Savvy gardeners start early (like now). Here’s what to know before you grow in the GTA – Toronto Star

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By Debra NortonSpecial to the StarWed., Feb. 17, 2021timer5 min. readDespite winter temperatures gardening season has already begun for those planning ahead for warmer months. And if this season is anything like last year’s uptick in demand for seeds and supplies, you’ll be glad you started early.Almost one in five Canadians started growing food in 2020 and 67 per cent of new gardeners say the pandemic influenced their decision to start growing food at home, according to a study out of Dalhousie University. Seed companies are already warning customers of delays in shipping as last year’s demand for seeds appears to have remained consistent.“We saw a lot of people turn to gardening last year, and that momentum has continued. It seems like now more than ever people are enthusiastic about growing plants from seed — not just for beautiful flower blooms or to harvest their own food, but as an enjoyable, at-home pastime,” says Aaron Saks, President of West Coast Seeds an organic seed company based in British Columbia whose website includes helpful guides and detailed regional planting charts including Southern Ontario and the GTA.Growing veggies and herbs in raised beds or containers is one of the easiest ways to get started, and starting seeds indoors helps give them a head start so they are ready to plant after the last frost, which is usually in mid-May if you live in the GTA. Frost-free dates can be found on seed company websites such as Vesey’s.One benefit of planting a kitchen garden in a raised bed is that the soil warms up sooner in the spring, so you can plant veggies sooner than you necessarily would if you were to plant in the ground, says Tara Nolan, author and co-founder of gardening website Savvy Gardening . “It’s so satisfying to pick your own produce for a salad … but start small, you don’t have to have four raised beds, start with one or a couple of containers. It’s work even just watering and weeding throughout the summer and you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew in that first season because that can be discouraging to gardeners.”The May long weekend is typically the benchmark for planting tomatoes, peppers and all the heat lovers in your garden because there is less threat of frost, says Nolan who lives in Dundas, Ontario. “Cooler weather loving vegetables like peas, kale, carrots and beets can be sown earlier — so depending on if the soil has warmed up in the garden I usually plant around late March or early April.”Buying seeds is a great way to find some of the more interesting varieties of plants that can be harder to find at garden centres. Plant what makes it on your grocery list on a regular basis and consider sharing a seed order with a friend, suggests Nolan.There are plenty of places to buy seeds online locally including William Dam Seeds , Urban Harvest , OSC Seeds, Bear Root Gardens , Backyard Seed Savers, Hawthorne Farm Organic Seeds and Richters.Local seed exchange, Seedy Saturday is an annual event held in communities across Canada. Toronto’s Seedy Saturday will be held Feb. 27 as a virtual event and include links to seed vendors and organizations with gardening information, plus live and pre-recorded webinars and Zoom breakout rooms so that people with virtual booths can connect and answer questions. Neighbourhood groups will do seed exchanges locally, with drop-off and pickup points across the city, says Rhonda Teitel-Payne, a co-coordinator for Toronto Urban Growers , a not-for-profit network for people who grow food across the city. New gardeners who don’t have seeds to share can still get involved by making a small donation.Once you’ve got your seeds, here’s what you should know before you grow.The seed packet has instructions for when to plant and whether to start seeds indoors or direct-sow outdoors depending on your frost-free date.To start seeds indoors, gather materials including seed starting trays or containers with good drainage, a seed starting mix which is sterile and lightweight making it easy for seedlings to sprout roots, and a grow light can help ensure strong robust seedlings even if you have a sunny, south facing window. “All the heat lovers that need the hot sun to thrive and can’t go right into the garden can benefit from starting from seed,” says Nolan.Seedlings from a nursery are ready to plant in your garden once the frost-free date has passed, but anything you’ve started from seed indoors needs to go through a process called hardening off, where you gradually introduce seedlings to the outdoors and acclimatize them over a period of about a week before you plant them in the garden, says Nolan.Loading…Loading…Loading…Loading…Loading…Loading…Make sure your outdoor site gets at least 8 hours of sunlight for most vegetables, especially tomatoes that want heat and sunshine. The right type of soil is also crucial. For containers, use a potting mix which is a bit lighter weight and lets water drain through is better, whereas in a raised bed use a triple mix soil and compost, recommends Nolan. “At the garden centre, you’ll find bags formulated specifically for pots. There’s different potting soil for flowers versus vegetables but you can use the same soil for herbs and flowers. I buy the vegetable potting soil and I use it for all my containers,” says Nolan.Include flowers in your kitchen garden, it looks good and can help manage pests and attract pollinators and other beneficial insects to the garden. “Nasturtiums are a great trap crop for aphids if you’re trying to a do a little beneficial pest management. They’re also pretty and if you plant them at the edge of the garden they’ll cascade over a raised bed or a pot, are bee magnets, attract pollinators and are edible — you can eat the blooms and the leaves,” says Nolan.Mix vegetables, herbs and flowers with more ornamental plants in raised beds or ornamental containers. “I have an urn at my front door and I plant all the usual thrillers, fillers and spillers — so maybe I’ll have petunias and I’ll sneak in some herbs because the foliage is not only ornamental but you enjoy it throughout the summer,” says Nolan.Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, there’s always something that can throw a wrench in things such as crazy weather or disease, says Nolan. “If you fail once just try again and maybe read up and try to get a little bit of advice to see what might have gone wrong, it happens to every gardener whether they’re new or experienced.”JOIN THE CONVERSATION Q: What are your top gardening tips?Anyone can read Conversations, but to contribute, you should be registered Torstar account holder. If you do not yet have a Torstar account, you can create one now (it is free)Sign InRegisterConversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.
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