A good start, fertile soil and sunlight the key to a good vegetable garden
BY DENNY SCOTT
Home vegetable gardens are becoming more and more popular due to the two growing seasons that have now been dominated by COVID-19 and local gardener Herman Mooy has some suggestions for those flexing their green thumb for the first time.
His first suggestion comes a bit late, unfortunately, as he says that planting should be started in early March indoors, either in greenhouses or in a sunny window.
“You have to start them in the winter,” he said, “and with hard-shelled seed plants like beans and peas, you soak them which will help them sprout quicker.”
As for other plants, he says to follow the instructions on the package.
Mooy’s rule of thumb for moving the plants outside is typically to wait until the last full moon of May, however this year he broke that rule and already has plants in the ground.
“I’ve put some hearty stuff in, like peas, spinach, onions, leeks and potatoes,” he said. “By the time they’re up, the weather will be good.”
He says that covering those early sprouts is important, especially with the bravery that some wild animals have discovered during the pandemic.
Mooy’s system includes keeping track of when each item is planted and when it shows up. The first thing on his list this year was cauliflower, which he planted on March 1 and which showed up in his indoor growing space on March 8.
From there, it’s just the basics of warmth, good soil and water, he said.
“I used to cook my own soil, but it’s an arduous job,” he said. “Now I buy pro-mix. It might be the lazy way to do it, but it works.”
Watering is key, Mooy said, both making sure it’s done and not overdoing it.
“That’s one of my biggest tips, but also something I have to be careful of,” he said.
Mooy said when he sees dry soil, he wants to water it, but caution is needed.
“If you over-water them, the seeds rot,” he said.
He also uses rainwater to keep his crops hydrated, saying every drop of water comes from on-site rain barrels. He has no problem with municipal water, aside from a bit of nervousness regarding chlorine, but says he uses rainwater because it’s available and abundant and doesn’t use municipal water reserves.
He also said, when the plants make it outside, watering them should be done in the morning, not at night.
“A lot of people will say to water at night, saying the water evaporates during the day,” he said. “I say water in the morning because, when you water at night, it stays damp all night and invites mildew and fungus.”
Sunlight is also important, meaning that plants indoors need either sunlight or grow lamps, and require it 16 hours a day.
As a result of that, Mooy said growing a garden that will feed a family all spring isn’t going to be a way to save money, if it’s done his way.
“Those lamps eat up electricity,” he said. “My bill from last month was $100 higher than normal.”
He also said keeping a spot warm enough for indoor growing gets expensive for heating.
“It’s not about saving money,” he said. “It’s a passion. People… are gardening for their own pleasure.”
Composting is also important, he said, though Mooy said he plans on changing how he handles his own compost pile.
“I’m still learning,” he said. “I realized this year I hadn’t built the best compost pits. They say if you want a quick return, you need to be able to turn it, and I’m changing my own boxes next year so I can turn the compost more easily.”
Compost makes for good soil and also, occasionally makes for “volunteers”, Mooy said.
“When I use the compost, sometimes volunteers show up,” he said, referring to plants that grow without him planting them or seeds. “Occasionally, little tomatoes or cucumber plants will show up from the compost, or from where they were tilled under the year before.”
For those looking for the most bang for their green thumb work, Mooy said that tomatoes, green peppers, onions and leeks are some of his best producers, feeding him and his wife Marlene through the winter.
“Marlene is still making soup out of the tomatoes, green peppers, onions, leeks and parsley from last year,” he said, explaining she chops the ingredients then freezes them for soup. “She’ll throw cauliflower in with it and we eat soup all winter. Sometimes there are noodles and a beef bone, sometimes it’s made with homemade meatballs, but the base comes from the garden and nothing from last year’s crop was wasted.”
While most plants are seasonal, he said some can be used all year round like multiplier onions, which produce more than one bulb per plant. He said you can keep them going all winter long in a pot, taking them out as necessary.