What does vegetable gardening in Canada have to do with grandparenting a type 1 diabetic?
Let me explain.
I have mentioned in several previous posts that a healthy, well-balanced, vegetable-rich diet is an important part of diabetes management.
So why not grow your own veggies, they taste so much fresher than supermarket veggies and you know they are organic.
Personally, I have grown a vegetable garden most of my life. In fact, the years I didn’t grow my own garden or help my mother with hers are probably easier to count.
As a child, I helped my mother plant, weed, water and harvest her gardens so it only made sense that I would grow my own in adulthood.
I have found the biggest challenge to growing vegetables in Canada is the short growing season. Luckily there are ways to work around that.
Decide what you want to grow
If you are considering growing a vegetable garden for the very first time the first thing you need to do is decide what vegetables you want to grow.
Make a list of the vegetables you enjoy eating. I mean there is no point in growing something you won’t eat.
My son-in-law made that mistake. He grew a LOT (I mean really a lot) of zucchinis but they don’t really eat zucchini. He ended up giving most of them to me and his own mother. We appreciated it but he would have been better off to grow more of something they do eat like tomatoes, peppers or peas.
Take your time and really think about the types of vegetables you usually buy when you pick up groceries. If it is something you buy regularly chances are you will enjoy growing it.
Don’t overwhelm yourself. Start by trying two or three types of vegetables to grow for your first time. Next year you can another two or three different vegetables as you gain experience and confidence.
Location location location
Location is important in several different ways.
To begin with, where do you live? Why is this important?
Well, various areas have different growing seasons, different amounts of rainfall, and different soil. All of these things need to be considered because not every vegetable or fruit will grow well in every area.
For example, I live on the East coast of Canada and three of our sons live in Alberta which is in western Canada. I can grow apple trees here, apple trees won’t grow in Alberta but will thrive in British Columbia.
We have maple trees that we can collect the sap and make maple syrup in the spring. Maple trees don’t grow any farther west than Ontario.
Be sure to check out growing charts for your area to see what grows well and when it is best to plant it.
Another aspect of the location to consider is where in your yard do you want to place your garden.
Most vegetables require an adequate amount of sunshine and well-draining soil.
So you don’t want your garden to be in a swamp or in the shade.
Some vegetables will tolerate some shade but some won’t.
You will need to research the particular vegetables you wish to grow to learn their particular needs.
Getting an early start
Here in Canada, we have a relatively short growing season but there are simple ways to extend that growing season when you are ready to do so.
In the Atlantic provinces, I have noticed many farmers using floating row covers so they could get their seeds planted as soon as the ground could be worked regardless of the risk of frost.
Many people here use a greenhouse to start plants before the ground can be worked and transplant then later into the garden.
Others, like myself and my son-in-law, start some plants in the house.
This year I have started tomatoes, sweet peppers and several varieties of hot peppers in my living room.
Once all risk of frost is gone (2ndweek of June here) I will transplant them outside in the big garden.
There are other vegetables I will start as seeds directly in the garden usually the long weekend in May. That would be my peas, beans, lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, turnip, cucumber, winter squash and zucchini.
If we have a frost warning after those plants have erupted through the soil I will cover them with sheets overnight so the frost doesn’t harm the tender new shoots.
Don’t rush the garden prep. Spring can be rather wet and soggy soil compacts heavily making it very difficult for seed to sprout.
You can determine if your soil is dry enough is to grab a handful and squeeze it tightly in your fist. If it breaks apart when you open your fist the soil should be dry enough. If not then wait a few more days and test it again.
Here in New Brunswick, Canada, our soil is fairly heavy clay (although not really red like PEI’s soil) that is horrible for growing.
When I initially started my garden I added sand and LOTS of compost and manure.
Now that my garden is well established (20+ years) each spring I add quality compost and manure if needed.
Every other year I would purchase organic peat moss to add. This worked well to help keep my soil lighter. That heavy clay is a real problem.
You can buy peat moss at your local garden center.
Some people add fertilizer as well but I choose to grow as organically as possible which is why I add compost and/or manure that I get from a local farmer.
Once the soil has had the compost and/or manure spread evenly it is time to till the soil.
For years I would get my husband to do this for me with a tiller you would push through the garden.
This was not an easy task and would usually take a full day for our large garden.
Several years ago my husband purchased a tiller to pull behind the tractor and now I can till the garden myself.
The last several years I have had the grandkids help which we all love.
A couple of passes with the tractor and the garden is ready to plant.
Again, you don’t want that soil to be too wet or you will get the tiller stuck regardless of which type you use.
