Vegging Out in the City

Katie @ Maloca Community Garden

The warm spring this year has my green thumb itching to plant something. Growing (at least a part) of my own food has been a seasonal ritual for most of my life. I grew up in rural Nova Scotia where my family had two gardens, one that was a general vegetable garden and one called “the patato garden” (which is where we grew a year-supply of potatoes and winter beans). I got away from gardening the first few years that I lived in Ontario and moved between a few cities. But once Jim and I settled in Toronto and we recieved a gift of tomato seeds I began to discover there are a variety of ways for urbanites to grow food.

So now that spring seems to have sprung I thought I’d share a few of the options that you might find in your city if you want to try flexing your own green thumb.

Container Gardening:

As the name implies this is gardening in containers. As long as you have a small corner of outside (balcony, front steps, etc.), a receptical with some drainage, some decent quality potting soil and a willingness to water regularly, it is an easy way to plant a garden when you don’t have a backyard.

Pros: close to home, does not require much space, fairly easy to maintain

Cons: some start-up costs, need to regularly water and feed (i.e. add compost to) your plants, low odds of meeting other gardeners

Allotment Gardening:

Allotment gardens are usually administered by a local government and involve renting a plot of land for a fee. There is usually a set of rules to follow to make sure you stay on good terms with other gardeners.

Pros: the plot is yours to plant what you want, you get to meet fellow gardeners (if they are there at the same time as you)

Cons: costs associated with rental fee and tools, often there are waiting lists to get a plot, not many community oriented events

Community Gardening:

A garden that is initiated and administered by the community. There are a lot of different models out there including having plots for individuals and families, having a communal garden or growing the food for a food bank or other community organization.

Pros: a great learning atmosphere for new garderners, growing community as you grow food, usually lower membership fees (that cover the cost of shared tools)

Cons: time consuming to be one of the garden organizers, local governments can have a long process to set up new ones on public lands

Backyard Sharing:

Do you want to garden but don’t have your own backyard? Do you have a backyard that you aren’t using and would like to see as a veggie garden? Maybe you are lucky enough to know somebody that can help – but if not you can now find your match – online!

Pros: you can search for a match and share your expectations online, you get to meet a neighbour and get to know your community better

Cons: you have to be willing to negotiate and perhaps comprise to garden, unless there is a garden-tool lending library nearby it might cost you to get started

A Few Enterprising Opportunities: Growing food in the city is usually done more for recreational reasons than to make money (many of the options above don’t produce enough food or there are rules against selling the food). But there are a few entrepreneurs out there turning urban food growing into a way to make money. One is a service to plant and tend backyard vegetable gardens for people too busy to plant their own (Young Urban Farmers). Another is SPIN (Small Plot INtensive) Farming where a farmer will grow high value crops in other people’s backyards, usually in exchange for some harvest or a rental fee.

This year, I’ll be doing a mix of container gardening and backyard sharing. I’ve already started my tomato and basil seedlings.some that will go to my back deck, some in my friends’ new backyard and share the remainders with friends and co-workers. Is anyone else planting an urban garden or know other ways to grow food in the city?

4 thoughts on “Vegging Out in the City

  1. Great post and introduction to vegging out in the city. I want to add that with container gardening, there are other things like self-watering planters (ex. EarthBox) and hanging planters (to do fun things like upside down tomato plants) in addition to the traditional pots and containers. Community gardens are really starting to take off and it’s great to see so many people connecting with where and how their food grows.

  2. Basil is my favourite thing to put on food especially eggs for breakfast. Where should I get basil seeds like the one you’re talking about here? Do they have to be oirganic and ewhats really the difference between a plant from Sobeys?

    This isn’t something I really care aboiut so its a big deal that you made it so interesting.

    - Pete

  3. For most seeds I don’t think it matters if you buy organic. My philosophy is that if you grow it using organic methods it is organic. If you get a plant from Sobeys (or any other store) it would have been grown in a large greenhouse and unless it labelled organic it is hard to figure oit what fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides have been used on it. If you get the plant when it is smaller and use organic soil and fertilizers I would guess that it be more organic than if you get a mature plant.

    What I think is more important is heirloom or heritage varieties of seeds or plants. And to me it is more important with plants like tomatoes (where there are a lot of hybridized/engineered varieties out there) than basil (which I don’t think has been re-engineered to the same extent).

    In Toronto the most accessible seeds and plants are from Urban Harvest (http://www.uharvest.ca/) – they sell seeds and seedlings at The Big Carrot, Grassroots, some of the farmers’ markets, and have an online catelogue. A couple of my other favourite seed companies are: The Cottage Gardener (http://www.cottagegardener.com/) and Greta’s Organic Gardens (http://www.seeds-organic.com/). And for any non-Ontario folks looking for seeds I would suggest looking for a local heritage seed company – the great thing about seeds that have been grown locally for generations is that they are really well adjusted to the local climate.

  4. Awesome post Katie. While I’m known for killing plants (particularly John’s plants) through my ineptness when it comes to watering, your article has inspired me. This summer I’m planning on getting a few herbs and doing my utmost not to kill them. Any “easy” ones you would recommend for tiny apartment dwellers?

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