Gardening for beginners: Is growing your own food worth the time and money?

Ferragine suggests that beginners use seedlings instead of planting from seeds to avoid getting caught up in buying soil, trays and a lighting unit. Before you know it, those early-season supplies could set you back $100. 

And don’t expect to save money the first year, Ferragine warns “[Over time] that investment will pay off. It takes a few years to get it right.”

Choose your crops wisely

Canada is blessed with a wide range of climates—from White Rock, B.C., where palms grow, to Iqaluit where…not much grows. It’s important to know your area’s plant hardiness zone and be realistic about your planting options. Having an orange or lemon tree in your yard may be a fun novelty, yet will bear few fruits. 

It’s also important to know the length of your growing season. In most places across Canada, Ferragine says, it’s around 100 days. For example, he says, backyard gardeners should “avoid certain peppers, because you won’t have enough grow time to see them through to harvest.” 

Solid bets are lettuce, radish, herbs and spinach, which can be harvested in just 4 to 6 weeks. On the “approach with extreme caution” end of the spectrum, potatoes are susceptible to disease, expensive to seed and take up a lot of space, while the height of corn reduces the amount of light in your garden, and often attracts raccoons and other pests. Ditto for pumpkins, which can take over your plot and yield very little. (Also, how many pumpkins could you possibly need?)

Essential ingredients: sun and sweat equity

How much sun is enough sun? According to Ferragine, you need at least six hours of afternoon light to garden successfully. Produce can’t flourish in a shady spot.

And be prepared to roll up your sleeves and put in the time. “Plants need work. You can’t plant and forget, especially if you plant at a cottage.” Be realistic about what you’re willing to commit; Ferragine says people tend to get excited about gardening in spring then give up once it gets too hot.

Don’t skimp out on soil

Not all soils are created equal, Ferragine warns. Poor-quality soil results in poor-quality plants, so this is one item in your garden worth investing in. If you’re planting in containers, look for potting soils that are formulated for containers. Many municipalities also have programs where you can get soil inexpensively or even for free.

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