DiYVR: Grow It! Tips From Ambitious First-Time Gardeners


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Last Sunday I had the pleasure of spending the sunny morning with my friends Chris and Kyla in their backyard garden, talking about their first experience cultivating some serious edibles. Chris got started gardening on the patio of his apartment last summer; now that he and Kyla have an entire backyard to work with, they’ve gotten… ambitious. Their goal is to, at the very least, grow all the ingredients for some serious salsa. Given that they’ve planted over fifty varieties of edibles already, I’m confident they’ll meet their goal.

I admit it’s a little late in the season to write about getting started with gardening, but it’s been such a cold spring this year, it’s not too late to start growing some food for yourself. So if you’ve been intimidated by gardening, or if you simply don’t know where to start, read on for some great tips from these green-thumbed DIYers.

Chris & Kyla in their garden

Chris was inspired to garden because of two unique experiences. The first was helping his friend create the first community-supported fishery on the west coast last year. Witnessing the community that can build up around food made him think a lot more about connecting with the sources of the food he consumes. The second inspiration was connecting, as an adoptee, with his birth family and learning that they’re farmers.

Already Chris has found that tweeting about his garden, and posting photos on Flickr, has connected him to a community of gardeners just as he’d hoped. He’s met neighbours he didn’t know, simply because they walked by in the lane and struck up a conversation about the garden. He says it simply, “Food is – or can be – community.”

Chris started planning the backyard garden back in January. But as Kyla told me, it’s not too late to just go to the nursery, buy a tomato plant and put it in a sunny corner of your patio. Like, today. Once you taste your own tomato, you may find yourself planning for some more involved plantings for next year, come January.

After some serious research into seed sources (he went mostly with West Coast Seeds) and composting (the City of Edmonton has a great tutorial on how to build your own compost bin [PDF]), he began many of his plants from seeds, in his basement under lights.

I asked Chris how backyard gardening compares to his experience container gardening last year. He sighed and mentioned the intense physical labour involved in backyard gardening. He and Kyla sifted hundreds of pounds of soil, removing rocks and the debris that collected over years of the backyard not being properly tended – bits of plastic, toy figurines, cigarette butts. They’ve already brought in two truckloads of compost from the City of Vancouver, in addition to using half the compost they made themselves.

Pests are a more major issue with backyard gardening over container gardening. He’s researched which plants to put in next to each other so they help ward off pests. Equally challenging, of course, are weeds, and the roots from the cedar tree in the southwest corner of the yard, and the persistent, stubborn bamboo from their neighbour’s yard.

So far, Chris and Kyla are winning – even after that freak hailstorm. Their peas and beans are vining, bits of green are sprouting all over, and soon they’ll have food enough to preserve for winter.

And the intrepid gardening newbies are already learning some lessons about what to do differently next year:

  1. Drainage is as important as it is tedious. Especially after this wet spring, next year they’ll be sure to put down a layer of sand or rocks to ensure good drainage.
  2. Each variety of plant has its own maturation pace. Next year they’ll choose plants keeping in mind to stagger maturation better so they’ll have a more constant supply of ripe food than they’ll have this year.
  3. With a bitter laugh, Chris says he’d pick a better season to start. This one’s been the coldest on record.

Cat in the garden

Have gardening tips of your own? Comment away!

This Friday is the worldwide Etsy Craft Party. Check out the local festivities at RubyDog’s Art House from 7-9pm.