Welcome to Grow Your Own Food, an informative series on gardening and growing your own food in Canada. Each month Redawna Kalynchuk draws on her extensive gardening experience to guide you through a year of growing your own food – planning, planting, maintaining, harvesting and putting your garden to bed for winter. Today she guides you through choosing seeds that suit the growing season for your area. And, she shows you how to give that growing season a boost by starting those seeds indoors.
Seed displays. We see them everywhere this time of the year. So many choice and decisions to be made.
You've decided this year you’re growing a garden. Even if it’s just a few plants in containers on your deck, it’s possible to grow your own food. You've looked at the hardiness zone map we discussed last time and you know your zone! You've picked out a binder for your master plan and perhaps you’ve looked at a garden magazine or two. You have a few ideas of what your vision is.
Don't Forget the Flowers!
You may have an idea of what you want to grow in your vegetable garden. And if you’re considering starting seeds at home you should really start a few flowers as well. It’s a very cost effective way to have a spectacular show of flowers for a small fraction of what you’d pay for annuals at the greenhouse. They’re a great addition to your yard and garden and are a wonderful way to practice the art of gardening.
Besides amazing pops of colour, flowers also add depth to the landscape. Depending on what you plant, you’ll attract butterflies, hummingbirds, ladybugs and the most beneficial of all garden visitors, the humble bumble bee.
It's Time To Think About Seeds
There are a few things you need to know when you’re buying seeds. You could just go and randomly buy seeds of all sorts of various vegetables and flowers and plant them all at the same time. And they will start to grow just fine.
Then you notice the days are getting shorter and shorter and you still haven't been able to harvest anything because the vegetables are tiny and unripe, or perhaps the plants haven't even set their fruit yet. Then your garden is hit with frost, abruptly ending the garden season. You feel defeated and vow to never garden again. What went wrong?
In that situation there were a few variables at play, like the length of the gardening season and the maturity age of the vegetables and flowers you grew.
Know Your Growing Season
Canada's frost chart is a handy link to frost and freezing dates across Canada. It gives the approximate last day of frost in the spring to the first day of frost in the fall. Once you know those dates you’ll know how long your growing season is. These are important dates to know for buying seeds and planning out your garden and flower beds.
You've looked at the frost chart and found how long your specific growing season is. You can now start planning when you’ll start your seeds indoors (I encourage you to try that out this season) and when you can safely plant your garden. For most of Canada that date falls somewhere in May. If you’re lucky to be in the warmer areas of British Columbia, you get an extra head start on the rest of the country with planting times as early as March and April!
Read The Seed Packages!
How does this relate to buying seeds? The next time you’re out and see a seed display, stop and take a look at the back of the envelope that the seeds come in. There’s a ton of information on that envelope:
- in-depth planting information
- water and light needs
- the size of the plant when it’s full-grown to the maturity date
All of that’s important, but the one we want to focus on first is the maturity date.
A Plant's Maturity Date
The maturity date tells you how long that plant takes to grow harvestable vegetables. While looking for seeds you want to be sure to get seeds of plants that will mature within your growing season. You don’t want to grow tomatoes that require 125 days to maturity if your season is only 100 days.
Be sure to shop for seeds that are within your growing season time frame.
Great First Time Garden Veggies
When you’re shopping, take your time to read the information on the seed packages. If this is your first garden keep it simple. These are all fantastic first garden crops:
- green onions
Peas, pole bean and cucumbers have a few extra requirements to help them grow upwards.
Pumpkins are fantastic, though require lots of room. Grow what you and your family love to eat!
Extending the Season
Is it possible to grow vegetables outside of your growing season? Absolutely! It’s a practice that’s easy and inexpensive. It not only extends your growing season, it creates enormous savings and opens up the choices for what you can grow and successfully harvest.
Growing Seeds Indoors: Getting Started
In our next article we’ll dive deep into the particulars of caring for any seeds you start indoors. But to get you started there are just a few things you need.
- A seed starting tray
- Potting soil
- Two-bulb fluorescent light fixture (optional)
I start my peppers, tomatoes, celery, petunias, lobelia and any other annuals during the late winter months. Everything else I grow does well within my growing season so I seed those directly in the garden in May.
Seed packages will state if that particular plant doesn’t transplant well. You can buy seed starting trays and potting soil at most hardware stores.
You want to look for potting soil that contains some amendments. Black dirt alone will not make for good growing and soil from your yard may have bugs, not something you want to introduce into your home. Potting soil is lightweight and has a bit of water retention qualities, both important factors when starting seeds.
With your seeds selected, you can now sit down with your master plan and draw out your vegetable garden. Think about the height of the vegetables and plan accordingly. And don't forget to add a few flowers to the mix for added colour.
- Grow Your Own Food: Know Your Canadian Gardening Zone
- Gardening for Food Bloggers by David Ort
- Creating Your Own Edible Small Space Garden
- Our Top Five Herbs to Grow Indoors This Winter
Grow Your Own Food: Seed Selection was written by Redawna Kalynchuk. Redawna is the writer, photographer and content creator at Nutmeg Disrupted. She has over 20 years of gardening experience and has gardened from indoors under high-powered lights to frosty zone 2b gardens in northern Alberta. She enjoys pushing the boundaries of traditional gardening and loves empowering others to grow their own food. You can follow her at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.