Lee Valley & Veritas Gardening
Lee Valley 40 Years  
  Volume 14, Issue 4 - April 2019    
How to Grow a Vegetable Garden – Part Three
If you’re new to this vegetable gardening stuff, I need you to understand two things about the upcoming gardening season:
  1. You will suddenly realize that nothing on God’s green earth is as miraculous as planting a seed, having it burst forth with life and then a few months later eating it with ketchup.

  2. You will flip between moods of euphoria and despair, often within seconds of each other.
The euphoria is the result of spending hours nurturing plants and growing your own food. The despair is the result of spending hours nurturing plants and growing your own food, which is devoured by pests before your very eyes.

That, my friends, is gardening. If you think you can handle all of that, you’re ready to move on to the next step in creating your vegetable garden – preparing your beds.

Bed Preparation

No matter what type of garden you decide you’re going to have (raised beds, no dig, pots), you have to prepare them for planting. That means you need to fill them with good, nutrient-rich soil.

Raised Beds: If you’re starting raised beds from scratch, you’re going to need enough soil to fill them. You can find soil calculators online that are easy to use. They will tell you exactly how much soil you need to fill any sized bed or pot.

In general, a 4’ x 4’ bed that’s 10” deep needs around ½ yard of soil (about 13.5 cubic feet). 70% of it should be good topsoil or potting soil, and the remaining 30% should be compost.

Regular Garden Beds: If you already have a garden area with exposed soil, you could just top up your soil with compost. For the first year, 6" of compost on top of the growing area will give your plants the nutrients they need. Every year after that, you can get away with 2" to 3" of compost on top of the soil. Normally this would be done in the fall, but it can also be done in the spring as part of your bed preparation.

But What about Digging, Turning and Rototilling?

It used to be that everyone thought the only way to get good, loose soil was to dig, till and turn it until your arms turned to spaghetti and your legs gave out from under you. With more and more information about soil composition, we’re now learning that rototilling hurts the soil more than it helps it. It breaks apart the natural soil structure, its layers and all the microbes within it. Rototilling is like building a house, knocking it down in the spring and then expecting it to rebuild itself. As long as you add nutrients in the form of compost, soil is really great at building itself with the help of worms, microbes and a bunch of other science-y stuff. If you’d like to learn more about the science-y stuff, just Google soil structure or no-dig gardening.

Because of this, I choose to use the no-dig gardening method. I have many raised beds (without wooden sides) that I put 2" to 3" of compost on every fall and that’s it. I don’t dig them, turn them or disturb them beyond planting and harvesting. Between the roots and worms, the beds are perfectly aerated and the compost provides the nutrients, which worms pull down into the deeper soil. For me the no-dig method is easy, effective, reduces weeds and creates beautiful, friable soil. It also completely eliminates spaghetti arms.
Row cover
Pests and Solutions

The time to stop pests is before you plant your first seed. Depending on where you live, different pests will affect your plants.

Slugs, Voles and Mice: Make sure your beds are clean of all debris that slugs like to feed on such as leaves and old rotting vegetables. Straw is a slug magnet. It gives them a dark, cozy place to hide. Ditto for voles and mice. They love digging, living and hiding in straw.

Sadly, I live in an area where there’s a highly intelligent being that’s something of a cross between Einstein and a shape-shifting superhero. It’s way smarter than I am. It’s a cabbage moth.

Cabbage Moths: The only solution that is 100% effective in controlling cabbage moths and the cabbage worms they spawn is to cover your crops with row cover. This can either be done by draping row cover or fine mesh over your plants, or by building a small hoop house. I’ve had the most success with building a hoop house on hinges. You can open and close it with ease, which makes weeding and accessing the vegetables easy. Plus, it keeps out 100% of cabbage moths.
Hoop house
See all the details and instructions on building this hinged hoop house.

Leek Moth: Leek moths aren’t widespread yet, but they will be. They came over from Europe and are making their way across North America. Leek moths start laying eggs in late April, so you need to deal with them now. Covering leeks with row cover is the best defense, but if you want to double up your attack you can also look into ordering parasitic wasps called Trichogramma. These seek out and kill the leek-moth eggs.

Plant Disease: The easiest way to transfer and maintain plant disease is to keep old diseased leaves and debris lying around your garden. Anything diseased should always be bagged and either hot composted or discarded. Never leave diseased leaves and vines in your garden. Remove them immediately. If you didn’t do that last fall, do it now.


Row cover

Yard bags for debris

Potting soil or topsoil


Wide garden rake for leveling soil/compost
Vegetable garden
What Can Be Planted This Month

If you’re starting your plants from seeds, you can plant these now so they’re ready to set out once the danger of frost has passed: tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, squash, corn, cucumber, melons, okra.

If you missed the seed-starting information, you can revisit it in the first article of this series. It’ll tell you what material you need and how to do it.

Now go buy that row cover. (And ketchup.)

Text and photos by Karen Bertelsen

Karen Bertelsen is a Gemini Award nominated television host who has appeared on some of Canada's major networks including HGTV, W Network, Slice and MuchMoreMusic. Seven years ago she started the blog The Art of Doing Stuff (
www.theartofdoingstuff.com) as a creative outlet for her writing and endless home projects. The Art of Doing Stuff now receives over half a million views per month and has been featured in Better Homes & Gardens, Style at Home and Canadian Gardening magazines.
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