If you dream of growing your own fresh produce but don’t think you have the means, read on. Nowadays, growing your own food is all the rage, and innovative solutions abound so no one is left out. Foodscaping, a trend boasted at this year’s Montreal Botanical Garden’s Great Gardening Weekend, makes it okay to grow food in untraditional places. Following are solutions to overcome three common food gardening challenges that will make you eager to grow more.
Lack of sunlight
True, most vegetable plants — especially popular, warm-weathered edibles like peppers, eggplants and tomatoes — require a minimum of six hours of sunlight daily to grow a bountiful harvest, so a sunny gardening space will offer the most plant choices. But if your exposure isn’t south-facing, don’t despair. Leafy greens like spinach, chard and salad greens, as well as herbs like chervil, parsley, chives, lemon balm and mint will thrive when grown in lesser amounts of sunshine. Certain root crops such as beets and carrots will also grow, albeit smaller with less light.
But why stick with traditional veggies when you can easily harvest exotic species like fiddleheads? These young shoots of the native Ostrich fern require only the dappled shade of deciduous trees and rich soil to flourish. Gourmet mushrooms will also grow in similar conditions. For berry-lovers, there is American black currant, which will still flower and produce delectable fruit with up to half a day’s shade in moist soil.
Also, grow some veggies in containers, which makes them easy to relocate to areas of sunlight as it moves over your space. Even heavy containers can be moved if mounted on wheeled trolleys. For north-facing or fully-shaded sites, try sharing sunlit land with neighbours, joining a community garden, gardening on rooftops or as a last resort, by sunny windowsills and under grow lights.
Lack of yard space
If you already grow perennials but have no room for a separate vegetable garden, interplant a few edible ornamentals among your flowers. Herbs are not fussy about soil and kale, cabbage, rhubarb and chard are highly decorative vegetables, suitable for planting among flowers in richer soils. There are also numerous edible flowers worthy of growing either on their own or alongside vegetables: calendula, daylily, dianthus, marigold, nasturtiums, pansy, roses and viola to name but a few. They are tasty and help combat pests while attracting pollinators to boost vegetable yields.
With traditional vegetable gardens, succession sowing will create a continuous flow of crops and maximize garden space. For instance, sow seeds of shallow-rooted, quick maturing radishes over slow to develop carrots, and sow salad greens every week until summer, then replace them with heat-loving produce. With careful planning, your garden space will be producing to its fullest.
A thriving vegetable garden requires fertile, well-structured soil to deliver maximum nutrients and water to plants. If soil is your nemesis, raised beds filled with good compost is the path to your food gardening success. Raised beds are essentially boxed containers usually made with rot-resistant wood and placed on the ground over the soil or on sunny patios. They allow gardeners to control the soil plants are growing in, drastically improving odds of gardening success. Soil in raised beds also warms up faster in the spring so you can stretch the gardening season a little and according to Tara Nolan, author of Raised Bed Revolution. Raised beds are a great way of controlling insect pests and weeds and making gardening accessible to those who cannot garden in traditional means because of a disability or age.
If you live in a condo or apartment and don’t have access to a yard there is still hope —thanks to containers. Even on the smallest balcony you can grow a variety of edibles in window boxes, hanging baskets or grow bags. Use your vertical space to grow vines and climbing vegetables against a trellis or along string tied to balconies. Get creative and practice “extreme gardening”, a term used by gardening expert Albert Mondor to describe urban gardening in places you wouldn’t normally expect nature to, even on a sunny wall and in anything that will hold soil and can be recycled. Shallow-rooted plants are best suited for this purpose. Not having a yard is no longer a reason not to garden.
Don’t let lack of sunlight, little space or bad soil dissuade you from growing your own food at home. Be aware of your site’s challenges and think outside the box to help you grow the fresh-picked produce you’ve always dreamed of.
Elaine Sanders can be reached at www.solutionsjardins.com