Don’t have a tiller?
No problem, you can easily rent one from your local equipment rental shop, for the day for a reasonable price.
Now don’t just start planting seeds all willy nilly or harvest time will be a nightmare.
Take the time to plan your garden layout.
Draw out a rough design on paper (graph paper is perfect for this).
Consult seed packets for spacing, spread and height information. This is important because you don’t want your tall plants shading your short plants or they won’t grow and yield well.
You can design your planting in single wide rows, staggered rows or in blocks (great for raised beds).
Include paths between rows to allow access for weeding or harvesting. The soil will become quite compacted when walked on.
You can use straw or bark for mulch.
Mulch is an important part of your garden because it helps control weeds as well as retaining moisture so the summer heat doesn’t scorch your plants.
How you intend to water your garden is entirely up to you.
Even though we have a short growing season and can get frost into June at times, summers can get quite hot. Last summer we had several days that were 30+C (80’s to 90’s F), so yes regular watering is a must.
Never water in the hottest part of the day. Always water either early morning before it is hot or in the evening once it cools a bit.
For many years I went out each evening (except on rainy days) and watered the garden by hand with the hose. This was rather time-consuming but I found it was a great time to just be alone with my thoughts and plan my next day.
Some people use elaborate inground watering systems and they are great but most homeowners don’t wish to go to that expense.
A few years ago I started putting a sprinkler out in the garden each evening and going out after an hour and moving the sprinkler to the other end of the garden for another hour.
This worked great as well and it meant I didn’t have to stand out there getting eaten by mosquitoes as I watered the garden.
Last summer my wonderful husband connected 2 sprinklers together so the whole garden could get watered at one time. He then put the sprinklers on a timer so I don’t have to do anything except remember to turn the system off if we are expecting rain.
Some things like peas, beans, lettuce, green onion, spinach and zucchini will be harvested at various times throughout the summer.
I absolutely love going out and picking the ingredients for a fresh salad right before supper.
You can’t beat the flavour of a salad that is eaten less than an hour after picking.
Other things are not ready till the fall or late summer.
They seem to all be ripe at the same time so you are left to decide how to preserve them because you may not be able to eat them all at once.
Personally, I do a lot of canning. I make pickles, relishes, salsa, jams and jellies as well as wine.
Follow me through the season, I will likely share recipes and various garden tasks as they become necessary.
You can also find tons of canning recipes online.
I like to freeze my vegetables as soon after picking as possible for maximum freshness.
Most vegetables require blanching before freezing. That simply means they get dipped in boiling water for 3 minutes to kill any bacteria.
Then they are placed in freezer bags and frozen for use in the winter.
I only recently started dehydrating vegetables and fruits.
They are perfect for on the sailboat in summer.
Dehydrated vegetables and fruit store easily and I don’t have to worry about refrigeration on long journeys.
It is simple enough to rehydrate the vegetables when preparing meals.
I love making banana chips or salt and vinegar zucchini chips.
As you can clearly see vegetable gardening in Canada can be a fun and rewarding experience.
There are certainly ways to compensate for the short growing season.
Starting plants indoors really helps.
Be sure to water your garden daily especially when it is quite hot.
Harvest things when they are ready and enjoy the freshest vegetables you will ever experience.
Do you have a vegetable garden?
Have you started any plants in a greenhouse or even in your own home?
Do you have any helpful hints that you wouldn’t mind sharing?
Leave your tips in the comment section below I look forward to learning more.
8 thoughts on “Vegetable Gardening In Canada”
Hi Deb, I enjoyed reading your article so much, especially because I am growing vegetables and fruits myself.
Now, you have quite a big garden to deal with; I think it is a lot of fun. I learned it too from my parents, who always grow their own vegetables and have fruit trees. They have a big garden in the North of Germany where I come from, and still, I love the taste of just plucked salade and herbs, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers. People who are buying in the supermarket don’t know what they miss.
We have a partly flat roof on our house here in the Netherlands, so we thought of using this for a vegetable garden. It is great because there is a lot of suns, and the insects love it, hopefully not the snails.:)
We also have a short growing season; summers can be cold and wet. So it is good to grow vegetables which like it cold and rainy.
Tomatoes are difficult to grow here, we would need a glasshouse, but our garden is too small.
I love to make my own compost; we have partly sandy soil where the water is disappearing to the sides. Every year I need to enrich it with a lot of compost, but it is like the ground is eating up the compost; nothing is left after a while.
It is so beautiful to read that other people living in another country are also interested in organic vegetables and fruits. It helps the planet.
