Harvest at home

As people try to minimize trips to the grocery store, Halifax Seed general manager Emily Tregunno says she’s noticed a lot of gardeners and people keen to grow their own food. 

That doesn’t surprise Enfield resident Gigi Pelletier. She’s a master gardener and member of the Atlantic Master Gardeners Association. “When we look at our… association, a lot of the people are much older, I would say in their late 50s,” says the Enfield resident. “I think it’s something people are really thinking about, spending the summer at home with nothing to do.”

In addition to saving money in the long run, growing your own food can bring joy. “It is kind an accomplishment,” says Pelletier. “Nothing is ever going to taste better then something you grew fresh off the vine.”

That’s one reason why Andrea Miller, a recent Acadia University grad, wanted to take up vegetable gardening. She started with houseplants and now having over 50 of those, is ready to grow vegetables. “This year I figured I was going to be at my parents’ house all summer,” says Miller. “And they have a pretty big backyard.”

She’s starting inside with a 72-cell seed starter kit. She’s attempting crops such as peas, arugula, and cucumbers. Pelletier says those are some of the best things to grow in Nova Scotia’s climate. Beans, potatoes, other herbs, and tomatoes also grow well here.

Miller says following the growing instructions are easy. She put the soil she bought into the seed starting kit, hydrated the soil, used the end of a permanent marker to poke holes, and put one to three seeds into each. She is keeping the seeds near a window with a lid over them, which should keep them humid.

“Once I get the seeds started, I’ll just transfer them out to the greenhouse and hope for the best,” says Miller, who bought a 25-square-foot greenhouse to put them in. 

Each seed will take a month or two to sprout. Then she’ll move them into containers. Pelletier recommends container plants for beginners because they’re easy to move and manage. They are also great for people who don’t have a backyard or deck because you can put them on a stoop or even inside near a window. 

For Miller, keeping plants is good for her mental health. On days when it’s hard to get out of bed, knowing her plants depend on her gives motivation. That’s what got her into gardening. “If one plant makes me so happy then imagine how happy 50 will make me,” she says.

Photo: Andrea Miller

Your first garden

  • Buy good potting soil. Dirt you find outside won’t cut it.
  • Plants need about 10–16 hours of sunlight a day to mature. This means putting your plant in a south facing window will help. Pelletier recommends buying LED lights.
  • Heat is also important for seed growth. Be mindful of how much heat each seed needs. You can keep your seeds warm through humidity or with a heating pad. 
  • Keep them moist. The smaller the container the quicker it will dry out. If you can form a clump of soil into a ball that holds together, it’s sufficiently watered. Water your plants early in the morning or late in the evening; avoid high noon. And don’t pour the water directly onto the greenery.
  • Don’t put the containers directly atop anything valuable. Things get messy.
  • Drainage is important, your container should have holes. If your container is outside, put it on a stand over your lawn. If it is inside or on a deck, you can put a plate beneath.

Hanging herbs

Photo: Gigi Pelletier
  • Clean a tin can and remove the label (or a plastic container like a yogurt tub).
  • Punch 3 or 4 holes in the bottom for drainage. A nail or corkscrew works nicely.
  • Fill with potting soil and follow the herb seed directions for planting. Herbs do well in small containers and grow well in Nova Scotia’s conditions.
  • Attach the can to a sunny vertical surface like a wall. Zip ties or string work, but remember that wherever you set it up, water will drain out the bottom.

Bean sprouts

  • Get sprouting seeds (e.g. arugula, green peas, broccoli sprouts and mung beans).
  • Soak the seeds in cool water overnight. (Check the package; some need more soaking than others).
  • Rinse them and put them on a tray with wet paper towel.
  • Put plastic wrap over the tray and keep it out of the sun.
  • In about 6 days you should have ready-to-eat bean sprouts.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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