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Smart ideas to set up a garden (in Canada)

Since the times I remember, however tiny the home we lived, we always had at least one plant. Just wondering, was it the way of keeping nature close to us - while the greenery amidst which we grew slowly transformed into concrete structures (over the years) or to constantly remind us that "what we sow is what we reap" or for the simple joy to nurture and see a life bloom in front of us or is it for the positivity they spread - a mere look at a new leaf or a bud is just enough to brighten the day!!

I still remember the happiness of a little girl who checks upon her lone rose plant everyday to find a new bud or a blooming flower and nothing has changed over the years... she still likes to see the seeds transform into tiny saplings, nurture her plants, count and keep checking the buds, flowers and fruits and watch them grow. Yes, that little girl is me!! 

The love for plants has always been within. So naturally I leaned to gardening when I wanted to keep me company in the otherwise lonely country. Over the past few years in Canada, I tried my hands at growing and maintaining different plants; experimenting, failing and learning year on year. In this post, I shall elaborate my learnings and share few tips that might be of some help to the gardening enthusiasts like me all over the world, with few tips specific to Canadian climatic conditions.

Choosing the right place:

Large backyards or gardening space isn't a must. Even if we live in an apartment or row house, we can make space for a couple of pots outdoors or indoor. Having a toddler at home, I didn't particularly grow any indoor plants so far. For now, I have put up a small garden in my balcony. While choosing to set up a garden, ensure the place gets enough sunlight at least for 4 - 5 hours in a day. Based on it, we can choose the right plants to grow. If you don't have a balcony, look out for a window sill that gets maximum sunlight and can hold few pots. Even if nothing of these work, don't loose heart. Rent a spot in your local community garden and can build your own garden. This post on community gardening has all the information you need.

Spending right:

If you are at Canada on a temporary status like student or employee or for a short stay, I understand you don't want to invest much, but still want to experience the joy of plants around you. Will you believe, if I mention that you can have a small garden within just $5? Yes, absolutely. Check out the below video. I have shown how to set up a low budget garden. 

  • Start small.
  • We can buy cheaper and good pots from dollar tree or dollarama; look out for used pots sale or giveaways; or put your old containers to good use - like used cake cases, ice-cream boxes, detergent tins, old bubble top canisters and storage containers etc. I have been buying pots year on year and that's how you see those considerable number in my above video.
  • Again for seed starters, we can get them from any dollar store or can turn any small container into a seed starter by making tiny holes in them. I used reusable seed starters, mushroom/ fruit boxes, play dough cups and paper cups. I have sown seeds in coconut shells too. They naturally come with 3 placeholders to make hole. Punch in any one of them. All the more, these shells are organic and environmental friendly.
  • Walmart sells potting soil (20L) for just $1.88. Grab a bag! Almost all the stores like Canadian superstore, Freshco, Canadian Tire, Sobeys etc. sell soil.
  • Next comes the seeds. We can buy seeds from any store mentioned above or simply look inside your kitchen. We will find endless options - chilies, tomatoes, peas, beans, lady's finger (okra), fenugreek, coriander, mint, strawberries, blackberries etc. Last year, a golden berry seed we ate accidentally fell in one of the pots. It grew and completely wilted in winter. Surprisingly, it regrew on its own and has started producing fruits now. Unbelievable? You can see that for yourself in the video. That's the power of a tiny seed and it doesn't have to be always store bought.
  • We can prepare manure (compost) at home too, with fruit and vegetable peelings and waste, egg shells etc. at no additional cost. I have captured this process as well, in this video.
  • Gardening on budget doesn't mean being frugal, it is all about getting creative. These are just few ideas. Put on your thinking hat. You can come up with a lot of smart ideas.

What to grow?

Each plant is different and so is the method of planting and nurturing them. Weather plays a very crucial role in determining the time of sowing, otherwise the seeds won't germinate as expected. You can very easily grow the below plants at home, by properly timing the kickoff.

