May 29, 2019

Condo Container Gardening, From a Beginner Gardener

When you live in a big and expensive city, sometimes you have to let go of some of your #housegoals - a driveway, garage, home office, backyard, to name a few. 

But then again, there are some you don’t…

Urban Gardening - Creating a Condo Container Herb & Vegetable Garden

One of the major selling features when we bought our condo was the large terrace, 200 square feet of outdoor space. If we weren’t going to have a backyard, then a space where our kids could play and where we could entertain was a must.

On top of this great outdoor space, and, essentially, extension of our living space in the warmer months, the terrace came with two large planter boxes. I’m talking very large… like herb and vegetable garden large.

Urban Gardening - Creating a Condo Container Herb & Vegetable Garden

In 2009, the City of Toronto created a bylaw where all new builds over a certain square footage were required to have a green roof. For our condo, this was in the form of the planter boxes. When we moved in, they were filled with a variety of perennials (blooms that come back year after year), that quickly blossomed and became our own little pollinator garden. 

As much as I LOVE a pollinator garden, what I don’t love is our stinging friends being so close to where the girls are playing. And so, those perennials sadly had to go.

With our condo bylaw stating that the planter boxes must stay “green”, we decided to instead use them for an herb and vegetable garden. Might as well get some reward out of them. Am I right?!

Since this type of garden was completely new to me, I immediately turned to my friends at The Home Depot Canada for help. (By the way, did you know that they are THE destination for spring in Canada?) 

When it comes to plants, they have 32 dedicated growers across Canada, 8 here in Ontario. Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to go on a field trip with them to visit one of those local growers, family-owned Jeffery’s Greenhouses, in the Niagara-area. Jeffery’s 1.5 million square feet of planting space supplies the annuals to 55 stores in Ontario. Burpee is the edible brand they grow, and includes the majority of potted herbs I bought for our garden.

>> Read on to learn what we planted. <<

Urban Gardening - Creating a Condo Container Herb & Vegetable Garden

Originally, we had intended to just do one planter with herbs. But, naturally, when I saw the availability of herbs and produce in-store (both in starter and seed), I got excited and overbought. So, our second planter box became dedicated to veggies.

Since we live in a condo and space is at a premium, I didn’t have the luxury of starting seeds indoors in the winter. So instead, I bought a mixture of potted herbs and vegetables, as well as seeds suitable for sowing directly outdoors after last frost.

Most herbs and vegetables do require full sun, for at least six hours a day. Perfect for our north-facing terrace because during the daytime hours, we are bathed in sunlight. Sun equals happy plants. 

Urban Gardening - Creating a Condo Container Herb & Vegetable Garden

Living in hardiness zone 6a, typically last frost is the beginning of May. BUT, we’ve had such a cool, wet spring so far that planting was a bit delayed. 

Since I can never do anything by myself anymore (#momlife), I “enlisted the help” of my littlest garden buddy, my three year old daughter Morley. I’ll give her credit, after putting on her PAW Patrol gardening gloves (also bought at The Home Depot Canada), she was all in, using all of the strength in her little body to pull out the old plants, and prep the dirt for planting the new. While she was a great help, she did require about 15 snack breaks, so prepping and planting took a little longer than I intended.

But, after those 15 snack breaks, we finished. And I am so happy with the result!

Urban Gardening - Creating a Condo Container Herb & Vegetable Garden
Urban Gardening - Creating a Condo Container Herb & Vegetable Garden
Urban Gardening - Creating a Condo Container Herb & Vegetable Garden
Urban Gardening - Creating a Condo Container Herb & Vegetable Garden

Nationally, 1 in 8 households live in condos or apartments (2011 National Household Survey). And in Toronto, the largest city in Canada, 20% of the population calls a condo home (2016 census). Small space, urban gardens are on the rise. Just because you live in a small space, does not mean you can't have a garden (and eat it too). 

Gardening is such an immensely pleasurable and enjoyable activity. You have the joy of growing your own food, knowing where it came from, and how it was grown. There’s nothing that beats the ability to harvest the freshest ingredients for your home-cooked meals. Having your kids involved, and teaching them where your food comes from, is also a bonus.

Now, keep your fingers crossed that it’s successful because I’m itching to be able to serve them up on our many terrace BBQs this summer…

What We Planted: 

Planter Box 1 (Herbs): Chives, Dill, Parsley, Basil, Sage, Thyme, Rosemary

Planter Box 2 (Vegetables): Kale, Arugula, Lettuce, Green Onions, Carrots, Beets

Medium-sized pot: Tomatoes 

Small-sized pot: Mint (*)

*It is important to note, mint has an aggressive root system and must be planted on its own or it will completely take over your garden.

Urban Gardening - Creating a Condo Container Herb & Vegetable Garden

Interested in planting your own small-space container garden?

Between doing my research and planting our gardens, I learned a few things that I think are important to share to help with the success of your garden. This is no way meant to be a comprehensive step-by-step guide. I am in NO WAY a gardening expert (hell, this one may completely fail). 

A Few Things to Think About When Starting Your Own Small-Space Container Garden:

Before deciding to plant herbs and vegetables, it is important to check your condo bylaws! Each condo is different in terms of rules for balconies and terraces. 

Determine your hardiness zone. This will tell you what can grow where, and when. Here is Canada's hardiness zone map.

Set a budget to help determine what kind of things you can invest in, like the size and type of containers, quality of soil, and size of raised beds you can purchase. For those on a tight budget, think about starting small and gradually expanding each year.

Do your research. So you know what can grow in your area, and based on that info, you have created a list of what you want to plant. Now its time to learn about how much water, sunlight, space (i.e. space between plantings, do they sprawl vs. grow vertically), and love the plants you want to grow need. Based on this info, come up with a garden plan. 

Make sure to observe the location you have selected for a few days. Your container should be kept in a position where it can enjoy a fair amount of sun during the day. The amount of space and sun will determine how much you can grow and also what kind of plants you can grow.

Consider whether you want to start with seeds or transplants. Many varieties (i.e. carrots, beets) do best when direct seeded while other plants (i.e. tomatoes, peppers) should be started indoors in advance or purchased as seedlings to ensure there is enough time for them to grow and mature.

Remember that a successful vegetable garden takes time to manage and maintain. You can’t just plant your garden and forget about it until the harvest rolls around. Remember it needs to be watered, weeded AND harvested. And don’t forget about the end of the growing season - putting your garden to bed in the fall is just as important.

Have fun with it!

Urban Gardening - Creating a Condo Container Herb & Vegetable Garden

Do you have a garden? What is your favourite thing to grow (and eat)? I’d love to hear!

*Disclosure: This post is in partnership with the Home Depot Canada. However, all opinions are 100% that of To & Fro. Thank you Home Depot!


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