What better way to pay homage to Canada on her big birthday than by investing in the very soil that holds this great country together? Edible gardening is a healthy, sustainable idea with a long history. We’re taking a page from our past and planting the
IT’S HARD TO SAY WHERE THE RESURGENCE IN
edible gardening started, but you could trace it back to the 100-mile diet from years ago – a concept that has since blossomed to include notions of food security, along with knowing where our food comes from and the instant gratification of picking a sugar snap pea from a plant we’ve nurtured ourselves.
One of the first grow-your-own movements dates back to the victory garden idea that was born during the First World War and swelled during the Second World War. The idea was that if Canadians could grow their own food in whatever free space was available, such as front yards and abandoned lots, it would free up rail cars and transport trucks to ship essential items overseas. It also ensured that everyone had access to fresh, healthy food in the event that shipments couldn’t get through.
That thinking is pretty relevant in today’s ecoconscious world, given that a lot of the food we see at the grocery store has been shipped across continents and oceans to reach us.
But even thinking beyond global implications, the very idea of being able to step out your patio door and snip salad greens for dinner or pluck a ripe tomato to top a summer burger is pretty satisfying.
Ready to dig in? Put on your gardening gloves and let’s get started! Our outdoor spaces may have shrunk over the years, but if a small spot in your garden gets six to eight hours of sunlight a day, you can have an herb pot on a porch, a container full of your favourite tomatoes on your balcony or driveway or a salad garden on a teenyweeny patio. You’d be surprised at what you can pack into a small garden, whether it’s in the ground, a raised bed or a smaller container. In especially small spaces, vertical gardening has become a helpful buzzword, allowing gardens to grow up rather than out.
KNOW YOUR ZONES
The climate varies from province to province, but the country is divided into growing zones that help determine what plants will thrive where – that’s why you won’t really find anyone growing bananas up here in the Great White North! Visit planthardiness.gc.ca to pinpoint where your garden fits.
Frost-free dates are also important because they determine when to plant seeds and when it’s safe for seedlings to be planted outside, and they’re easy to find online. Veseys (veseys.com) has a helpful chart on its website. Your local nursery or garden centre can help steer you in the right direction if you have questions as well. They usually won’t put their plants outside until it’s safe to plant them.
PLANT YOUR GROCERY LIST
The fun part of gardening is figuring out what to plant,
and the easiest way to determine that is to plant what appears on your grocery list. What do you tend to buy to whip together in summer salads? Does your family enjoy hearty squash, beets and potatoes in the fall? Do you dream of making strawberry jam or salsa to enjoy over the winter? Start small and expand your garden inventory as your knowledge grows.
There are also lots of fun varieties to be discovered – think purple carrots, yellow beets and orange tomatoes, whether they’re sold as seeds or seedlings. Those standard beefsteak tomatoes still exist, but there all sorts of heirloom varieties to try, with interesting names like Blush Tiger, Pink Bumblebee and Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter (what?!).
Kale has become the new lettuce over the past few years, but there are a ton of salad-worthy greens you should also taste, from butterhead lettuce to New Zealand spinach. If you live in a small space, look for patio varieties of plants that won’t outgrow their containers, such as French Mascotte Container Bush Beans, Bush Slicer Container Cucumbers and Litt’l Bites Cherry Windowbox Tomatoes.
And don’t forget about the herbs. Oregano, sage, rosemary, chives, parsley and cilantro can be grown alongside your edibles. They can be chopped fresh for garnishes and salads throughout the summer months and dried for fall and winter enjoyment.
Companies like Bushel and Berry have also considered the urban grower with their container series of patio-perfect fruit plants with delicious names like Peach Sorbet blueberries and Raspberry Shortcake, a thornless raspberry.
It’s easy to get overly ambitious and want to start your own miniature urban farm, but if you’re new to gardening, don’t overwhelm yourself that first year or two. It’s ideal to start with what you’re comfortable with – perhaps a tomato and some herbs—and grow from there. After all, the earth’s not going anywhere anytime soon. b