Starting a Hamilton garden

May 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

Posted by Katharine

This summer some friends and I are going to try to grow our own food. I spent most of last year living in little English flats with tiny fridges and plastic wrapped fruits and vegetables. Meanwhile my friends, Kaitlyn and Ray, have been busy becoming new parents with a beautiful baby girl. We reunited in the cold, Canadian winter and started to make some plans. After failed attempts at windowsill gardening and a summer of constant inspiration from Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle I had come home with a strong urge to grow. With the new baby, Kaitlyn and Ray were also thinking about the future, finances and introducing the little one to homemade, organically grown baby food. Together we decided to take a big leap into sustainability. Obviously, we have our work cut out for us! Ray is a stay at home dad and for the first time in almost 3 years I have a large area of land readily available to plant. This is our summer!

Technically, none of us have gardened in any major way. Vegetable gardens were a big part of my summers growing up. I enjoyed weeding and picking out seeds from the catalogue but to be fair, my parents did most of the work. Since those days I’ve cared for several houseplants and grown a few kitchen herbs here and there. Kaitlyn has had a bit more recent experience, having grown some vegetables on her mom’s rural property and doing landscaping work at a golf course. Ray brings the enthusiasm, and as it turns out, can dig a mean hole.

Now is a great time for a disclaimer, we are not experts! This is an experience for us that we are sharing as a way to prove (hopefully!) that anyone with a bit of time and effort can grow their own food. Its going to be a huge learning process with many blips along the way. If you’re at all like us and are keen to start growing your own garden this spring then you might find these initial steps helpful.

1. Have a goal. How much experience do you have with growing, how much time do you have, how much space? Be honest! You don’t want to be disappointed by harvest time so set some limits. For example, growing pots on a patio with cherry tomatoes, lettuce and herbs is a great option for those with little space. If tomatoes freak you out, simply starting with an herb garden is another great option.  Fresh herbs will make your cooking that much better. Think pesto, seasonings or gin and tonics with fresh mint! Mmm.

2. Research. Plants have needs and you should get to know them. There are lots of great gardening books out there which a quick trip to the library should provide. Online resources are also plentiful or if you’re feeling social, you can also sign up for local classes or get involved in gardening organizations/community gardens. If you’re feeling really adventurous you could try your hand at WWOOFing and stay at a farm to learn from the experts.

3. Plan. Plan everything. Seeds need time to germinate, they need a place to be transplanted when the weather is warm enough, they need enough space, sun, water, weeding and sometimes fertilizer if the soil quality is dubious. Most of all, they need love, because having a garden takes time and if you don’t love it, you’ll leave it. If you are doing a larger sized plot, make drawings and mark out what you will plant and where. Some plants can help each other out as they grow or deter pests from one another. Find out which plants need the most sun and space and make sure they are placed in an optimal area.

I admit, this is a fairly conceptual first post but it’s an important one. We have already started some of our seeds and have been watching them grow indoors for the past few weeks. There are many plants that are recommended one begin growing several weeks before the last frost so check the back of packages if you aren’t sure. After the Victoria Day weekend Southern Ontario should be safe from frost and can begin to plant outdoors. If you haven’t started your own seeds by now don’t fret, you can buy seedlings from local sources as well to help get you started.We’ll update you all with our progress soon and offer all the tips we have as they come!

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