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Grow your own food — at least a little bit

Just some of the fruits and vegetables that can be grown at home. Photos by Jennifer Glenn.

In our current environmental climate, we are all looking for areas where we can adjust our lives to lower our carbon footprint. In Canada, it is estimated that 28 per cent of the annual emissions are from transportation. A large part of the transportation industry is the movement food from farming areas into more urban shopping centres.

In an aim to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, groups of people are rediscovering growing their own food. From the smaller veranda pots full of herbs, to the backyard garden oasis that provides all, there is a version of food gardening for every house and person. Even a small contribution can make a difference.

Many people feel apprehensive about beginning to grow food, especially plants that are not commonly seen in the everyday selection. The first and most important lesson you can learn about gardening is that every season is useful, even the ones where you fail. There are many plants that will grow and produce food easily even for the inexperienced. There are always plants that will forever cause you trouble, even for the experienced.

A bonus to growing your own potatoes is the beautiful flowers they produce, adding a splash of colour to your edible garden. Photo by Jennifer Glenn.

To pick the plants that you want to grow in your in-home grocery, I usually suggest that people make a list of the fruits and vegetables that they enjoy eating the most. For my family, that ends up being zucchini, tomatoes (of all varieties), carrots, potatoes, salad greens, herbs and strawberries. These are all foods that I know will not go to waste in our kitchen.

Once you have a list of plants you would like to grow, you can plan the space you will need. Make sure that you start with an area that you will have the time to manage properly. The area will need to be cleared of grass and amended with garden soil and compost for most backyard gardens. Using a raised bed is an attractive and easy way to transform any space into well maintained garden. There are numerous videos available online now that can guide you through many different style of raised gardens, and raised beds will also help with water retention in your soil, saving you some time in the maintenance.

Square foot garden techniques can be used to provide the most efficient use of space for any garden style. This technique will help you plan what vegetables can be planted together and how much space each plant will need. There are so many different variations of these plans available that there is the perfect one for each space. By using as much of your garden space as possible, you will increase the amount produce you get from your garden, and reduce the amount of weeds that are able to grow.

For people with smaller spaces I would consider renting a space in a community garden or from a friend with a large backyard. If that is not an option, a porch garden can easily incorporate herbs in terra cotta pots, tomatoes in large planters, and a hanging basket over flowing with strawberries. Do not forget: with any size of garden, you can make it beautiful and functional at the same time. This will make is easier to appreciate the plants, and to enjoy the labour involved in having them.

Hearty swiss chard is one of the easier leafy greens to grow, even for those trying their hand at food gardening for the first time. Photo by Jennifer Glenn.

A few plant varieties that are easier to grow from seed are peas, carrots, swiss chards, tomatoes, zucchini, kale, and basil. All of these will have a high success rates and can be very forgiving to your learning curve. If you have a large space, growing potatoes of any variety is always a family favourite — every one loves digging them all up at the end of the season.

On the flip side, some plants can be harder to grow with our growing season such as celery, cucumber, eggplant and mustard plant derivatives. Since our springs are short and our winters return swiftly, it is difficult to grow cool season plants such as broccoli, cauliflower and spinach. Good winter planning and seed starting can solve some of these issue, but most problems come due to our quick change to hot summer weather.

Seed quality is very important to a successful garden. It is always my advice to buy any seeds or plants for your garden from a nursery. Avoid all seeds sold in big box stores and groceries stores. I find the germination rate to often be much lower and the selection to be limited. My favourite seed companies to order from online are Ritcher’s, OSC seeds, and Greta’s Organics. And remember at the end of your growing season to try your hand at collecting your own seeds from your favourite plants.

My hope every year with my business is to sell more people to the idea of beautiful, productive food growth in their own space. This transition is not easy but I believe that it will be mandatory in the very near future. The cost of food will dramatically increase as mass farming becomes more difficult with climate change. Small personal gardens and local market gardens are a sustainable future solution that benefits the consumer, the local economy and environment massively. Do not forget you will never know everything there is to know about gardening, so give it go and learn from you mistakes

There’s nothing better on a hot summer day than some cool, juicy watermelon. Consider growing your own if you have the space, or look into local community gardens where you can find the space for melon and other food plants. Photo by Jennifer Glenn.

Jennifer Glenn was born and raised in Kingston. Her passion for all things green and leafy lead her to starting her own business in Embrun, where she lives with her husband and two children. She opened Pick, Plant and Prune in 2014 and provides gardening services of all varieties to those in the Ottawa region. When she isn’t tending to gardens, she can often be found at her cottage in South Frontenac during the summer. Follow Jenn Facebook at Pick, Plant and Prune and on Instagram @pickplantandprune.


Sources

Source for emission info: http://prairieclimatecentre.ca/2018/03/where-do-canadas-greenhouse-gas-emissions-come-from/

Seed Sources:

Ritcher’shttps://www.richters.com/

OSChttp://oscseeds.com

Greta’s Organic Gardens https://www.seeds-organic.com/

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