Food gardening has been an important trend over the last few years thanks to rising health consciousness and environmental awareness. COVID-19 has turned this trend into something more akin to the Victory Gardens of the past.
Suddenly, everyone wants to grow their own, but because of COVID-19 restrictions, this has been a very difficult year to start.
In March, our city went into lockdown, causing many of our horticultural businesses to close and events such as Seedy Saturday to be cancelled. Online seed sales went through the roof, so many companies had to shut down their sites so they could catch up with orders.
Our spring weather wasn’t favourable either, but in retrospect (at least in terms of gardening) maybe that was a good thing. Now the garden centres have reopened and the weather has finally warmed up. Let the planting season begin!
Where will your garden be?
My advice is to learn as much as you can about what you want to grow and be willing to experiment, whatever your location.
My colleague, Holly Reid, has been growing vegetables in her Leaside backyard for five years with varying degrees of success. She experiments with both seeds and seedlings and keeps a journal to record her results. Last year she planted jalapeño seedlings from the same flat in the garden bed and some in a container. “The difference was phenomenal! The ones in the pot did so much better, yielding dozens of peppers, versus one or two anemic-looking ones from the garden,” she told me.
Holly believes her biggest problem is the roots from the large silver maple and a row of cedars that rob her vegetables of water and nutrients. Her solution has been to install raised beds.
In May, she planted the cool season crops of carrots, beets, kale, radishes, spinach, lettuce and arugula, all from seeds saved from last year. Now she is sowing pole beans, swiss chard, zucchini and nasturtiums (for a hit of colour), and adding tomato and pepper seedlings.
Like Holly, I have large trees to deal with, but mine are in a courtyard jampacked with evergreens and only a few areas that receive full sun. My solution has been to plant in containers only and simply leave them where they are best suited or move them around to increase their sun exposure. I use both seeds and seedlings too, but I’ve become a bit of a seed snob over the years and use only those that are organic, untreated and open pollinated. My favourites come from Urban Harvest.
Growing food on balconies is very different but definitely doable. Every floor higher becomes another micro climate with more extremes of heat and wind, and you may not receive any rainfall. But I have had a lot of success with balcony gardens. Experiment with container planting and choose crops according to your conditions. South- and west-facing balconies can grow both fruit and veg (if not shaded by another building), but even north-facing balconies can produce a good and steady supply of fresh salad greens.
Yes, you can grow food indoors! With hydroponic gardening, you can grow some fruit, vegetables and herbs inside your home and without any soil.
Hydroponic garden kits are available at both Home Depot and Canadian Tire or through a number of sites online.
Growing your own food can be challenging. It requires homework, physical work, some money and a lot of patience. But over time, it becomes less expensive, easier and even more rewarding. The best part is, once you have a crop, you can share and trade with neighbours and friends. This will increase your bounty – and your joy.