by David Hinks

Some days it seems like winter is dragging on forever. But then this year is a much more typical year than last year when spring arrived in record-smashing fashion. Certainly not a whole lot is happening outdoors as of yet. There are some very welcome early spring flowers such as snowdrops right next to the foundation of the house and later bulbs such as daffodil and tulips are just staring to poke there noses out of the ground.

Now is a good time to start looking around to find a spot to try growing a few vegetables.

Don’t think you have room in your garden for a vegetable patch but have a hankering for fresh picked greens? Do you think that the vegetable patch should be hidden behind the garage?

You might want to reconsider. There are many edible plants that are both healthy additions to your plate as well as being a visual feast. While ordinarily found in the vegetable patch, they are great additions to flower beds or ornamental borders.

Last year I ripped up the sod in my front yard, created some raised beds and pathways made of bark mulch. I created a bit of a circular pattern but the only limit is your imagination.

I have had the most success with vegetables that form vigorous, well shaped plants with interesting or attractive foliage or fruit and that continue growing strongly through the summer and into the fall. I plant them where I would plant annual bedding flowers. The most important growing requirement is a minimum of 6 hours of full sunlight. Plants that I have grown and would recommend mixing in the ornamental beds include peppers, eggplants, globe artichoke, Swiss chard, kale and a variety of herbs, such as basil, thyme, sage, lovage, oregano and tarragon.

Raised beds and well drained soil assist an early start by warming up much faster. Raised beds don’t need to involve a lot of work. I create beds a little over a metre wide and about three metres long with pathways about half a metre wide. I scoop the soil from the pathways onto the raised bed, add some compost, mix it up a bit and you’re ready to plant. You can make it much fancier with cedar planks as edging, particularly if you want to raise it more than a few inches.

But don’t try to work the soil too early. In order to determine if soil is workable, take a handful and squeeze – if it stays together in a ball it is still too wet, if it crumbles it is ready. Also if it clings to your boots and shovel in great clumps wait a few more days.

While things appear to be moving slowly outdoors the indoor seedlings are growing at a great rate – now is the time I start using a diluted liquid fertilizer – I use an organic fish fertilizer – it doesn’t smell that great but any odour quickly dissipates – I just mix it in the water that I am using to water the plants with – at this stage watering is necessary every three days or so for the larger plants. Remember to let the seedlings dry out between waterings.

It is also time to adjust the lights to keep them within an inch or two of the plants – what is extremely important for plant growth is the intensity of the light and this falls off very quickly the farther the plants are from the light.

Vegetable gardening doesn’t need to be confined to your own yard – there are many other possibilities. You will be hearing more very soon about community gardens and growing your own food from the Neighbourhood Tomato – stay tuned!