I have been assigned the task of maintaining my elderly father’s vegetable garden. Unfortunately, his health is in decline and like many of us 2nd and 3rd generation kids, I don’t know very much about the subject.The garden is about 15′ x 40′ and is full of weeds and other unwanted growth.
So sorry to hear that your father can no longer keep up his vegetable garden, but what a great opportunity for you to share in what he loves to do. No doubt he will have many suggestions for you and he may even be able to help out a bit.
We’re assuming that the plot is in a sunny location, although if it’s an old garden, there may be several tall trees shading the area. It is important to get rid of the weeds by digging or rototilling (see our Tackling Weeds Organically). To make sure the soil is nutritious and drains well, work in organic matter like compost (as a 1-2 inch thick layer) as well as triple mix to enrich the existing soil and prepare it for planting. Some experts recommend testing the pH of the soil before planting, as most vegetables grow best at pH levels from 6 to 6.8.
The garden beds should be planted east to west to maximize sun exposure and the tallest plants should be planted in the northern part of the bed, to minimize these plants creating shade for their neighbours.
In selecting crops to grow, you might want to ask your father what his favourite vegetable crops were, and start with those. You can plant crops directly from seed (e.g., carrots, spinach, greens like arugula and mesclun mix) or purchase seedlings (e.g., broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers). A few varieties of heirloom tomatoes, selected so they mature at slightly different times, will be much appreciated in a few months. And don’t be afraid to try a few varieties of a vegetable – you may discover new taste sensations.
Here are a few useful links:
- Cornell University’s Vegetable growing basics – introduction to vegetables
- Delaware Cooperative Extension’s Vegetable garden basics – This includes a lot of information on how to prepare the soil (which is critical to a good yield of vegetables!), the importance of buying healthy-looking plants, how to plant seeds, what to feed them, how to manage pests in the garden, controlling weeds, watering, etc. Most of all the authors invite you to take risks and grow plants you don’t know much about – part of the fun of gardening. A garden plan or “map” is even provided, which may help you prepare yours.
- National Gardening Association. Vegetable garden design – This article highlights the wide range of crops you can grow in a plot like yours. The author discusses succession planting (which maximizes the yield of your garden) as well as interplanting, which can make the most use of the space in the garden.
- Toronto Master Gardeners: Vegetable garden – This suggests that you carefully plan the garden to determine what you want to grow, and where.
- Toronto Master Gardener Fact Sheet: Organic vegetable gardening . This stresses the importance of nourishing soil (and how to do it) and includes suggestions about what to grow.
- And an herb garden is a satisfying part of any vegetable garden – see Growing herbs: A Toronto Master Gardeners Guide
And if all this sounds too daunting, you may be able to find volunteers to come and take care of the vegetable garden for you. For example, contact a local gardening group to see if there is interest, or ask at your local nursery. Another option might be to approach a group with a Community Shared Agriculture program like CultivateTO – where volunteers do all the work in your garden and share the crops harvested with you.