If all goes according to plan, DIY expert Chris Palmer will have every ingredient he needs to whip up a fresh, tasty meal this summer, right in his own backyard.
Since April, Palmer has been growing lettuce, carrots, pepper and squash in a raised backyard planter on his deck, using a clear glass cover called a cold frame to protect seedlings from cooler temperatures and overnight frost. Not only is it simple to do, it’s extremely gratifying, he says.
Palmer is among the latest to join the edible garden movement. Raised bed gardens – like the design shown on his website (handcraftedbychrispalmer.com) – are well-suited to urban areas where outdoor space is tight and are easier to control than large garden plots. If you aren’t ready to brave the DIY approach, companies like Young Urban Farmers™ of Toronto (youngurbanfarmers.com) will build one for you.
Up until recently, the most common material for a raised bed vegetable garden was western redwood cedar, known for its natural rot-resistant properties. What you want to avoid is chemically treated products like green or brown pressure treated lumber that can potentially leach harmful elements into your food, advises Palmer.
A newer, more affordable alternative to redwood cedar is MicroPro Sienna®, a product that is naturally pressure treated using copper and iron oxides. “It looks good, it’s all natural, and it’s cost-effective,” says Palmer, who used it to build his backyard planters. “I made my neighbour a giant cold frame planter using cedar. Now he’s looking at mine and he loves the look of them. I could have saved him half his money.”
Raised beds from Young Urban Farmers come with a grid board to easily divide the planting area into one-foot square sections. This makes it easier for beginners to plant, label and keep track of plants, but the process doesn’t need to be difficult if you plan ahead, says Palmer, who offers the following tips to help sprout your own edible garden:
- Start out simple. If it’s your first attempt, try planting herbs only, such as basil, sage and chives that will give any dish a flavourful boost. Tomato, bean and lettuce plants are very resilient and good choices for first-time gardeners, he adds.
- Plant a few annuals alongside your vegetables to drive pollination. “I have a mulberry tree out front and I planted a small flower garden around it,” says Palmer. “My tree has grown five times faster than my neighbour’s tree.”
- Line your planter with a coconut hair mat to help retain moisture.
- Choose a good quality garden soil, rich in nutrients and organic materials.
- Control growth. Follow the spacing recommendations and give larger fruits and vegetables that grow from vines a dedicated area so they can spread without choking off neighbouring plants.
- Use a glass lid overnight to keep warmth in and pests out.
- Water will evaporate more quickly from a raised planter so make sure you don’t go longer than three days without watering during a dry spell. Regular misting will also help to deter pests.