You don't need a farm or a large yard to enjoy growing your own fruits and vegetables. Growing food is relaxing and food you grow yourself always tastes better than commercial grocery produce.
Before deciding what you want to grow, find the perfect location and consider how much time and effort you want to put into your garden.
Here are three steps to guide you as you plant your urban vegetable garden.
1. Get Started
Pick a location: Look for a sunny spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun each day. If you are planting in the ground, monitor potential sites this spring to be sure of good drainage (there should be no puddles after rain).
Know your soil: every garden needs soil that is nutrient rich and has plenty of organic matter. You can add compost easily but if you aren't sure if your soil has ample nutrients, send a sample away for analysis.(https://novascotia.ca/agri/documents/lab-services/analytical-lab-soil-analysis.pdf).
Dig in: pick from container gardening on the balcony, raised and in-ground gardens or join a local community garden. Here's the pros and cons of each option to help you decide what's right for you.
- Pros: perfect for small spaces, even an urban balcony - make sure your containers are deep enough for roots to grow (at least 12-18" in diameter for leafy veg and 3 gallon containers for cucumbers or tomatoes; lots of sun and drainage is key - never use regular soil because it will compact and water won't drain properly)
- Cons: need frequent (often daily) watering when it's hot and sunny - try herbs, greens or grow dwarf varieties developed and sold by many seed companies for use on balconies or small areas
- Pros: community gardens offer opportunities to interact with your neighbours, encourage environmental sustainability and promote active living while making your neighbourhood more beautiful; plant veggies, fruit, herbs, flowers or ornamental plants in a common area with shared upkeep and individual garden plots
- Cons: very popular so there may be a waiting list
- Pros: easy to customize soil, plant more intensively and customize soil; soil in raised beds heat up faster in the spring so you can plant earlier; flexible heights make it easier on your back and knees; look for long-lasting hemlock as a long lasting and affordable alternative to cedar
- Cons: while they don't drain as quickly as containers, you may need to water and fertilize more often than with in ground gardens; initial costs may be higher than growing in the ground
In Ground Gardens
- Pros: this method is usually the most economical although your existing soil may need testing and/or amendments; you will need to water less often than with containers or raised beds
- Cons: you must work with what Mother Nature has given you including rocky soil, tree roots or poor soil
2. Pick What (and When) to Plant
Learn what grows well in your area by visiting nurseries or talking with other gardeners. Then, pick what you like to eat and determine when to plant it.
Seeds vs Transplanted Seedlings
Seeds are an inexpensive way to grow food and offer a way to grow a much wider (and exotic) range of varieties. However, they require more effort because some need to be started indoors and you will need to wait longer to harvest food grown from seed sown directly in the ground
Transplanted seedlings are handy to get new or busy gardeners started. They do cost more than growing from seed and you will have a more limited number of varieties of plants to pick from. Overall, transplanted seedlings from a nursery is a great option to consider if you are short on space, time or experience.
When to Plant
Warm spring weather makes it tempting to get seeds and transplants in the ground. Be sure to know when the last frost date is for your area by looking on line or asking at your local nursery. Even then, a last minute cold snap can hurt or kill tender plants. Peas, broccoli and other varieties however, can tolerate cold so do your homework. Check seed packages or ask at your garden center
So Happy Together!
Plant edibles that require similar amounts of water and sunlight in the same bed or container. Known as companion planting, this can help maximize space and time. For example, grow tomatoes, peppers and eggplant together; they all like warm weather and must be planted out after the frost warning have waned. Edge beds with basil and parsley that enjoy the same growing conditions. Or, plants kale and chard together; both are quick and easy to grow although kale prefers cool weather while chard is less particular.
3. Tend and Harvest!
Preparing and planting your garden takes a little bit of planning and time but is well worth the effort. Once done, all you need to do is basic maintenance.
Feed: Add compost at the beginning of the season and then we find it easy to use either an organic water soluble fish fertilizer as the season progresses
Hydrate: start with moist soil before you plant seeds or transplants. Then, water deeply as needed making sure to water the roots and soil around plants and not the leaves or edible material. Add mulch around seedlings to help retain moisture and reduce soil from splashing on leaves.
Weed: monitor your garden and remove weed sprouts as you see them rather than letting them grow and rob your soil of nutrients. Avoid weed control products in edible gardens.
Resow: fast growing radish and lettuce seeds can be resown every few weeks to ensure a continuous supply of salad.
We think there is nothing more magical or delicious than eating fresh food from your garden....little tomatoes that you pluck off the vine and pop in your mouth are amazing!
So roll up your sleeves and get growing!