Still time to grow your own vegetables this summer

Published on June 8, 2014

The phenomenon of growing veggies in your own yard just gets bigger. Last year, Canadian seed rack sales grew by more than 35 per cent, and this year is looking like a repeat performance.

My late father used to say that a seed packet and patch of soil was always your best bet for return on investment. How true. 

While many readers will have planted tomatoes and peppers, it should be noted that it is not too late to get out there and plant and sow your heart out.

Where transplants are concerned, you can still purchase them at garden retailers and plant them with reasonable expectations that they will produce a crop this season. It is not too late for tomatoes, peppers or spring onions.

It is also possible to sow some plants from seed and expect a crop. Zucchini, other summer squash and winter squash will mature just fine if you seed them now. Also, sweet corn (if you have the space), peas, beans, carrots, lettuce (leaf, head and bib) and beets will mature nicely, if a bit later than the earlier seeded crops in your garden.

There is plenty of time to put in two or three successive sowings of radish and leaf lettuce.


Grow great vegetables

The key to growing great vegetables is two fold: lots of sun and proper soil preparation. 

All veggies favour a loose, organic rich soil. Dig compost at least 30 centimetres or 12 inches deep into your existing soil. If you are planting carrots or other root crops the key is to open the soil up with generous quantities of sharp sand — known as ‘builder sand’ in the hardware trade. But do not use beach sand, which is too fine for the job. My carrot soil is at least 30 per cent sand by volume and I dig it down about 50 centimetres deep (18 inches).

For the veggies that you have already planted in the ground or in containers, here are some important tips to keep in mind if you wish your dreams of garden fresh produce to be realized this summer.

1. Water deeply. Keep in mind that all veggies need to get dry about four or five centimetres below the surface of the soil between watering once they are established.  Overwatering is a bigger problem for most gardeners than underwatering. That said, it is important to water generously when the need arises. Tomatoes are especially thirsty as they grow: mulch them with 30 cm of fresh, clean straw or five centimetres of finely ground up cedar or bark mulch. This insulating layer will reduce watering by up to 70 per cent.

Tomatoes top the list as hungry plants. To fertilize them this time of year I add an inch of finished compost around the roots of each plant before I add the straw mulch. You may choose to apply an organic or synthetic fertilizer specifically formulated for use on tomatoes.

Support tomatoes with a stake now, before they start to crawl over the ground. I use the spiral stakes that eliminate the need to tie the plants up for support. They also last forever. You can leave this investment in future tomato crops in your will. (There’s a Fathers’ Day gift idea!)

Prune out the suckers that appear between the main limbs of the tomato plant. Look for a young green shoot that squeezes its way between a lateral stem and the main stem of the plant and just rub it out with your thumb.

2. Weed control. Interesting thing about killing weeds in mid-June is this: all you have to do is move a fledgling weed seedling to kill it. Allow the plant to put down roots and you suddenly have an enormous job on your hands attempting to remove it. More than that, an established weed will compete with your desirable veggie plant, robbing it of valuable sunlight, water and soil born nutrients.

The best method for removing young weeds is still the traditional garden hoe. Be sure to sharpen it on a grinding wheel and keep the sharp edge with a garden file. I sharpen my hoe with a file every time I use it: this takes less than two minutes.

If you have large weeds in your garden, pull them out by hand after a generous rain or after you have watered deeply. This makes the job much easier than pulling them from dry soil.

Throw weeds into your compost bin if they are not in seed — otherwise send them out with your green waste.

If you are interested in trying something different in your veggie garden this year pick up one of the new ‘grape’ tomatoes. They really are sweet and a lot of fun to grow. 


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Mark Cullen is Canada’s best-known gardening broadcaster and writer. He is the spokesperson for Home Hardware Lawn and Garden. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at and watch him Wednesday mornings on Canada AM. His column, which focuses on our growing zone, appears in the Hants Journal every two weeks.