How to Grow Food

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What do I need to get started gardening?

Cheyenne: (00:10)
Even if you never grew any food before, but you were thinking I really want to grow some food, you can totally do that. You don’t need earth to grow food. You can grow food on your balcony, on your patio, on your windowsill. All you need is a few things. One, is a container. You can use an old yogurt container. You can use a plastic planter pot if you can find one. You can use many different things, something that can just hold the soil. The second thing you need is soil. So you don’t want to go out in the park and dig up some soil because that soil won’t actually be very good for planting in a container; that soil should be left in the earth so it can be happy and grow. What you could do is get some compost from a friend or get compost from the City of Toronto, because they do have a compost program.

Cheyenne: (00:53)
If you can, ask your parents if they can get potting mix at a local garden center. And then from there, you need seeds. So seeds are something that’s very fun. You can get seeds in many different ways. It doesn’t mean you have to buy seeds. Toronto Seed Library is a resource that I highly recommend asking your parents or maybe yourself, if you’re savvy on the computer, to look that up because they have many different libraries across the city and they provide free seeds. So beans and kale and lettuce, radish, all the seeds, you can go there and get the seeds that you desire. So with those three things was container soil seed you’re okay. And then you just need water. And obviously sunlight. If you’re growing in a container, you may say, I want more produce, I want higher yields, and you can totally do that.

Cheyenne: (01:37)
The biggest thing you need to focus on is making sure your vegetables are happy and vegetables basically need a few things. You need water, sunlight, and then nutrients. Nutrients can look like crushed up eggshells that you put on around your tomatoes, more calcium. It could also be things like more compost. It could be, um, worm composting. And then obviously having sunlight matters a lot. You need about six hours minimum of sunlight for any vegetables to thrive. So if you have a very shady area in your balcony, move it to the sunny area and then you should be okay. And then for watering, you really want to make sure you water at least once a day.

Do containers need drainage?

Your containers need holes so that the water drains out of the very bottom of the pot or the plastic container that you’re using. You should always have drainage because what could happen is the water will have nowhere to go and soil, even if it’s from a bag it’s still alive, because it breathes and has fungi and good bacteria and to have soil not have drainage hole means that it can’t really fully breathe.

Are there any plants that shouldn’t be grown in a container?

Yes. There are some plants that shouldn’t be grown in a container. The plants that I wouldn’t recommend to be grown in a container are things that are very, very tall and very bulky. So potatoes and corn usually are very big. They need a lot of space to thrive. So I wouldn’t grow them in a container. The crops that you should grow in a container are going to be things like salad greens and bok choy, radish, even some really fun tomatoes.

What are some really fun tomatoes?

Cheyenne: (03:11)
So fun tomatoes are any tomato if you ask me. But what I really think are fun tomatoes are tomatoes that are colourful. So everyone knows red cherry tomatoes. That’s great. But what I like is tomatoes that are painted blue and orange and yellow. It’s my favourite tomatoes. All of these, you can save seed from and grow more tomatoes next year. So indigo rose is a beautiful name and a beautiful tomato. It’s a purple dark tomato that almost everyone I know loves. The second tomato is pink bumblebee. Pink bumblebee is a very fun name and it’s a pink tomato that’s really beautiful and very round. And then the last tomato I really recommend is red zebra. It’s a green and red striped tomato. Hence the name zebra.

Is it okay to grow food in a front yard?

Cheyenne: (03:57)
Growing food in your front yard, if you have one, is an amazing thing to do because it encourages others to grow vegetables too, because they say, wow, look at that a zucchini. And they say, I want to grow that too. It’s totally safe to grow vegetables in your front yard. As long as you can check with Toronto Public Health and maybe get a grownup to go online because Public Health has a really good resource about where to grow food in the city, and where is not so safe. Growing food in your front yard and your backyard is going to be safe. The only way growing food would it be unsafe in the city is if it was near a previous gas station or railroad tracks or something where there’s been heavy metals accumulating in the soil.

The best thing to do for container gardening is to do what you feel like you can do, because that’s going to be the most fun way to grow. What I would say is to grow in compost, if you can. And compost is basically when you get, let’s say a banana peel and then you have some grass clippings, put them together, and then you get compost eventually because the bacteria and the worms and the micro rhizomes and everything goes inside and it turns it into compost, which is literally just soil. So if you can make your own compost, I would do that. You can ask your grownup to help you do a worm composting system or just access and compost. And that would be great. You don’t have to buy fancy soil.

Are there vegetables that grow in shade?

Cheyenne: (05:14)
Hmm. So if you don’t have an outdoor space that has a lot of sun, that’s totally okay. Any type of leafy greens. So lettuce, kale, callaloo, bok choy, pak choi, and even herbs like chives and basil, they can grow perfectly fine.

What is the best way to water plants?

The best way to water your plants is actually directly at their roots. You don’t want to water over top because what can happen is the water doesn’t really get to the plant. And then it evaporates in the air, and what that basically means is the water droplet falls on the leaf and the wind and the heat takes the water off. And you really want the water to be at the base of the plant. So water the base of the plant.

So if you’re just starting off, I would say, always go with what you feel comfortable with. So if you want a big challenge, you can start from seed.
If you want to have more of a likelihood to have big seedlings, I would say, in your first year, to try to get seedlings from a friend, a loved one, or grownup, or even a garden centre, if that’s something that you can do. You can always try to grow seedlings. And that’s always a very fun experiment. The best things to grow from seedlings are things that take a long time. So eggplants and peppers and tomatoes, those are really good to plant as seedlings because they can take eight weeks (from seed) until you put them in the ground. But for things like lettuce and beans and peas, you can just direct seed them directly into the earth.

Seedlings means a small plant that isn’t big enough as a large plant to go outside yet.

Is spring the only time to plant?

Spring isn’t actually the only time to plant. You can plant any time of the year after the last frost. So what is the last frost? The last frost is at the time of the year, when the snow stops coming and it stops getting really, really cold and it starts getting really, really warm. And you can plant any seedling or seed after last frost up until the first frost. And the first frost is when you start wanting to wear a sweater, basically. And that’s when you need to know when the first frost is. Later in the year, if you want to plant, you can plant things like greens. So any type of green vegetable that’s leaf that you would have in salad, or are you making a stew, you can also plant things like garlic, which is really nice. And if you wanted flowers, you can also plant tulips or any other bulbs like that.

Are there any plants that can be grown year-round?

So if you want to grow inside year round, there are some food plants that can be grown in containers. One of them is chives and another one is parsley. And even basil, you can grow them on your windowsill so long as they get six hours of sunlight a day.

Click here for the full Finding our Place in the Food Justice Movement learning series.