A friend of mine told me about this great new company, Urban Seedling. The company, started three years ago by husband and wife team Tereska Gesing and Shawn Manning, specializes in planting raised bed organic vegetable gardens in people’s backyards. Imagine growing your own organic vegetables, available for your consumption for pretty much most of the three growing seasons.
In addition to their core business of building and planting raised bed gardens, Urban Seedlings also offers a variety of seasonal workshops. The workshop I attended, given by Tereska, took away the mystery I’ve always considered gardening to be (despite the fact that I have a B.Sc. in Biology and technically know how everything is supposed to work). The even better news is, if you are a novice, but are determined to grow your own vegetables, they’ve got a crew of gardeners available to you for support throughout the growing season.
In fact, Urban Seedling offers several levels of service from full service where, they build, set up, and plant your garden in spring, summer and fall, to medium service where they can set it up for you in the spring, and put it to bed in winter. For the DIYers in the crowd, the workshops are for you. They will teach you how to build your own raised beds and plant your vegetables, even if you happen to live in a condo and only have a balcony.
I had several questions about raised bed gardening, all of which were answered during the workshop:
Why raised bed gardening?: There are several advantages to raised bed gardening, but drainage is probably key. By building a bed above the earth, proper drainage is ensured. Further, by filling in your own mix of earth, compost, peat moss and vermiculite, you can ensure that you have the best soil mix that will promote maximum growth.
The raised bed: We were shown how to construct and plant a 10’x3′ bed. Using cotton twine or pieces of wood, the bed is divided into 30 1’x1′ squares, with each square dedicated to one vegetable — you can, however, plant as many squares of the same vegetable as you want. The exception is squash: it needs a large area, so when it comes time to plant it, four squares are taken up and the seeds are planted at the intersection of the four squares. In addition to the bed itself, it’s important to provide a trellis at the long, preferably, north, end of the bed — away from shadow casting plants. It’s also a good idea to erect a short fence that will keep squirrels and other animals out of the garden. Tereska noted that if you don’t put the fence in soon enough, and the animals in the area have tasted your yummy vegetables once they’ve sprouted, there is next to no way to prevent them from getting through. So, put the fence up as soon as you’ve planted your spring seedlings.
When are the vegetables planted?: There are three plantings during the growing season, assuming your first planting is no later than the last week in April. Admittedly the weather this year has been a little less cooperative than last year, when they were able to start planting the first week of April.
By planting new vegetables three times a season, you not only increase the variety of foods available, but also, you can maximize the number of vegetables one bed can offer. For example, peas, spinach, kale, lettuce, arugula (roquette), and broccoli can all be planted in the spring. A few of those, such as kale and arugula will also continue to grow all season long, providing you with fresh, flavourful veggies throughout the growing season. Lettuce and peas, however, are replaced with summer plants because peas stop or slow production with the hot weather and lettuce gets bitter.
By late May, to the latest, mid-June, summer and a few fall vegetables are planted. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and other climbing vegetables are planted in the last row so they can climb up the trellis. Other vegetables are introduced such as peppers, squash and beans.
In late August, the (almost) last planting is completed: new lettuce, spinach, beets and carrots are planted. In November, the beds are prepared for winter, but it’s also the time when garlic is planted.
Seedling Placement: Knowing where to place your vegetable seeds or seedlings is important. Tereska suggested that if there is no way to access your raised bed from behind, it’s best to keep it to a 3×10 size. According to one of the group members, who is a client of Urban Seedlings, a 3×10 bed produces plenty of vegetables. Climbers such as peas, tomatoes and cucumbers need to be planted at the back near the trellis, the middle rows tend to be saved for the plants such as kale and arugula that stay the full season, and the front row is dedicated to changing plants.
In the spring as well, Tereska pointed out that it’s important to plant tallest to shortest so the tall plants don’t block the shorter plants’ sunlight. By summer, however, they’re all tall, so it doesn’t matter as much.
How much does it cost?: prices vary by service, from full scale to DIY workshops for $20 so you can take matters into your own hands.
Tereska also offered us a few words of advice about the garden in general:
1. The place where you are planting your raised bed must receive at least 6 hours of full sun per day.
2. You need to check on your garden every day. This is important for a few reasons: one, because as it grows you’ll be able to tell how the garden is progressing and whether it’s healthy or if pests have discovered your veggies. Weeds need to be pulled daily and squares need thinning once seedlings have sprouted. One of the advantages of raised beds is that there tend to be fewer weeds in them.
3. Planting a bee-friendly flower and herb garden close by helps encourage pollination and vegetable production.
4. Your garden needs to be watered every day, so if you’re planning on going on vacation, arrange for a neighbour or Urban Seedling to come in and tend it for you.
You can find out more about Urban Seedling’s products and services by visiting their website. One of the things I really appreciated was that their catalogue of seeds has been put together specifically for the Island of Montreal’s climate.
You can also visit them at their new location in Ville Émard, where they’ve set up a greenhouse and have seedlings for sale as well as everything else you need to make your own vegetable garden.