Gardening Tips for Growing Vegetables

May 27, 2021

These tips are specific for Alberta Plant Hardiness Zone 3a, northern latitude at Mayerthorpe, AB. You may need to make some adjustments to suit your growing area.

Seed Suppliers

I like to purchase my seeds from Heritage Harvest Seed out of Manitoba. They advertise all their seed as being open pollinated, non-hybrid, non-GMO, untreated, natural seed. Their website is at I’ve had very good success with germination and production with these seeds, but I am also careful to only purchase seed varieties that are for a short growing season. If you want to purchase seed from someone local, Denise O’Reilly from Cherhill also sells similar seeds and I’m trying a few of her seeds this year. Her website is

When to Plant

Growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan, we always had a huge garden and Mom was an excellent gardener. She always waited until the May long weekend to plant her garden, and her transplants didn’t go into the garden until a week or two after that (early June). Some of her neighbors planted their gardens earlier but by early summer, Mom’s garden seemed to always catch up to theirs. I think it helps the plants to wait until the soil is a bit warmer before planting. So, I have followed that same advice and had good success with my garden as well. Mayerthorpe is at a similar latitude to my hometown growing up, and it seems to work well here to wait till the May long weekend.

Starting Seedlings for Transplanting

The main seeds I start inside are tomatoes. Again, I choose varieties with a short growing season and then start them indoors in individual cups at the very beginning of April. They sit in a sunny location (with a clear lid over them at first) by a south facing window. As the weather warms up in May, I place them out during the day in a sheltered area to harden them off (acclimatize them to outside temperatures and weather conditions). Eventually, they stay outside in their little pots both day and night, providing it doesn’t freeze or get too cold at night.  They get transplanted into the garden in early June.


Garden Location

Everyone's yard is different, but if you have options, try to find a spot with lots of sun exposure to the south and not too many trees to block the light and warmth from your vegetables. My garden has good sun exposure and has a slight slope downwards towards the south. This helps with drainage on wet years. 



The health of your soil is of vital importance to producing a good crop. Every year, we add nutrients to the soil, as the vegetable plants take a lot out of the soil. If you just keep taking nutrients from your garden and never adding any back, it will not produce well. The best thing to add is animal manure (composted). Adding plant compost back into the garden is somewhat helpful but isn’t nearly as good as the compost that is produced from animals. We have also added peat into the soil some years to lighten up the heavy clay a bit.


When necessary, I water my garden plants with warm water from a nearby pond. Since the water is already warmish, it doesn’t shock the plants and slow down their growth any. The water from our well is much colder and ideally would be allowed to warm up before using on the plants.

Keeping Unwanted Critters Out

In the country, we can have many unwanted critters in our gardens, eating the produce just before we can enjoy it! Aside from our Livestock Guardian Dogs who chase deer and other wild animals away, we also place an electric fence around the garden with some flagging tape or other shiny markers on it. If the curious deer notice the bright object on the fence, they sniff it and get a shock, thus deterring them from entering the garden even though they could easily jump over the fence. Many people build very tall fences around their gardens, only to have the deer jump over top them and eat from the produce inside the protection of the fence! We have found the electric fence and dog combination has worked well for us.

Garden Cleanup

For those of you in the country that own pigs, your fall cleanup can be hired out cheaply! The pigs will very happily clean up and rototill your garden for you, in exchange for the food they find! If you’ve already trained your pigs to electric fence, it can be fairly simple to place them in the garden in fall, and they fertilize it for next year as they rototill it!

Roxane Penner

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