 diabetic?
Let me explain.
I have mentioned in several previous posts that a healthy, well-balanced, vegetable-rich diet is an important part of diabetes management.
So why not grow your own veggies, they taste so much fresher than supermarket veggies and you know they are organic.
Personally, I have grown a vegetable garden most of my life. In fact, the years I didn’t grow my own garden or help my mother with hers are probably easier to count.
As a child, I helped my mother plant, weed, water and harvest her gardens so it only made sense that I would grow my own in adulthood.
I have found the biggest challenge to growing vegetables in Canada is the short growing season. Luckily there are ways to work around that.
Decide what you want to grow
If you are considering growing a vegetable garden for the very first time the first thing you need to do is decide what vegetables you want to grow.
Make a list of the vegetables you enjoy eating. I mean there is no point in growing something you won’t eat.
My son-in-law made that mistake. He grew a LOT (I mean really a lot) of zucchinis but they don’t really eat zucchini. He ended up giving most of them to me and his own mother. We appreciated it but he would have been better off to grow more of something they do eat like tomatoes, peppers or peas.
Take your time and really think about the types of vegetables you usually buy when you pick up groceries. If it is something you buy regularly chances are you will enjoy growing it.
Don’t overwhelm yourself. Start by trying two or three types of vegetables to grow for your first time. Next year you can another two or three different vegetables as you gain experience and confidence.
Location is important in several different ways.
To begin with, where do you live? Why is this important?
Well, various areas have different growing seasons, different amounts of rainfall, and different soil. All of these things need to be considered because not every vegetable or fruit will grow well in every area.
For example, I live on the East coast of Canada and three of our sons live in Alberta which is in western Canada. I can grow apple trees here, apple trees won’t grow in Alberta but will thrive in British Columbia.
We have maple trees that we can collect the sap and make maple syrup in the spring. Maple trees don’t grow any farther west than Ontario.
Be sure to check out growing charts for your area to see what grows well and when it is best to plant it.
Another aspect of the location to consider is where in your yard do you want to place your garden.
Most vegetables require an adequate amount of sunshine and well-draining soil.
So you don’t want your garden to be in a swamp or in the shade.
Some vegetables will tolerate some shade but some won’t.
You will need to research the particular vegetables you wish to grow to learn their particular needs.
Getting an early start
In the Atlantic provinces, I have noticed many farmers using floating row covers so they could get their seeds planted as soon as the ground could be worked regardless of the risk of frost.
Many people here use a greenhouse to start plants before the ground can be worked and transplant then later into the garden.
Others, like myself and my son-in-law, start some plants in the house.
This year I have started tomatoes, sweet peppers and several varieties of hot peppers in my living room.
Once all risk of frost is gone (2ndweek of June here) I will transplant them outside in the big garden.
There are other vegetables I will start as seeds directly in the garden usually the long weekend in May. That would be my peas, beans, lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, turnip, cucumber, winter squash and zucchini.
If we have a frost warning after those plants have erupted through the soil I will cover them with sheets overnight so the frost doesn’t harm the tender new shoots.
Don’t rush the garden prep. Spring can be rather wet and soggy soil compacts heavily making it very difficult for seed to sprout.
You can determine if your soil is dry enough is to grab a handful and squeeze it tightly in your fist. If it breaks apart when you open your fist the soil should be dry enough. If not then wait a few more days and test it again.
Here in New Brunswick, Canada, our soil is fairly heavy clay (although not really red like PEI’s soil) that is horrible for growing.
Now that my garden is well established (20+ years) each spring I add quality compost and manure if needed.
Every other year I would purchase organic peat moss to add. This worked well to help keep my soil lighter. That heavy clay is a real problem.
You can buy peat moss at your local garden center.
Some people add fertilizer as well but I choose to grow as organically as possible which is why I add compost and/or manure that I get from a local farmer.
Once the soil has had the compost and/or manure spread evenly it is time to till the soil.
