Starting a small vegetable garden

St. John's, Canada

I am wondering if it's feasible to start a small garden at our local community centre in St. John's as our weather has to be a major factor in considering doing so. We also want to have our children involved with this so would this be difficult if we hve the right tools but not spend a fortune? This would be an outside garden with15' x 15' space available at this time. I know this is a very broad question but we have no experience, figured this would be the best place for information. Thank you for your anticipated input.

Cascade, VA(Zone 7a)

i am going to assume that where you live has a short warm season, correct me if im wrong about that. But i would say in this case, i would consider making a majority of that garden a cool season vegetable garden (radish, lettuce, swiss chard, kale, turnip, carrot, beet, broccoli etc) so that you can make the most out of your gardening time. and not have to Race against nature for a good crop otherwise. for the typical warm crop vegetables, i would look up varieties that have quick maturing times compared to other varieties of those plants.

while many others here will probably know a heck of a lot more than me, i feel that this would be a big help.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Brassicas are easy to grow in a cool season vegetable garden. Broccoli and beets are familiar Brassicas.

Leafy Asian greens like Bok Choy, Tatsoi and Komatsuna can be eaten at any stage from baby-leaf to mature plant, so the kids can nibble when they are ready, not just when the plants are ready. And if you start them from seeds, they are far from fussy, and grow very fast.

>> the right tools but not spend a fortune?

A 15'x15' square is small enough that if anyone can bring a few shovels, a steel rake, and a few hoes, you should not need to buy any tools.

How ready is the soil? If you have grass growing there now, you have some prep work to do, getting rid of the grass and lightening the soil. That can be done fast with a lot of work, or over a season or two with very little work.

Add compost to the soil! The more, the better. Till it in, the first year. After that, improving the soil depends on what you have too much of, and what you have too little of.
Some soil types benefit from adding:
- peat moss (but it breaks down in less than one year
- finely shredded softwood bark
- granular softwood bark (smaller than peas, smaller than 4 mm)
- coffee grounds

! ! ! NOT sawdust or wood chips underground, unless you bury it below the root zone. They get fungus-y and also suck up all the available nitrogen for a year or so.

It's good if you mound up the soil a little higher than the surrounding walkways. That assures that part of the root zone is well drained and well aerated. If you have the money for it, or if someone donates wood or concrete paving stones, you could make 8" walls and have proper raised beds, which encourages improved soil and well-aerated root zones.

Plan to mulch the the surface of the bed after seedlings emerge. or some people improve the soil first, then lay down mulch, and THEN clear mulch away from spots to transplant seedlings into, or clear rows to plant seeds in.

Mulching greatly reduces weeding chores and also protects the soil from drying out and baking on a sunny day. Mulch with whatever is most available or cheapest:
- pine needles
- bark chunks
- biggish wood chips
- straw or hay
- nasty plastic film (boo, but it does prevent weeds)

Remember that a sunny spot is vital. You can improve the soil, and bring water to a spot, but you can't make the sun brighter.

May I suggest that it will be a lot easier and more fun if you make several narrow beds instead of one big 15x15 square? Walking ON the soil will compact it down no matter how much you improve the soil.

A bed that is only 2-3 feet wide can be planted and weeded from either side without stepping on the fluffed-up soil or having to walk around. If young kids do much of the work, 24-30" wide is desirable.

If you make some 18" wide walkways and 2-3 foot-wide beds, you can shovel the soil from the walkways up onto the beds, making that soil deeper. If you add amendments to the soil, only add it to the beds, not the walkways.

You could break the 15 foot width into four beds of 30" each, and three walkways of 18" each.

(You might look around and see who has a wheelbarrow they would loan out for work days. Then make sure the walkway is wide enough for that wheelbarrow, especially if you use walls to make raised beds.

If the walkways would have been muddy, you can layer wood chips, bark or other mulch over the walkways. Some people use scraps of old carpeting!

If you are putting a garden into a lawn, you can just leave 18" of lawn in place and only cut up the sod where you create beds.

