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Action of the month for April: 5 garden planning tips for a small space

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During this time where the COVID-19 crisis is jolting the planet and confining many of us to our homes, making your own garden can be a soothing and nourishing activity. The good news is that you don’t need a 50-hectare plot of land to do it. A simple balcony can do the trick.

Here are some tips on how to transform a small space into an environmentally friendly source of healthy food, to make gardeners of all ages proud.

Tip #1: Properly assess your space

An important first step for planning your garden is to evaluate the amount of sunlight that shines on your garden area. Many people overestimate the amount of sun a plant will receive, especially when the garden is on a balcony where walls, the roof and other obstacles can block those precious rays.

Over the course of a day, take note of when the sun begins to shine on your space, as well as when it stops.

Basil, chives, parsley, mint and several other herbs do very well in the shadiest of spots. The same goes for spinach, cabbage, dwarf beans and radishes.

Also factor in the wind (certain vegetables and herbs tolerate it better than others) and the indirect heat that your balcony or other surfaces can emit near your plants.

Tip #2: Choose your containers well

An impressive array of objects can be repurposed as containers for your soon-to-be plants: an old wooden crate, empty paint cans, a wicker basket and so on. Otherwise, clay, plastic and stoneware pots will do the trick. And if you’re a do-it-yourselfer, there are a number of web tutorials that can help you build your own. You can also get your kids involved in making and decorating them!

That said, there are certain key points that you must take into consideration when choosing your containers.

They must allow water to drain through one or more holes and they must be a decent size to enable the plant to grow easily, to keep reasonably moist, to resist temperature variations and to get the nutrients it needs to remain healthy. To recap: the larger the container the better, and water must be able to drain easily. If the container is airtight, get out your drill and make your own holes!

Tip #3: Quality soil makes all the difference!

Planting in the right type of soil is essential for a healthy garden. In fact, it’s often the key to success!

Basic garden soil is often too dense and compact for potted plants, and could suffocate them. Use this simple recipe to prepare the soil for your pots:

-⅓ garden soil
-⅓ compost
-⅓ peat moss** or a product that performs the same task, such as coconut fibre

**Note: peat is somewhat controversial; some describe it as non-renewable. To learn more, click here: https://www.ledevoir.com/vivre/jardinage/415824/la-mousse-de-tourbe-facon-sensee

Can’t get out to buy what you need? Ask a friend or a local support network to get it for you. Another option: some home reno centres offer home delivery.

Tip #4: Choose your plants carefully, and opt for organic seeds where possible

Almost any vegetable or herb can grow in pots on your balcony. But it is essential is to select plants that will work well the growing environment you will provide them with (based on the sun, wind, climate, container, soil and so on).

Group together plants with the same sunlight/water needs to make things easier, and try to promote biodiversity as much as possible.

You can also opt for organic seeds, which cost a fraction of what you’d pay for a plant in a garden centre (whose growing conditions are unknown). What’s more, the supply of such plants is uncertain given the current crisis surrounding the coronavirus.

The good news is that you can order local seeds online! In doing so, you’ll be supporting local supply chains, helping to preserve heritage varieties of plants and lessening your dependence on the agri-food industry.

Here are four Quebec companies from whom you can order seeds online:

  • Jardin des Écoumènes: a seed artisan and nursery selling Québec Vrai certified organic seeds
  • Coop Tournesol: a cooperative that grows certified organic vegetables, seeds, plants, tisanes, herbs and flowers
  • Terre promise: a local seed artisan that produces ecological seeds from rare or endangered vegetable varieties
  • Jardins du grand Portage: a Montreal-based company carrying an inventory of naturally or organically grown vegetable seeds

Tip #5: Sketch it out

This all seems a bit overwhelming? There are indeed quite a few things to consider before getting started. Do a sketch of to help you organize your space and plan your purchases for your new garden. Things always look clearer when you put pen to paper!

Reading suggestion to take you further

If you’re interested in diving deeper and learning more about this type of gardening, Bertrand Dumont’s Le potager en pot (Éditions MultiMondes) is a fairly comprehensive yet easy-to-read resource. It also contains technical datasheets on a number of vegetables and herbs.

It is also available in digital format on the Les libraires portal

 Happy gardening!