In a previous article, we talked about the 5 Things You Must Consider Before Starting an Edible Garden. We’re back with 5 more things you must consider before starting an edible garden this year.
1. Pests and Animals
Whether you live in the city or the country, you’ll undoubtedly come across some sort of pests or animals eager to partake in some of the vegetables you’re growing. While many people have more serious issues with pests and animals, here are a few things you can do to mitigate the potential damage they may cause.
Consider how close you are to situated to a ravine or a forest and what animals may live in nearby habitats. Different animals live in different habitats. Urban gardens generally have more pigeons, squirrels, raccoons and other small rodents while more rural areas generally have larger animals like deer and ground hogs.
Also consider what domestic animals may be living in your neighbourhood. Dogs and cats who spend most of their time outdoors can be a good deterrent for squirrels, rabbits, and other small mammals. On the other hand, keeping chickens unprotected may be an invitation for local wildlife to see if they can score an easy dinner.
No matter your situation, understanding how your garden fits into the surrounding ecosystem will help you anticipate and potentially take preemptive measures to reduce the risk of certain animals.
2. Soil Structure
What kind of soil you have will influence the kinds of plants that will grow. Most people in Toronto have more of a clay soil (pdf link), which makes it a bit more challenging when it comes to root vegetables, but better when it comes to moisture and nutrient retention.
All soil can benefit from the addition of organic matter and finished compost like worm castings. This not only improves the soil structure, but helps to add nutrients and beneficial bacteria to the soil that will result in better overall plant health.
We strongly encourage everyone to invest a bit of time and money in setting up a compost bin, whether it is an outdoor bin or a worm bin. You’ll help reduce waste sent to the landfill and create “black gold” for your plants in the process.
3. Should I Direct Seed or Use Transplants?
When starting your garden, you’ll want to consider whether you want to start with seeds or transplants. Many varieties like carrots, beets, beans and peas do best when direct seeded while other plants like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant should be started indoor in advance or purchased as seedlings to ensure there is enough time for them to grow and mature in our relatively short growing season.
Often the decision comes down to cost, time, and expertise. Buying seeds can be another several topics by itself, but generally we suggest looking for organic, untreated seeds from a local supplier. There are pros and cons when it comes to choosing hybrids and heirlooms (we use both in our gardens). Finally, buy enough seed for the current year and maybe a bit extra for next year. You don’t want to be sitting on unused seeds for several years as they do have a limited lifespan.
4. Long Term Plan
There are a few news articles that claim people move on average every 5-6 years. If you’re in the average and are planning a move in the next couple of years, your gardening decisions may be shifted towards things that are more temporary or portable like container gardens instead of a large landscaping project. On the other hand, many new homeowners see a vegetable garden as an advantage or key feature when purchasing a new house so you may be able to justify a bit of a larger initial investment.
We believe gardens should be viewed as a longer term project rather than as just a one-year or one off activity. There are many great benefits to continuing to work the garden year over year so don’t be afraid to consider how long you intend to keep the garden for and how long you intend to say on your current property when considering your upcoming garden.
5. Previous Use of Land
In addition to understanding the soil structure, consider investigating also how the land has been used previously and/or what materials may have been used or left from previous owners.
Generally farmland or other less developed land is ideal as the risk of contamination from petroleum products, heavy metals, or other chemicals is much lower. Conduct a soil test for heavy metals and/or nutrient deficiencies to determine how suitable the current soil is for cultivation of edible plants if you want to be extra safe. The City of Toronto also has a good pdf guide to a self assessment guideline.
If you know that you’re close to an old gas station or rail line, be extra cautious or consider using raised beds or containers. If you suspect or see evidence of dumping of chemicals or paint, we strongly suggest you take additional precautions for the safety of the food you’ll be growing and eating.