Wednesday, May 18, 2016

#GetGrowing: Your guide to growing your own food at home

By Mina Aboutorabian, with Annemarie Baynton, Sr. Environmental Planner, City of Toronto

Welcome plant lovers, cooks, gardeners, or, simply, anyone interesting in exploring how to grow delicious, fresh food right from your own home! In this two-part blog post, we will cover
  1. preparing your space; and 
  2. planting and maintaining your garden.

Whether you're new to gardening and looking for some guidance; already have your own thriving garden and are looking for some tips to take it to the next level; or are merely intrigued and curious but don't know where to begin; we will show you that creating and maintaining a productive garden of your own can be easy, and fun too.

Gardening and growing your own produce has many benefits: The ready and immediate access to the freshest food, the significantly lowered costs, the certainty of the absence of pesticides and GMOs, not to mention the fact that everything you grow is absolutely 100% local.

Additionally, gardening is an outdoor activity that can engage the entire family, creating an opportunity for both elders and children to get out of the house with a shared objective, and what kid doesn't love to get their hands dirty?

If you've ever looked at your neighbour's beautiful garden in envy, it may be time to start one of your own! It may seem like a difficult project, as gardens need planning and regular upkeep. We’re here to help alleviate any fears you may have and get you growing!

Starting your garden: preparation

You may imagine you need a large space to start a garden but, in fact, space to grow your own vegetables and fruits can be found anywhere. You don't need to live in a house or have a huge yard to #getgrowing! In fact, you can grow produce: up a wall, in a container, on a balcony, or even in community gardens. Certain vegetables, such as beans, peas, squash, melon, cucumber, and pumpkin grow on vines, and can be trained up walls and fences. You can also re-purpose old buckets, barrels, bushel baskets, or recycling bins to create container gardens on your patio or balcony.
Green Notes from Annemarie: 
Buddy up! Maximize a small space by planting smaller vegetables under taller plants. For example, try planting greens, radishes, or herbs, under taller plants such as corn or tomatoes.
When is the best time to start preparing for your garden? The answer is right now! You typically prepare your garden for planting in the early spring after the ground has thawed. Although, as all of us in Toronto experienced this year, it didn't really get cold enough for the ground to freeze.
 Green Notes from Annemarie: 
Start thinking about what to plant. Choose veggies and herbs that you and your kids will enjoy eating fresh from the garden. Expand your options by attending a seed sharing event and be amazed at the selection of hard to find heritage varieties of your favourite fruits and veggies. Find seed sharing events from the Toronto Community Garden Network.
Starting out right can save you a lot of effort in the long run. Begin by removing all weeds (be careful to remove the entire root), digging in liberal amounts of compost or well-rotted manure, and breaking up any big clumps of soil. After this, take a break, (you've earned it!) and be sure to come back for planting season in late spring.
Green Notes from Annemarie:
  • When in doubt, add compost! Your plants will do best in soil that full of nutrients, high in organic matter and loose. The easiest way to achieve this is to add a lot of compost to your soil. Find out where to get free compost from the City.
  • Keep a garden journal – make notes, draw pictures and create a wishlist for your garden. You can track the progress of your garden and learn how to improve your garden from year to year.

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