Now that spring has officially sprung, it’s time to start thinking about how we are going to maximize our tiny backyard and collection of planters for this gardening season. Although most of us here in downtown Toronto don’t have large plots of land with rows and rows of veggies, there are always interesting and innovative ways to make the most of your small backyard, balcony, or even a south facing window. So while the traditional image of a garden doesn’t always fit into the reality of urban living, the fact is you can grow your own food whether you have acres and acres of land, or a tiny downtown apartment.
Urban gardening is all about making the most of your space to regain a closer connection with your food and beautify your home or neighbourhood. And as an added bonus, you save money and gain the convenience of reaching out your backdoor or window to grab a handful of fresh herbs, or a beautiful home grown tomato. You are giving yourself access to the healthiest, freshest produce available – the food you grow yourself, without the use of pesticides or participating in industrial agriculture.
Container gardening is popular in urban areas and can be done just about anywhere – on balconies, in a window, on a roof or even vertically on a wall or banister. All you need is a spot for a container that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. Plants will grow in almost anything that holds soil and drains, so get creative with clawfoot tubs, wooden crates, wine barrels, tin cans or even a shoe organizer! Outdoor container gardens require careful water management – on hot days, a container needs to be watered at least once per day, sometimes more. Stick a finger into your soil – if more than the first inch is dry, add more water. If you get a few rainy days, check to see if your containers are draining properly a day or two after it stops raining. Tomatoes (especially cherry), most herbs, and leafy greens do well in containers in Toronto.
Indoor gardening, also popular in urban areas, can be quite extensive. If you’re a novice and growing veggies in your kitchen window seems intimidating, try herbs first. I find that I’m always throwing out 90% of those huge herb packages from the grocery store. If you grow them yourself, you get less waste, more savings, and a fresher more fragrant product! Chives, basil, parsley, oregano, cilantro, thyme, sage, peppermint and rosemary all do well indoors. Starting indoor herbs is pretty simple – just buy seedlings from your local garden centre, put them in a pot with some soil, and water it once a week.
Soil can be bought from garden centres or large grocery stores, but if you’re looking for a lot for cheap, you can get free compost from the City on Toronto’s Community Environment Days. If you’re container gardening, you may want to consider a lightweight soil, which means it contains a combination of perlite, vermiculite, or peat moss, or you can mix some of these ingredients into your compost.
If you have access to a small backyard or plot of land, then the sky’s the limit for your urban gardening potential. To maximize your space, check out Square Foot Gardening. This method claims that a 4’x4’ plot can provide enough greens for a family of 4 for an entire season!
If you still need more growing space, consider joining a community garden. There are many throughout the city, and you can often rent a small plot for $10-$30 a season. And for those that see the potential to plant everywhere, there’s always guerilla gardening. These gardeners simply find underused spaces anywhere in the city (e.g., abandoned lots, alleyways, mailboxes), and put there green thumbs to work using ‘seed bombs’, or more traditional kinds of planting. Keep your eyes peeled and you will start to notice that the work of guerilla gardeners is all over the city!
If you are in the Trinity Bellwoods area, you may have received a little something in the mail from me to help get your urban gardens underway. If not, send me a message and I’ll try my best to get to you next year! In the meantime, there are plenty of ways to get good seeds and information to get your gardens started. I love Matchbox Garden and Seed Co. and generally use their seeds every year. You can find them at farmers markets around the city, or visit them on their website. Happy gardening!