I have talked about growing my own vegetables for a couple of years now. I just didn’t get serious about it until COVID-19 hit. This global pandemic forced many us to stay around our homes more; making us slow down a little, and try some new hobbies. Vegetable growing is one of these new hobbies that I attempted.

I’m proud to say that during my first year of growing my own vegetables, I harvested hundreds of cherry tomatoes, enough to get me through the summer and fall months!

How I Got Started With Vegetable Growing

I wanted to grow vegetables that I use a lot of, and those that were pretty easy to grow in our Canadian climate. I’m more of a hands on learner, versus a researcher, so I reached out to a few people who grow their own veggies to figure out the ones I’d be most successful with. Tomatoes topped the list, which is great because I add tomatoes to a ton of my dishes. And I was pleased to find out that bell peppers, one of my favourite veggies, were quite easy to grow as well. I thought it’d be fun to also grow an herb. I picked one my husband doesn’t really like, cilantro. This would allow me to grab it fresh from the garden as I needed it, versus buying it and having it always go bad with me being the only one eating it.

So, after getting my wonderful husband to build a fully enclosed planter box to keep out the hundreds of pesky squirrels we have in our neighborhood, we got a couple of tomato plants, a few pepper plants, some cilantro and we were off!

2 Benefits of Growing Your Own Veggies

1. Personal satisfaction and pride. It’s so fulfilling to go out into your own garden and pick the tomatoes you grew, to add to your dinners. When my plants started showing that we were going to get hundreds of cherry tomatoes this year, I couldn’t wait to brag to my fellow vegetable growers! I had a friendly vegetable growing competition going on for the bulk to the summer with a few people. This makes the whole growing experience, more fun!

2. Better tasting, fresher produce. I could pick my tomatoes and peppers and keep them in the fridge for over 2 weeks without them even starting to look like they were going bad! These veggies definitely have a much longer shelf life than the grocery store versions. This proved to me again, how long it must take for out-of country produce to reach us in the stores. Transported winter produce can sometimes go rotten within days!

A Few Tips on Vegetable Growing

1. Do a little research on your own before starting.

Again, I’m the kind of person who’s very hands-on. I didn’t do any reading about how to grow what we put in the garden so I was bound to have a few misses. I didn’t have much luck with growing cilantro since I let my cilantro flower, which happened within days. When the flowering happens, the herb doesn’t even look like what you’re used to buying in the grocery store. And it tastes like soap! I also planted it in dry soil that has the sun hitting it for most of the day. Had I done a little reading, I would have quickly found out that cilantro survives best in moist conditions and it should be pruned often.

Another mistake I made early on, is not researching how tall tomato plants grow. I just tossed them into the garden with the flimsy plastic trellis they came with, and left them. After about one week, I was dismayed to find out a few of the branches with little tomatoes growing, had already snapped off, killing my first harvest! This happened because I hadn’t researched how tall and heavy the vegetables grew. They needed some type of strong support trellis to grow up and within the cage. After replanting them with this support, my plants grew leaps and bounds!

2. Plan to spend some money on your gardens, especially in the first year.

I was shocked to learn it cost over $400 to build and set-up our first planter box. Wood sure isn’t cheap, and we didn’t even use the solid cedar wood like you’re supposed to! And the Miracle Grow soil that we used for our garden box, jacked the price up even further. Next year, we’ll only have to top up the soil and buy our plants, so we’re expecting the costs to be well below $100.

3. Give yourself space, lots of space!

Our tomato plants got so big and strong, they tried to push our planter cage right off! The setting we planted them in, definitely stifled some of their potential growth. I will bury the plants a little deeper in the soil next year, or try increasing the height of our planter box cage. Regarding my peppers, I wanted to buy as many plants as possible and fit them all into the veggie box to maximize our space. Well that wasn’t too smart! We crammed in each pepper plant only 3-4 inches apart. Had I done the research, I would have learned that they grow best if they’re planted 18-24 inches a part. The tight growing space ended up stifling the growth of two plants completely. I only grew 7 peppers this year due to it.

I’ve also seen a few friends’ zucchini plants, and I’m shocked at how big they grow! You definitely need room for those! Probably a little more room than our small Toronto backyard will provide us with.

4. Start Small and Grow into it.

I’m glad we started our veggie growing experience by only building one planter box this year. We usually launch full bore into hobbies, but this realistic approach ensured that we liked it, before investing more of our precious space into veggie growing next year. Next year I plan to place a number of smaller, netted pots around the backyard for our peppers, versus building another expensive planter box. This will give me the flexibility to move the plants into the shade a little more if we end up having an extremely hot summer like we did this year.

To Sum it up…My First Vegetable Growing Experience

If you want to be set-up for success when it comes to growing your own vegetables, do your research. Also, give yourself adequate growing room to allow your veggies to flourish! I had a lot of fun growing my own vegetables this year. This is definitely one new hobby I won’t be giving up anytime soon! Give it a try next year.