Bored at home? Well since its Earth month, why not put down the plastic gloves and pick up the gardening gloves! This is the beginner’s guide of how not to kill your plants and successfully make your own vegetable garden.

Step 1: Space and Light

The first step to making your own garden is determining which types of plants you have space for, and what kind of lighting you have for these plants. This is the make or break stage of how successfully you’ll be and it is often the most over looked. For instance, did you know that you can kill plants by not giving them enough room to grow? Check out Let’s Talk Trees.

However, some of you may think: “I don’t have a backyard”, or “I don’t have a bright enough window”. Fortunately, there is just as much diversity in gardens as there is in people. For example, your garden can be small or large and be a window sill, wall, roof, community (when they reopen), or shared garden! You can also buy grow lights if you do not have enough light from your window or you want to grow something that needs more light (who knew…)! For the most natural light, plants should be facing a southern window or garden bed.

13 Plastic Bottle Vertical Garden Ideas | Soda Bottle Garden ...
Figure 1: A great way to reuse pop bottles to have a space friendly garden! Window Garden: Microgreens
Figure 2: No windowsill, no problem.
Grow your own green onions: Next time you buy green onions, save ...
Figure 3: A fun idea with green onions. If you keep at least 1.5 inches of the white part (root) your green onions will continue to grow if you put them in water (aka green onion for life). Check out Reusing Virox Containers for other great ideas.

Step 2: What to Grow

The second step is probably the second best part, and is determining what you want to grow! In general, there are two types of plants: shade tolerant and sun lovers. Shade tolerant plants that are great to grow inside include microgreens. Microgreens include things like lettuce, carrots, arugula, endives, etc. Sun lovers are things like tomato, cucumbers, peppers, squash, zucchini, etc. Sun lovers need at least 6 hours a day of sunlight a day. A key point to remember is that some plants do better inside than others.

For those with a sweet tooth, you can also grow fruit, such as strawberries, raspberries, blackberries etc. Other fruit can also be grown, but it requires more work and space. Fruits like apples, cherries, and pears need a companion to cross-pollinate in order to produce fruit. If you’re keen on growing these plants but lack the space, there are also dwarf varieties of these trees for smaller gardens too. While you’re at it, buy your seeds local to support businesses especially during these times! Many companies are offering online ordering to obey social distancing.

Keep in mind too. Every plant and seed is different and most of the time they come with care instructions. DON’T throw them away, READ them and implement them; this will be important in your plants success.

Dwarf Fruit Trees • Insteading
Figure 4: A comparison shot of dwarf versus standard size fruit trees.

Step 3: Caring for Your Plant

The third step is caring for your plant. Have you ever heard of killing with kindness? Well that applies here… yes plants need water, but they don’t live in lakes! Your plant doesn’t need to be watered on a schedule. As long as they are regularly checked, just provide water when the soil is dry. Another great way is investing in a hydrospike, which is able to safely distribute water to your plant to avoid over (or under) watering it.

hydrospike-plant | Plants, Water plants, Free plants
Figure 5: An example of a hydrospike for those who forget to water their potted plants.

Another way to care for your plant is to rotate your crops by putting them in different areas of your garden. When you rotate your crops you can actually prevent infestations of bugs and pests.

Thirdly, make sure you are including companion plants. For instance, growing tomatoes and marigolds together is a great combination because marigolds repel pests. Conversely, other combinations can also attract good bugs that eat the pests, such as lady bugs (which eat aphids), butterflies, bees, etc.

If you’re looking for more ways to keep pests away, you can use pesticides (but not the traditional kind). There are tons of ways to make safe at home pesticides, such as garlic and water (1 part garlic and 5 parts water) or soap water (1 part biodegradable soap and 4 parts water). Traditional pesticides kill everything and cause bioamplification, which means it makes its way through the entire food chain increasing in toxicity as it goes up the chain.

In caring for your plants, things to keep in mind include:

  1. Not all soil is created equal. Do your research before you give your plant just any soil.
  2. Plants get cold. Frost will kill them, so start inside if you’re eager, then when you think its safe transfer outside (if applicable).
  3. Too big, too small, just right. Make sure your pot is the right size. Too big or too small will kill your plant. Every plant is different, just give it a quite look up before you buy.

Step 4: Above and Beyond

If you want to get the most out of your garden, take some of these tips into consideration.

  1. Intercropping. Plant small plants in between your bigger plants, such as carrots between your corn.
  2. Organic Fertilizer. Things like blood meal, bone meal, fish emulsion, seaweed are fantastic for your garden! You can also pick up free compost at events like these in Toronto, as well as, drop off small reusable and recyclable items (when they reopen)! For now, you can make your own!
Amazing ideas to intercropping vegetables and flowers together ...
Figure 6: An example of intercropping, including companion plants that prevent pests (marigolds).

If you like any of this check out more tips about gardening here.

Also, if you’re just learning here is another great resource.

Go try out the Earth Month Virtual Scavenger Hunt, if you haven’t already! Stay safe and healthy everyone!