Monday, April 30, 2012

Choosing Which Vegetables to Grow in Your Garden

One of my favorite parts of growing an organic vegetable garden at home is choosing which vegetables to plant. All winter long I thumb through seed catalogs, dog air the pages, and make lists of which veggies to grow on whatever scrap paper is handy.

Since I’ve been growing my own garden for so long, I have a list of staples that I grow every year like cucumbers, beans and tomatoes. If you’re new to gardening, you may not have your own list of staples yet or know which vegetables to grow.

Seeing as there are so many vegetables and varieties out there, the possibilities are endless. I have a few tips to make choosing a little easier for you.

Choose Vegetables that You Eat

If you take any of my advice about choosing which vegetables to grow, this would be the advice to follow. Grow veggies that you and your family eat; it’s that simple. Answer the following 3 questions to make a list of staples to grow in your garden.

  1. What vegetables are in your fridge right now?
  2. Which veggies do you and your family eat the most?
  3. Which vegetables do you spend the most money on at the grocery store?

Grow Vegetables with a Purpose

Why are you growing vegetables in your home garden? Are they for eating fresh, preserving or perhaps selling? Knowing the answer to this question will help you choose which vegetable varieties to grow.

I make bread-n-butter pickles every year, so I always plant a variety of pickling cucumbers. I grow beans to eat fresh and freeze etc. Since I know in advance what I’ll be doing with my veggies, it makes it easier for me to choose which varieties to grow and how many.

For the past few years I’ve experimented with different vegetables that I’ve never grown before. Last year it was garlic and this year it’s kohlrabi. I do this to see if the vegetables are worth growing to me. Can I dry it, can or freeze it besides eating it fresh? 

When I choose veggies to grow, I choose them because they serve a purpose for me. This method works for me because it helps keep me and my vegetable garden in check. During my first summer break from college I wanted to grow everything and anything - and I tried.

What happened was I didn’t have enough time or space to grow everything I had planted. I spaced my vegetables way to close which led to scraggly plants and poor production. I didn’t have enough time to work in my garden and the weeds quickly took over.

By the end of the summer I wasn’t happy with my garden but I learned a valuable lesson. Only plant what you eat and follow spacing and growing guidelines for a better crop. Sometimes less really is more.

What staples do you grow in your vegetable garden? Is there a veggie you’re dying to try growing this year? Why?

Image: winnond /

Friday, April 27, 2012

3 Tips for Figuring Out Where to Plant Vegetables

When it comes time for planting your garden whether your using seeds, seedlings, or both, do you know where each vegetable is going to go? I prefer to have a rough idea of where my vegetables will be going before I head out to the garden. I’m going to share with you my tips for figuring out where to plant vegetables.

Tip #1: Observe Sunlight

Before doing anything, observe your garden over the course of a sunny day. Does the entire garden receive sunlight, maybe one area more than others? Where does the sun hit the garden first? Trust me, knowing this will come in handy when it comes time to plant.

If I stand facing my garden with my back to my house, the sun hits the left side first and then creeps over the rest of the garden throughout the day. Some areas receive more sun than others and I know which area receives sun last.

Tip #2: Know Plant Heights

Knowing just how tall specific plants grow goes along way towards figuring out where to plant vegetables. Look at the back of your seed packets and use a little common sense to determine which vegetables are going to grow the tallest, like corn.

Plant taller vegetables in the areas of your garden that receive sunlight last. This will prevent them from blocking the sun from your other plants. Keep planting from tallest to shortest or vice versa.

Tip #3: Follow Sun Requirements

Different vegetables have different sun requirements. Some need full sun while others thrive in partial shade. Sun requirements can be found on the back of seed packets and in seed catalogs.

Figuring out where to plant vegetables in the garden can be done with a little preparation before heading outdoors. Remember to rotate your crops each year to avoid depriving your garden of nutrients. Follow the above tips as best as you can, after all, no garden is perfect – mine certainly isn’t.

If you’re planting seedlings and are not sure about their sun and other planting requirements, check out for instructions. Click the name of the vegetable in question in the “Growing Vegetables Guide” for full planting instructions.

