Seven Tips for First Time Gardeners

In this blog post I am reviving the memory of my former self, digging around in my parent’s front yard, and giving her advice on how to have some success in the garden. I’ve tried to keep my tips simple and easy to apply because I know how overwhelming the subject of gardening can be when you’re new to it.


1. Grow what you already use

Never cooked with swiss chard? Don’t grow it! Well I shouldn’t say that so definitively, but if you’re new at gardening, you’ll likely get more satisfaction per square foot if you grow familiar favourites.


2. Keep it simple

Learning to garden is hard enough, you’ll be more successful if you keep it simple. One way to keep it simple is to purchase the plants that would need to be started indoors early, and grow crops from seed that can be direct sown right into your garden.

Here are some good plants to buy and transplant to your garden: tomatoes, peppers, basil, lettuce, kale, swiss chard, onions, sage, thyme, oregano, rosemary.

Here are some plants you can start from seed directly in your garden: lettuce, arugula, spinach, carrots, beets, basil, kale, swiss chard, green onions, cilantro, dill.


3. Go deep

Plants not only thrive when their roots go deep and can access minerals, micronutrients and water in the subsoil, but each plant can be spaced closer together because their roots are utilizing vertical space instead of horizontal. Spacing closer together means less weeds, more food and better water retention!

In order to encourage deep, downward root growth, the soil below needs to be aerated because over time compaction occurs. In order to achieve this, gardeners often “double dig,” basically  meaning they dig out their garden bed really deep then put the soil back (but with the subsoil and topsoil piled separately so they don’t mix). But recently small scale farmers have been using a broadfork (basically a broad garden fork) which is much quicker and less disruptive to the soil structure.

In a small garden, I don’t see why a garden fork couldn’t be used in just the same way.

Here’s how to do it: Start at the front of your bed. Insert broadfork or garden fork as deep as you can (by jumping on it). Once it’s in, pull back by about 20*, just until the soil cracks, but before it crumbles. The idea isn’t to mix up your soil, but just bring some air into it which will allow the ecosystem in the soil to take care of the rest. Walk backward 8-12″ and repeat until your whole bed has been forked.

Try not to walk on your garden beds which cause compaction, especially when wet.


4. Weeds: A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

Don’t wait until your weeds are big enough to pull by hand, use the time old tool: the “hoe”. When weeds are literally just germinating, lightly “scratch” the surface of your soil to decapitate or disrupt your eeny weeny weeds. Do this every 10 days or so and you’ll slash your weeding time down to almost nothing. You can purchase little hand hoes and cultivating tools if you have a very small garden. Eventually your crops will produce a big enough canopy that weeds won’t have enough light to grow.


5. Compost

Want a successful garden? Put compost on it!!! You can purchase bags of compost from hardware stores, garden centers and even grocery stores. Resist the temptation to use your own backyard compost unless it has had multiple years to decompose, is black and crumbly and smells earthy and good. Composting is a bit of a science and if you put still-decomposing matter onto your garden you could harm your plants.


6. Water deep

A light dusting of water on your plants every day will do them no good. Soil is what needs the water and it needs the water deep. Light, frequent watering can make the plant roots kind of lazy and stay on the surface instead of growing deep and strong. The most important time to make sure your plants have water is when they’ve just been sown or transplanted. Afterwards, rain is really the best drench a garden could get and is often enough.


7. Quality Seeds & Stock

Sometimes poor plant performance isn’t your fault. Don’t waste your time growing those dollar store seeds!



I hope you learned something!

I have been spending many blissful hours in the greenhouse growing seedlings for your garden to help you along the way to gardening success! Find us at the Trinity Bellwoods Farmers’ Market in Toronto and the Collingwood Downtown Farmers’ Market.


Glynis MacLeod

Farmer, flower picker, dreamer, thinker, lover of 19th c. Russian literature.


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