How Does Your Garden Grow?

How Does Your Garden Grow?

The link between cooking and healthy eating inspired Laura and me to get our kids into the kitchen – and start this blog. I also think of my family’s weekly trip to the grocery store as a chance to do a little pr for good food, too. Nothing too heavy-handed, at least I hope, just telling Esme how to choose the best peach or letting her pick out the red peppers she likes. But I’ve also been thinking about how to back things up even more and give her the experience of growing some of the food we eat. I grew up on a small farm and I know how much pride a child can feel by contributing to meals in this essential way. Lasts year we planted some carrots on our balcony along with the herbs and flowers. This year we’re going to do more and are letting Esme choose (within reason) what she’d like to plant.

I was recently introduced to Young Urban Farmers, a group of, well, young urban farmers. Christopher Wong and Jing Ho started up their company a year ago with the intention of supporting city dwellers who wanted a piece of the typically rural farming experience. They’ll plant a garden in your back yard or on your balcony, teach you how to look after it or come and tend to it themselves.

If you don’t have any space to start your own mini farm you can take part in one of their CSAs (Community Shared Agriculture) – there are three in the city – and get a weekly pick up of locally grown veggies. I also love the outreach program they’ve developed for schools. I chatted with Elaine, who runs the CSA, about getting down and dirty with your kids. (That’s Elaine in the centre, with the pitchfork and Chris is behind her) You can read more about what they do at or check out the CSA at

Q: Why do you think it’s so important to introduce kids to vegetable gardening?

A: Our connection to food starts before we are born, therefore our knowledge and understanding of how the food that gets on our plate is grown is important. And gardening is fun! It’s a great way to get outside, get your hands dirty and experience the excitement and satisfaction of growing something from seed to your dinner table. It’s a fascination that hooks even the most TV addicted kids.

Q: What are the best vegetables or fruit to start with for kids and why?

A: Always grow what you like to eat. For example, radishes are super easy to grow and have a short days to maturity rate, but if your kid doesn’t like radishes and won’t eat them, then what’s the point? On the other hand, having your child grow something they usually wouldn’t touch can be a great way to get them to at least try. For example, funky varieties such as purple haze carrots make vegetable eating a whole new experience. Some easy veggies to grow include lettuce, peas, beans (build a wigwam!), zucchini, tomatoes, mouse melons and baby carrots.

Q: What are some easy gardening tasks kids can get involved with?

A: Supervised weeding! Planting bigger seeds, like peas or beans. Compost making. Harvesting! Shelling peas and beans. Eating straight off the plant.

Q: Do I need a lot of space to start a garden? Can I garden on my condo balcony?

A: With the explosion of hardy, compact varieties you can farm just about anywhere! Pick vegetables that suit your space. If you only have part-sun, grow greens such as lettuce, spinach, land cress or purslane. Radishes and peas can also stand a little shade, along with some members of the brassica family.

Q: How important is it to plant organic vegetables? What does organic mean to the small-time gardener? Is it the plants or the soil that must be organic?

A: It is easy to grow organic because you just don’t spray or add anything chemical. There are lots of alternative pest control options and ways of planning gardens to reduce pest problems. In terms of soil, do whatever you feel comfortable with. No soil in the urban setting will be organic. However, assessing your soil or replacing it requires testing and then the large, upfront cost of purchasing soil and delivery. Depending on the location and condition of the soil, I tend to lean towards building soil instead of replacing it. This means the addition of compost and organic matter, the goal of long-term soil health. But, if you’ve had your soil tested or are concerned about soil contamination, then soil replacement, or raised beds are definitely options to be considered.

Q: Did you know when you were a kid that you’d be a farmer?

A: Like most kids I loved playing outside, planting things, picking things, getting my hands dirty. However, we got older, and while I continued to love planting vegetables, my friends drifted away from planting in the backyard and towards other pursuits. At school I studied agriculture and its role in so many issues facing the world, from poverty, urbanization, to the huge environmental costs of industrialized agro-business. I dreamed of becoming a farmer in the rural sense but being a city girl it seemed like just that, a dream. I knew I would always garden but I just didn’t connect farming with my urban lifestyle. Yet here I am, farming in the city with Young Urban Farmers CSA and loving every moment of it!

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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous
    May 24, 15:03 Reply

    I love this article! I don't have a green thumb. The thought of being able to get these guys to set up a veggie garden on my balcony is amazing!!

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