What methods do you use for figuring out where to plant your vegetables?

Image: Simon Howden /

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Putting in a New Garden Bed by Hand

I spent a few hours on Friday afternoon putting in a new garden bed by hand. I turned a steep slope that had to be weed whacked every week into a place for my onions to grow. I figured why not. 

Turning a small section of the lawn that was too steep to mow into a new garden bed was a win – win considering I want to delve a little deeper into sustainable vegetable gardening.

Now, doing this all by hand was a bit of work. After all I had to use quite a bit of muscle and sweat to transform an otherwise useless space into something workable. My new garden bed is roughly 7’ x 12’ (I’m really bad at estimating measurements, even small ones.)

(I sill had a bit of digging to do in the lower left hand corner of this picture)

Step 1: Digging Out the Grass

I used a spade with a long handle and dug up the existing grass. I worked from bottom to center and then top to center to create my new garden bed. Working from the bottom was easier because I didn’t have to balance myself on the steep hill. Mind you, I didn’t want to compact the grass by stepping on it before digging it up.

The grass roots were pretty shallow so I was able to angle the spade under the grass and lift the roots. Some areas were easier to work than others. After loosening the roots I was able to shovel most of the grass, clump by clump, into my wheelbarrow. For the stubborn clumps I used a hand spade to loosen the roots and removed them by hand.

Step 2: Removing the Debris in the New Garden Bed

After all the grass was gone, I removed any stragglers and ripped out a few stubborn blades where they remained. I also picked out the rocks I found. I noticed some stubborn root systems still embedded in my new garden bed so I removed those as well.

Step 3: Adding Compost/Tilling/Leveling

The soil in my new garden bed looked pretty good but I added a dose of compost anyway. My compost consists of kitchen scraps and leaves. It’s a great way to add nutrients to the soil organically.

Trying to keep with the sustainable garden idea, I tilled in the 2" of compost I added by hand. This took a bit of time but my new garden bed isn’t very big so it was definitely doable. Once the tilling was finished I leveled the soil with the backside of a metal rake.

Step 4: Making Raised Rows in the New Garden Bed

I decided to make raised rows in my new garden bed for 2 reasons. First, I needed some space to be able to move between each row. The trenches left between the raised rows act like shelves on the steep hill giving me a somewhat comfortable place to walk.

Secondly, since I was putting in onions and know they grow better in raised beds, I figured I'd give them a little treat and raise the rows a bit. (I didn’t put in a raised bed)

Step 5: Putting the Onions in

On Saturday I put my onion sets in the new garden bed spacing them about 4” apart and covering them with about 2” of loose soil. My rows ended up being a good 6” inches apart. I knew we were getting rain on Sunday morning so I didn’t water my sets right away which is recommended.

We ended up getting a Nor’ Easter with rain Sunday into Monday so my onions got more rain than I was expecting. (We’ll see how they turn out) It’s still a bit early to be sowing vegetables here in Maine, but onions are pretty hardy and can withstand freezing temperatures. They can even over winter in the ground so I’m not worried should we get another frost.

Since I knew I was putting in my onion sets the next day, I went ahead in put in my new garden bed not worrying about weeds overtaking the bed before it was time to plant.

(Looking from Top to Bottom)

I took several water breaks during the time spent putting in my new garden bed. It was pretty hot for April in Maine, in the 80’s I believe, and I wanted to enjoy my time spent outdoors. As you can see in the first picture, my cat kept me company and seemed to enjoy my new garden bed as much, if not more, than I did. 

Additional Reading

Images By: Patrice Beaulieu (all rights reserved ©)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Understanding Maine’s USDA Zones

If you’re going to garden in Maine, then you should have a firm understanding of which zone we’re in and what types of fruits and veggies grow best in our neck of the woods. Knowing your zone also comes in handy when it comes time for planting.

Maine falls in USDA zones 3a - 6a. Many of us, particularly in central Maine, live in Zone 4 - 5. USDA zones are used to classify which types of fruits and vegetables, trees and shrubs etc. grow best in specific areas of the country. Zones are based on the average annual minimum temperatures.