Tomato: Sow the seeds between March 14th to 28th and when there is no frost, move the plants outdoor, which would typically be May 23rd to June 6th. Use seed starters until the seeds germinate and grow up to 5cms in height and then transplant them to a pot. Based on the size of the pot and the variety of the tomato, you can have 1 or 2 plants in a pot. Beefsteak variety produces bulky tomatoes, so always plant one per pot. You may have 2 in a pot, if you are growing Roma or Cherry tomato. You can follow the same timings and procedure for all the varieties and they will grow into a sapling within a week's time.

Fenugreek: It is a very simple plant that can grow very quickly. Sow fenugreek in mid or late May. It needs good amount of sunlight close to 4-5 hrs everyday. So in colder countries like Canada, you can place the pot under direct sunlight. But in hotter places like India, keep it under shade otherwise the plants might wilt. With a simple trick, fenugreek leaves will sprout in just 3 days of sowing and you can harvest the leaves within 3 weeks. By harvesting in a certain way, you can also regrow and get good yield 3 to 4 times from the same plant. I have shown in detail about how to sow, care for and harvest fenugreek in my below video.

Until last year, I have been picking out the plant completely once it is well grown and had to repeat the entire process from sowing and waited 3 weeks to get the produce. This year I experimented a new method and it just took 2 weeks to harvest a new batch - so 4 harvests in 2 months. What more to ask!!

Basil: Basil is a wonderful herb which is very simple to grow and can be added to a variety of dishes. You will start from a seed, allow it to germinate in a seed starter and once the sapling is close to 6 cms, transfer to a pot - 1 or 2 plants per pot. Don't over do. Basil needs moderate amount of sunlight and moisture to grow well. Right time to sow the seeds is 4 to 6 weeks before last frost and it takes approximately 10-14 days to germinate.

Coriander: This one is tricky. Coriander seeds don't germinate if sown as is. We have to slightly crush to break them into 2 halves and then sow. But be gentle while crushing, otherwise the seeds will get damaged. Then sow it in a pot, cover with soil for up to 1 cm and sprinkle water to keep it moist and not wet. This plant doesn't require direct sunlight, so keep it under shade where it gets partial day light.

Mint: All you need to grow this herb is a pot with soil and a mint stem. Gently remove the mint leaves from the stem. Place the stem inside the soil in such a way that its last leaf node is at least a cm inside and cover it with soil and water it. With adequate water and sunshine everyday, you don't have to buy mint throughout the summer. Mint roots tend to grow longer and deeper and has a tendency to take over other plants nearby, if sown directly in the ground. So better plant mint separately in pots. 

Carom: Carom is is another herb which can be grown from stem. Start by planting the stem in a smaller pot and keep it in shade until it produces roots. Then transfer the plant to a bigger pot. Carom does well indoor too. So once winter kicks in, bring the plant inside. With a little bit of care, it will surely survive the harsh Canadian winter.

Marigold: Sow the seeds indoor in mid April or 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost. Transfer the saplings into a pot (1 or 2 per pot) and keep it outdoor in summer. Under optimal temperature, they grow exceptionally well and start flowering within 2 to 2.5 months of sowing.

How to nurture?

The biggest challenge growing and maintaining the plants healthy in Canada is the ever changing weather. The place where we live in Ontario is particularly windy, making it tougher. So I always monitor the weather. During spring, even if the sun shines bright for just an hour, I move all the pots outside so that they get enough sunlight. Occasionally, the daytime climate turns very cold and windy during summers too. That's when I try to accommodate as many of the plants as possible inside the house or at a safe spot. Watering plants is a very tricky aspect when it comes to nurturing them. Ensure you don't water them too much or too little. Check for the moisture around and in the pots and water accordingly.

I have been attempting to grow peas since last 2 years, without much success. This year, I am trying to grow lettuce, carrots and okra and you will have to wait this summer to know how we did. Even if it is for only 4-5 months, each year, I look up to spring and summer in Canada to recreate a small happy space and rekindle the spirits in that little girl!!

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  1. Awesome... growing plants in a apartment is always challenging. Well done


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