For years I would get my husband to do this for me with a tiller you would push through the garden.
This was not an easy task and would usually take a full day for our large garden.
Several years ago my husband purchased a tiller to pull behind the tractor and now I can till the garden myself.
The last several years I have had the grandkids help which we all love.
A couple of passes with the tractor and the garden is ready to plant.
Again, you don’t want that soil to be too wet or you will get the tiller stuck regardless of which type you use.
Don’t have a tiller?
No problem, you can easily rent one from your local equipment rental shop, for the day for a reasonable price.
Now don’t just start planting seeds all willy nilly or harvest time will be a nightmare.
Take the time to plan your garden layout.
Draw out a rough design on paper (graph paper is perfect for this).
Consult seed packets for spacing, spread and height information. This is important because you don’t want your tall plants shading your short plants or they won’t grow and yield well.
You can design your planting in single wide rows, staggered rows or in blocks (great for raised beds).
Include paths between rows to allow access for weeding or harvesting. The soil will become quite compacted when walked on.
You can use straw or bark for mulch.
Mulch is an important part of your garden because it helps control weeds as well as retaining moisture so the summer heat doesn’t scorch your plants.
How you intend to water your garden is entirely up to you.
Even though we have a short growing season and can get frost into June at times, summers can get quite hot. Last summer we had several days that were 30+C (80’s to 90’s F), so yes regular watering is a must.
Never water in the hottest part of the day. Always water either early morning before it is hot or in the evening once it cools a bit.
For many years I went out each evening (except on rainy days) and watered the garden by hand with the hose. This was rather time-consuming but I found it was a great time to just be alone with my thoughts and plan my next day.
Some people use elaborate inground watering systems and they are great but most homeowners don’t wish to go to that expense.
A few years ago I started putting a sprinkler out in the garden each evening and going out after an hour and moving the sprinkler to the other end of the garden for another hour.
This worked great as well and it meant I didn’t have to stand out there getting eaten by mosquitoes as I watered the garden.
Last summer my wonderful husband connected 2 sprinklers together so the whole garden could get watered at one time. He then put the sprinklers on a timer so I don’t have to do anything except remember to turn the system off if we are expecting rain.
Some things like peas, beans, lettuce, green onion, spinach and zucchini will be harvested at various times throughout the summer.
I absolutely love going out and picking the ingredients for a fresh salad right before supper.
You can’t beat the flavour of a salad that is eaten less than an hour after picking.
Other things are not ready till the fall or late summer.
They seem to all be ripe at the same time so you are left to decide how to preserve them because you may not be able to eat them all at once.
Personally, I do a lot of canning. I make pickles, relishes, salsa, jams and jellies as well as wine.
Follow me through the season, I will likely share recipes and various garden tasks as they become necessary.
You can also find tons of canning recipes online.
I like to freeze my vegetables as soon after picking as possible for maximum freshness.
Most vegetables require blanching before freezing. That simply means they get dipped in boiling water for 3 minutes to kill any bacteria.
Then they are placed in freezer bags and frozen for use in the winter.
I only recently started dehydrating vegetables and fruits.
They are perfect for on the sailboat in summer.
Dehydrated vegetables and fruit store easily and I don’t have to worry about refrigeration on long journeys.
It is simple enough to rehydrate the vegetables when preparing meals.
I love making banana chips or salt and vinegar zucchini chips.
As you can clearly see vegetable gardening in Canada can be a fun and rewarding experience.
There are certainly ways to compensate for the short growing season.
Starting plants indoors really helps.
Be sure to water your garden daily especially when it is quite hot.
Harvest things when they are ready and enjoy the freshest vegetables you will ever experience.
Do you have a vegetable garden?
Have you started any plants in a greenhouse or even in your own home?
Do you have any helpful hints that you wouldn’t mind sharing?
Leave your tips in the comment section below I look forward to learning more.