Maine USDA Zones by County

If you’re not sure which Maine zone you live in, check out this map of USDA Zones in Maine. The map also lists the average minimum temperatures for each zone which covers Zones 3a to 6a. 

Planting in USDA Zones 3a to 6a

When it comes to planting shrubs and trees, you’ll need to plant varieties that thrive in the zone you live in. If not, your shrubs and trees most likely won’t come back year after year. When it comes to planting vegetables, you’re best bet is to follow the planting schedule for your zone.

When gardening in Maine, always sow your seeds and plant seedlings outdoors after the last frost. In Maine, our average last frost date is May 2nd and our average first frost date is October 6th which makes our growing season about 156 days long.

Tips for Vegetable Gardening in Maine

1. Start seeds indoors 2 weeks before the last expected frost. Certain vegetables transplant well while others should be seeded directly into the ground. Here’s a chart of vegetables to be seeded/transplanted

2. Plant early varieties of vegetables. Check out this handy list of early vegetable varieties to grow in the north

3. Some seeds, such as pumpkinsand watermelons, can be started indoors 4 - 6 weeks before the last projected frost date

4. Use floating row covers or black plastic mulch to keep soil temperatures warm

What tips do you have for growing an organic vegetable garden in Maine's short growing season? Are there any varieties of vegetables you think grow better than others in our climate?


Friday, April 20, 2012

Choosing Vegetable Seeds for the Northern Garden

With so many brands and varieties of vegetable seeds on the market, it can be a little overwhelming when choosing which ones to buy, especially for the first time gardener. Asking yourself a few questions will help simplify the process.

Tips for Choosing Vegetable Seed Varieties

1. What are the vegetables going to be used for? Choose vegetable seeds based on their primary purpose such as eating fresh or freezing and preserving. Some varieties freeze and can better than others. Seed catalogues always list which varieties freeze and can well in their descriptions.

2. How big of a yield do you want? If you’ve ever thumbed through a seed catalogue you’ve probably noticed the phrase “prolific grower” or “high yielding.” This means that particular variety of vegetable produces lots of fruit. If you want lots of vegetables, choose a variety that produces a high yield.

3. How long is your growing season? Here in Maine we have a short growing season. For this reason, when it comes to choosing vegetable seeds it’s best to choose those with shorter days to germination. This tip comes in really handy when growing watermelon, pumpkins and other vegetables that take longer to produce mature fruit. Days to germination is listed in catalogues and on the back of seed packets.

Tips for Choosing Vegetable Seed Brands

  • If you’re new to vegetable gardening, ask your friends, family, and neighbors which brands of vegetable seeds they trust the most. You may get a few different responses but it will leave you with a variety of options to choose from.
  • Experiment with different brands. Over the next few years as you continue to grow vegetables, you’ll get a feel for which brands you like best.
  • Use the internet to read reviews and mission statements about different brands and seed companies to find one that you like.
  • Support a local seed company. Here in Maine we have our very own seed company called Johnny's Selected Seeds. You can request a free catalogue online or order vegetable seeds directly from their website.

 Do you have any praises or gripes about a particular brand of vegetable seeds?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Soil Preparation: Getting Those Gardens Ready

Its spring and we all know what the means; it’s almost time for us to plant our vegetable gardens here in Maine. But before we head outside to sow our seeds, there are a few things we need to do.

Have you ever heard the term soil amendment? Basically, this term means to change the soil by adding to it and making it suitable for the types of vegetables you want to grow.

Amending the soil in your garden in pretty easy. The first thing I do is take a look at it. What color is it? Pick up a few handfuls of soil and run it through your fingers. What’s the texture like?

Now, you can go out and buy one of those soil test kits to check the pH balance and other nutrients if you want. I’ve never used one and frankly have gotten along just fine without one. By the way, I don’t buy expensive fertilizers either but we’ll get into that a little later in the post.