Thank you for your recipes which will come. I will certainly try them and let you know! Pickles are a favorite of mine.
Oh, just a thought, I think that kale must grow fantastic in your place, and it is so healthy. I even juice kale and include it in my salad. Yummy!:) And dehydrating vegetables and fruits is so delicious, I agree! We love them! 🙂
Thank you Sylvia for drooping and taking the time to comment.
Yes, my garden is quite large but I am fortunate to live on almost 2 acres because we are in a rural community.
We do have an apple tree which I am so grateful for. We also have raspberries, blackberries, wild strawberries and grapes.
I do also grow kale and I love adding it to fresh salads and smoothies as well.
I love that you are able to use part of your flat roof for a garden. I would likely do the same if that was the only space I had. We love to spend time on our sailboat so I currently trying to think of ways to grow a few veggies while aboard so I can still have some fresh salads. Any ideas?
Did you know you can grow tomatoes in a pot inside your house? Just pick up a grow light from your local garden center. You can get LED grow lights so their power consumption is low.
I also love hearing about life in other countries. The Netherlands is definitely on my list of places to visit once this pandemic is over.
What an interesting article! I have never gardened my own garden, although I admit that it is something I would like to do someday. A couple of years ago we decided to switch to a plant-based diet plant-based, so our consumption is considerable and we are always looking for organic options.
Having your own garden gives you the possibility to grow plants in the most natural way possible without using chemical additives and I think it must be a very rewarding experience to see the whole growing process.
I live with my family in the city (Barcelona, Spain) and we only have a small terrace, so for the moment we have only grown a few avocado, tomato, lemon and orange seeds. Although we have not harvested any fruit yet, I recognize that it is a very nice experience to see how the plant is born and how it grows.
Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge. I found your article very interesting.
Best regards 🙂
Hi Marta, thank you for commenting. I am glad you enjoyed my article.
Plant-based eating is such a healthy lifestyle and growing your own vegetables is so satisfying.
I love the fact that you are growing avocado, tomato lemon and orange on your terrace. I believe all except the tomato are actually trees and will take quite a while to bear fruit.
Did you know you can grow lettuce, kale, spinach and chard in pots and have healthy greens year-round? Maybe you could start a pot or two. Beans and peas can grow in pots as well.
Thanks again and best wishes.
I love having a vegetable garden as well! We started a few seeds indoors and will pick up some other plants from a local greenhouse when we are ready to plant outdoors. Tomatoes, kale, and green beans along with some herbs and flowers will make up our garden this year.
We have a smaller garden so we typically eat most of the vegetables right away when they are ready to harvest, but I enjoyed reading about your methods of freezing, canning, and dehydrating your vegetables. Those are all topics I’d like to learn more about. Do you have a specific food dehydrator you would recommend? I’m also looking forward to reading some of your canning recipes this summer!
Thanks for dropping by, Leah and taking the time to comment.
I think it is wonderful that you have a vegetable garden as well. I have found it is possible to grow a few things in whatever space you have available. Our youngest son actually grows tomatoes in pots on the balcony of his apartment which I think is wonderful.
I will share my gardening adventures this season as things unfold. Naturally because of our weather not much happening for a few weeks yet. I always get so anxious at this time of year though. I also buy extra plants from the local garden center if necessary, usually broccoli and cauliflower or things I don’t really have room to start on my own.
I am looking forward to canning season as well. My dehydrator is the “Valley Sportsman” model and was purchased at Princess Auto. It is lightweight and easy to use.
Take care and happy gardening.
I enjoyed this post as I’ve also grown my own vegetables. I live in the UK and the weather here can be unpredictable! I’ve successfully grown tomatoes, aubergines (eggplants), sweet peppers, and lettuce. Living in a house with south facing garden made things easier. However, like yourself I always started seeds off indoors. In fact using the exact same seed tray as in the photo! I used to buy seed compost to start, then compost mixed with sharp sand and earth when planting outside. I always grew tomatoes in large terracotta pots outside and they usually thrived! Thanks for sharing such useful tips:)
Hi Kathy, thanks for commenting.
I have never tried to grow eggplants, are they difficult to grow? Do they take up much space?
It is interesting that the same trays I use are also available in the UK.
I am so happy you are able to grow some vegetables, there is something so satisfying when you are eating something you grew yourself.
I am grateful you found some of my tips helpful. Most of what I have learned about gardening was through trial and error. Plenty of mistakes made through the years. Last summer I grew a few peas and beans on the deck by our pool as well as in the garden. It added a nice bit of edible greenery around an otherwise drab area.
Enjoy your gardening this season. Take care.