Seeds can be inexpensive, and those will teach the kids a lot more than buying already-started seedlings in pots.

Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA
Contra Costa County, CA(Zone 9b)

St. John, Newfoundland?

I would think that you would be able to grow all the crops that are considered cool season crops here in California and warmer zones. Might have trouble with semi-tropical crops like squash and tomatoes.

Yes, it can be done.
No, it does not have to be expensive.

For children, here is how I would do this:

Divide the 15' x 15' area into 3 beds that are 3' wide, and 2' between the beds. Most adults can reach out about 2' so can use a 4' wide bed, as long as they can get to it from both sides. Children are going to be better off if the beds are only about 3' wide.
2' walkways work the best for me. Narrower just makes the beds too crowded, especially when the plants are overflowing.
If there is any way of orienting the beds so the long direction is running north/south that is the best exposure.
Recycle ANY sort of material as sides. If there are funds, then 2 x 6 lumber is great.
Attach to the lumber, or dig into the ground some pipe that is about a foot to 18" long, and about 1" diameter. Do these in pairs at each end of the beds, and about every 3-4' along the sides. So in a 15' bed you will probably have 5-6 pairs of pipe.
Buy if you have to some steel rods that are used to reinforce concrete. Here it is called Rebar. 3/8" or 1/2" is good. Make arches that reach over the beds and stick them down into the short pipes.
You can use these arches to extend the season. By using the arches to hold clear plastic it will act like a greenhouse, warming it a bit earlier in the season, and holding in the warmth in the fall. It won't hold up to snow, and you will have to anchor the plastic in the wind, but it will really help a lot.

Help the children understand that really good, loose soil is very valuable, and to only walk on the paths.
Do not fuss to get all the seeds or plants planted in one day. By planting some this week, then more next week you will be extending the harvest season so you do not end up with 10 heads of lettuce all ready for harvest in one day.

Thumbnail by Diana_K
Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Many tomatoes are from Russia so I don't think they would be hard to grow in Canada, they grow them Alaska. They have more hours of daylight during the summer then we do.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Diana_K had very good advice. 24" walkways are much more conveneint than narrower ones.

After you've pounded some rebar into the ground, you can slip PVC pipe or bent "EMT" metal conduit over the rebar to make arches like a covered wagon.

Covering it with heavy, clear plastic film in spring or fall will extend your growing season. Fresh salad greens are nice to have out-of-season.

My theory is that the only thing you need to get started is fairly decent soil. Raised bed walls and hoop tunnel greenhouses can be added in future years, especially if people start contributing materials and labor.

P.S. Just one short length of low plastic-film tunnels might let you start many trays of seedlings weeks or many weeks sooner than you could have started them in the ground. The first few trays of seedlings thazt you "plant out" into the other beds can always be covered with old sheets or floating row covers to get them through a late frost. And it the first few trays die from cold, you'll have several more trays coming along.

A seedling can be started in cells as small as 1" square (200 cells per 10"x21" tray). Then you can plant those out at 6" to 12" spacing ... filling a bed 36 to 144 times bigger then the covered seedling bed.

It's probably more common to start vegetable seedlings in a 72-cell tray. I think that one tray (around 1.5 square feet) would fill a bed 3 feet x 20 feet (60 square feet, or 40 times as much area as the seedling tray).

Three beds at 3' x 15' each add up to 135 square feet. If all your vegetables are spaced 12" apart both ways, you only need 135 good seedlings to fill the beds in the spring.

You could do that with just 2-3 72-cell trays of seedlings (3 - 4.5 square feet). If you put hoops over a tiny 3' x 3' square, you could fit 5 1020 trays in there, and start 200-360 seedlings.

Giving away "starts" of things like tomatoes is one way to publicize your activity and attract donations of money, labor or materials.

Or use trays with bigger cells or pots, like a 36-cell tray or 48 cells. Or start in flats and "prick out" the seedlings to 4" pots when they are still tiny.

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