Steps to Prepare Garden Soil

1. Pick out large rocks and other debris
2. Amend soil - (add organic fertilizer)
3. Till soil - This step mixes fertilizer into soil & loosens it for better root establishment
4. Level soil - Use the back side of a metal rake
5. Prepare rows/mounds for planting

How to Amend Garden Soil

Maine has rocky soil. If you’ve ever put in a new lawn, garden bed, or field for that matter, you’ve probably noticed. Thanks to the movement of glaciers through our great state many years ago, there are rocks and depressions of all sizes everywhere. This can be a pain when starting a new garden, but it doesn’t mean we can’t prepare a nutrient rich garden bed with a little work.

The best soil for gardens is loam. Loam is abundant in Maine. There are plenty of general contractors and construction companies that will be happy to sell you loam by the truckload or bucket load depending on how much you need.

I use loam mixed with cow manure in my garden and it works wonders. My brother has cows and is more than happy to bring me a load of manure. I never put fresh manure in my garden - only year old manure. Fresh manure can burn the roots of some plants.

With that being said, I have a special section of the garden reserved for my root vegetables. Root vegetables like carrots and radishes grow best in sandy soil. Sandy soil makes it easier for the roots of the plants to push through the soil and grow.

To amend the soil, layer organic compost or fertilizer a few inches thick over the garden bed and then till the soil to mix it in. Once the tilling is done, level the garden bed by using the backside of a metal rake.

Prepare Rows and Mounds

Knowing which types of vegetables you’ll be planting, how many, and where they are going to go ahead of time makes preparing a garden bed much easier. Before your seeds and transplants are ready to go into the ground, form mounds and rows according to seed packet and transplanting instructions. This saves time and energy when planting.     

Taking the time to prepare a garden bed a week or two before planting, in my opinion, makes getting the garden off to a good start easier. It’s less overwhelming, easier on the back, and is a great time saver.

What will you be doing to prepare your organic vegetable garden this spring?

Image: Image: Keattikorn /

Friday, April 13, 2012

Planning a Vegetable Garden in Maine

Planning a vegetable garden in the north is pretty easy whether you’re a native or new to the area. To help make planning your garden easier, I’ve come up with a list of questions to answer. You’re answers will help you decide what and how many vegetables to grow.

Planting Realistically

1. Why are you planting a vegetable garden?

2. How many people are in your household?

3. What are you going to do with your vegetables? (Preserving, eat fresh, both)

4. Which vegetables does your household eat?

5. How much space do you have for your garden?

6. How much time do you have to work in the garden?

It’s important to answer the above questions realistically. If you don’t have a lot of space, let’s say an apartment balcony, or you can only dedicate a few hours a week spent working in the garden, then those factors will go into planning your northern vegetable garden.

1. Why are you planting a vegetable garden? Is gardening a hobby of yours, something new you want to try, or a necessity to feed your family? Your answer will help determine how large a garden you’ll plant and how much time you’ll be spending in it.

2. How many people are in your household? This answer factors into how much of which vegetables to plant. If you’re going to provide veggies for your family year round, knowing how much to plant is of up most importance.

3. What are you going to do with your vegetables? (Preserving, eat fresh, both) Do you want to be able to make a couple of fresh salads during the summer or enough stewed tomatoes for the entire year? Decide how much of which vegetable you’re going to need.

4. Which vegetables does your household eat? Don’t waste your time planting vegetables no one in your household is going to eat. What types of fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables do you buy most often? Plan on planting more of those.

5. How much space do you have for your garden? If you have limited space, choose vegetable varieties wisely. Grow compact plants and bush varieties to save on space. Mix and match veggies in pots and along trellises.

6. How much time do you have to work in the garden? This is where you really need to get realistic. Growing a large and productive garden takes time and work. Factor in work, family, and summer activities, then decide how much time you have to spend planting, weeding, harvesting etc. The larger the garden, the more time you’ll need to dedicate.

Now that you have answers to these questions you know how much time you are willing to put into growing a vegetable garden. If you don’t have a lot of time or space for gardening, start small and grow a few of your favorites. After the growing season re-access and determine whether you can upscale or downscale your garden or leave it the way it is.

