Mark Cullen’s 10 Tips for Growing Vegetables


Take it from a gardening expert, with the right techniques, successful vegetable gardening can be easy, fun, healthy and oh so satisfying!

1. Grow organic

Your vegetable garden provides the best opportunity to enjoy the benefits of organic gardening. You can provide healthy and safe food right from your own garden. Your success depends on proper soil preparation, which is especially true of vegetable gardening.

2. Chase the sun

Locate your vegetable garden in as much sun as possible. Except for leaf lettuce and spinach, vegetables and herbs require no fewer than six hours of sunlight each day. If possible, plant vegetables in a south-facing location. If that isn’t possible, choose a southeastern or southwestern exposure.

3. Feed the soil

Before planting, the entire vegetable garden should be covered with three to eight centimetres (one to three inches) of finished compost. You can work this layer of compost into the garden with a Rototiller or spade, or let the earthworms do it for you.

4. Cultivate the soil

Vegetables like loose and friable soil (meaning easy to turn over and dig), which enables roots to grow readily and quickly. This is particularly true of root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, radishes and potatoes. Their roots will often fork or become misshapen in compacted or heavy soil.

5. Follow the sun

If you have space enough to plant your vegetables in rows, orient them north to south, and plant the tallest vegetables at the east end with plant heights decreasing toward the west end. This way, the tall plants won’t shade the shorter plants later in the day as the sun moves from east to west.

6. Manage your watering

Vegetables need daily watering when at the seedling stage. Thereafter, water consistently as the surface of the soil becomes dry. In locations exposed to winds, more watering may be needed. This can be overcome by laying down a thick layer of organic mulch to conserve moisture in the soil.

7. Discover the magic of mulch

Mulch helps retain moisture, encourages earthworms and fosters microbial activity in the soil. I apply finely ground-up cedar bark throughout the growing season. Mulch will also dramatically reduce your weeding.

8. Time it right

The best planting times for individual vegetables are often given in the number of weeks before or after the last spring frost. Likewise, the sowing of late-harvest vegetables is usually indicated by the number of weeks before the first fall frost. Average first and last frost dates can be found for your area at

9. Learn from farmers: Crop rotation

Plants in the same family tend to be vulnerable to the same insects and diseases. Keeping plants from the same family in separate beds one year, and relocating those plants to new beds the following year may save your vegetables from predation. Rotating crops in this way also helps keep the soil fertile by allowing light-feeders to occupy soil depleted by heavy-feeders.

10. Make free fertilizer

Rake fallen leaves onto the vegetable garden each autumn. Nothing comes closer to perfection than a garden that has been fed a steady diet of fallen leaves, which are natural soil insulators. Leaf mulch also promotes the activity of beneficial insects, such as earthworms. Pile dry leaves up to 50 centimetres (18 inches) thick (or 20 centimetres (eight inches) if they’re wet). Hose them down as you pile them on the soil to prevent them from blowing away. During the freeze-and-thaw cycles of winter, the leaves will mat down in a thin layer that will prevent the germination of weed seeds come spring and will reduce the need for watering until early summer.