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The Victoria Day long weekend is the traditional kickoff to gardening season. (Trish McAlaster/The Globe and Mail)
The Victoria Day long weekend is the traditional kickoff to gardening season. (Trish McAlaster/The Globe and Mail)

How to make the perfect Toronto-friendly backyard vegetable garden Add to ...

The Victoria Day long weekend is the traditional kickoff to gardening season. We spoke to Martha Gay Scroggins, an agriculture specialist from the Guelph Centre for Urban Organic Farming, and reviewed recent reports by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to design a Toronto-friendly vegetable garden that can fit in the smallest backyard.

Kale

When to plant: Start kale the third week of July in pots or seed trays. Transplant it outside around the second week of August. Kale tastes better if it is exposed to a little frost, but is good for planting year-round.

Planting tips: When planting kale in late summer, keep it in shade as it dries out easily. It is best to plant it next to beets, cucumbers, or onions; avoid planting close to climbing beans, tomatoes, and peppers (chili, capsicum).

How to care: Keep well watered for the summer. Ensure that there is a good balance between sunlight and shade. Kale grows well in rich soil that is high in organic matter.

When to harvest: Seven to nine weeks.

Onions

When to plant: Onions can be planted as soon as the temperature is above -7 C.

Plantings tips: Onions grow best in fertile, well-drained soil with compost added. They’re best if planted beside beets or carrots; avoid planting close to peas and beans.

How to care: Onions need adequate sun, where they are not blocked by other plants, to produce large bulbs. To keep away onion maggots, cover with a fine mesh net.

When to harvest: Green onions can be ready 20 to 30 days after planting while dry bulb onions can take 100 to 175 days. Harvest in late summer before fall weather, which can cause mature onions to spoil.

Beets/Beetroot

When to plant: Beets should be planted when the temperature is warm, with the soil temperature between 7 and 25 C.

Planting tips: They are best grown beside onions, peas and beans; avoid growing next to carrots.

How to care: They need to be well-watered as dry beetroot can have a hard and woody core. After planting, cover seeded rows with burlap for a few days to reduce surface crusting.

When to harvest: Seven to 10 weeks.

Cucumbers

When to plant: Cucumbers grow best at temperatures between 15 and 33 C.

Planting tips: Grow plants in a sunlit spot in soil that is well-drained and rich in organic matter. They’re best grown beside beans and vertically on a trellis; avoid growing close to potatoes and tomatoes.

How to care: Cucumbers are heavy feeders – add well-rotted manure and compost to the soil. Keep the plant well-watered, especially around the flowering stage. The soil should be kept moist at all times.

When to harvest: Eight to 10 weeks.

Potatoes

When to plant: Potatoes can be planted between April and August.

Planting tips: The ground should not be too moist when planting. Plant tuber are best when planted at soil temperatures between 10 and 30 C. Prepare the soil by adding well-rotted animal manure or compost; fresh manure will burn plant. Grow beside beans or peas; avoid growing next to cucumbers or tomatoes.

How to care: Potatoes are sensitive to soil moisture. They grow best with a consistent soil moisture level. Potatoes require well-drained loose soil (sandy soil) and adequate sunlight.

When to harvest: About 10 weeks.

Peppers

When to plant: Peppers (both bell and chili) are “hot crops” – they grow best in warm temperatures.

Planting tips: Start planting in seed pots indoors during spring, then plant outdoors in early summer as the temperature rises. Peppers mature when the temperature is above 12 C. They grow best in moderately fertile soil with good drainage.

How to care: Avoid using city tap water, which contains high amounts of chlorine, to water plant – use rainwater instead. Water adequately and deeply to encourage root growth, but don’t over-water.

When to harvest: Nine to 11 weeks. Sweet or bell peppers may be harvested as soon as they appear mature enough to eat.

Beans

When to plant: Climbing beans can be planted between mid-April and August.

Planting tips: Beans grow best at soil temperatures between 16 and 30 C. Climbing beans can be grown vertically on a trellis. Beans grow better in warm weather and well-drained soil, and are best beside carrots, beets and cucumbers; avoid growing next to onions.

How to care: Watch for slugs and snails that will eat stems at ground level. Water once a week or more during dry weather.

When to harvest: Nine to 11 weeks.

Carrots

When to plant: Carrots can be planted between mid-March and late June.

Planting tips: Carrots are best adapted to long, cool growing seasons and have a low tolerance for high temperatures. They’re best planted next to onions, peas, tomatoes and beans; avoid growing close to beets.

How to care: Carrots need a nice, deep, crumbly, enriched soil that is kept moist. Overfertilizing can cause roots to split.

When to harvest: Two to three months for a good-sized carrot.

Tomatoes

When to plant: Plant in early summer when soil is warm (16 to 35C). Tomatoes are “hot crops”, meaning they grow best in hot temperatures.

Planting tips: Grows best in organic rich soil with a lot of compost. Avoid soil that is too sandy (drains easily), or soil with too much clay (difficult to drain). They can be grown vertically on a trellis to make space in the garden. They’re best grown beside carrots; avoid growing next to potatoes.

How to care: Fertilize frequently – tomatoes are heavy feeders. Roots needs regular watering but don’t overwater, as tomatoes won’t grow well in a saturated environment. Fertilize with fish emulsion mixed with some seaweed and organic molasses.

When to harvest: Eight to 17 weeks. They’re best if picked before they are fully ripe.

What not to plant

Peas: This is a “cool-season crop” that will not grow well in the heat of summer. Fall is a good time to grow peas.

Lettuce: Best grown in spring and fall when temperatures are cooler. If the temperature is too high, the seed will not germinate; this will reduce leaf and head quality of the lettuce.

Radishes: These will not grow if it becomes too hot. A month from now, the temperature might be too hot for radishes and might cause them to go woody and hard. They’re best if planted in early spring.

Tips for planting in the city

Avoid using city water with chlorine to water plants (might burn plants) – use rainwater instead. If you use city water, you can dechlorinate by filling a container with tap water and leaving it out for 24 hours. Most of the chlorine will evaporate, making it safer to use.

If you collect rainwater in large containers outside, cover them to prevent mosquito larvae.

To keep out raccoons and other wildlife, put a mesh net over certain areas of the garden.

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