Image: Idea go /

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spring Cleaning the Vegetable Garden

Spring is finally here, though we haven’t really seen those warmer temperatures in Maine. Yes we were spoiled a few weeks back with sunny days reaching into the 80's, but now we’re back to typical Maine weather. Though all the wind we’ve had makes it a pain to rake, it sure does help dry things up.

If you’re like me, you’re itching to get outside and into the garden. I’ve waited all winter to dig my hands into the soil and spend my evenings outside quietly working away amongst my vegetables. Though we can’t quite plant our gardens yet, there are plenty of things to do in preparation.

Since I grow a big vegetable garden each year - organic of course, I always have plenty of things to do while waiting for the last threat of frost to pass and soil temperatures to warm. It may be early spring, but it’s never too early to get started.

Spring Cleaning To Do List

  • Plan! Decide which vegetables to plant, how many, and where
  • Buy Seeds (hold off on seedlings just yet) Order seeds from catalogues or scour the store shelves
  • Clear Garden Plot - Remove all debris from the garden plot (branches, trash, dead plants etc.)
  • Add Organic Fertilizer - Amend the garden now by adding an organic fertilizer and tilling into the soil
  • Prepare Rows - Stake out garden rows now and set up trellises etc. for growing vining vegetables. Marking rows now will make planting go a lot easier
  • Keep Weeds at Bay - Check the garden plot a few times a week and pull any weeds before they get out of hand
  • Tools - Dig out your garden tools for inspection. Make sure they’re clean and ready to go
This is what I’ll be doing until the end of April until early May when I’ll finally be able to get into the garden and sow my crop. I’ve already purchased my seeds and decided where I’ll be planting which vegetables, making sure to rotate my veggies so they aren’t planted in the same spots as last year.

I remove all dead plants in the fall because this helps cut down on the bad insect population in my garden - pests like to over winter under dead plant debris. My plot is still a little too wet for tilling so I’m going to have to hold off on that for another week or so and then add a good layer of year-old cow manure as fertilizer.

I’ve already cleared away the few branches that fell in my garden and anything else that blew in over the winter. While I patiently wait for April to cruise into May, I’ll be tidying up other areas of the yard and preparing my garden for this year’s harvest.

What’s on your spring cleaning to do list?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Introduction to Gibby's Garden

Image: Gibby's Garden
Hello world and welcome to Gibby’s Garden. For my first post I thought I’d introduce myself, the author of Gibby’s Garden, to the blogospehere. To get a grasp of what this blog is about, please check out the About Gibby’s Garden page.

About Me (Patrice)

With all formalities aside, I love to garden - period. To be more specific, I love growing organic vegetables from start to finish. There’s something about getting my hands dirty (I never seem to keep my garden gloves on for very long), smelling freshly tilled loam, and sowing every seed and gently transplanting seedlings into my garden that makes me feel fresh and renewed.

The work aspect of vegetable gardening gives me a sense of accomplishment and quiet frankly, is a great de-stresser for me. After 20+ years of gardening, first as a child with my parents and grandparents, then as an adult on my own, I still get excited as my first seedlings sprout from the ground.

Caring for my plants and watching them grow, bloom and finally produce makes all the work I put into my garden worthwhile. I like knowing that come early fall, the vegetables I’ve canned and frozen will provide a little extra something for my family over the long winter months.

Since I started vegetable gardening on my own almost 10 years ago, I’ve had a lot of hits and misses along the way. For instance, I quickly learned that the instructions on the back of seed packets are there for a reason and just because you think it’s a good idea to cram as many plants together thinking you’re saving on space, doesn’t mean that it is.

In short, I’ve picked up a lot of gardening tips and techniques over the years and I’d like to pass them along to you. Some of them I’ve learned the hard way, while others I’ve learned from reading books, blogs, and magazines.

If you’re a Maine organic vegetable gardener, then I think we’ll get along just fine. (You can be from anywhere really) I hope you come back to Gibby’s Garden as my blog gets off the ground and continues to grow. I’ll be sharing lots of how-to’s, advice and stories about organic vegetable gardening and I invite you to share yours.

Image: Simon Howden /