The Joys of Edible Gardening During a Crisis

Plus Tips for Success

Edible gardening shows no signs of decreasing in popularity. Every year more and more people discover the benefits of growing their own fruits, vegetables, and herbs. These benefits include saving money, getting exercise, working on a shared project with your family, building community around sharing your harvest with friends and neighbours, a lower carbon footprint, the ability to grow organically, to know where your food comes from, and to grow unique varieties you would never find at the supermarket or even the farmers’ market, and flavour – homegrown produce just tastes better!

We have observed over the years at Phoenix Perennials that during times of crisis the interest in edible gardening increases significantly. While we wouldn’t wish a crisis on anyone, we are happy to see the growth of interest in edibles and the joy that comes with growing your own food not to mention the psychological and physical health benefits.

After the 2008 financial crisis we saw a considerable bump of interest in edible gardening. Leading up to this time, there was a growing foodie movement and an appreciation of locally grown edibles from home gardens and local farmers. These growing interests combined with the economic uncertainty of the time and fears related to personal food security to encourage many people to increase their edible gardening efforts or to start their first pots and plots of edibles for the first time. Now with the Covid-19 pandemic, many people are turning to ornamental and edible gardening once again as a safe, fulfilling, money-saving activity that they can do at home on their own or with their families.

You may be looking for ways to save money and to stay fit, healthy, and inspired while working from home or off work with not much to look forward to but Facebook or Netflix. You may be a parent with children eager to coax them away from video games or calm them down from bouncing off the walls. Growing edibles is an activity you can do with your family that is fun and educational plus kids who grow their own food have been shown to be healthier, more diverse eaters as adults. You could have a yard or you could have just a balcony or patio. No matter your situation, edible gardening has much to offer.

Fresh tomatoes

Tips for Success

Seed or Veggie Starts — Starting with seeds or potted veggie starts comes down to your preference as a gardener. Seeds can be cheaper but one of our customers recently shared with us that they are not as cheap as one would think. Between buying the seeds, the special soil mixes, the pots, the lights, and the extra time and care, he estimates that growing from seed was about half the cost of buying his veggies in starter packs or 9cm pots, not the vast savings that one might assume. There is also the time and space required to grow your seeds. We don’t sell seeds at Phoenix Perennials because we don’t have an indoor area for them but they can be useful for certain situations and for certain gardeners. There is an art and a science to seed-growing. Seed growing can result in great success but also dismal failure. This can be particularly depressing if you’re new to edible gardening. Failures can also happen to more experienced seed starters. If you want to grow from seed, whatever level you’re at, don’t put your edible gardening season all in one basket. Do some edibles from seeds and get others in small pots or veggie packs. Easy plants from seed include leaf crops, like lettuce and kale, radishes, carrots, peas, and beans. Other crops like eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and basil can be easy for some people but more difficult for others.

Pots or Plots — No matter your gardening situation, whether you have a house with a garden or a balcony in a condo building, you can grow edibles. Most edible plants can be grown in containers or in the garden. In pots, you can also combine different veggies and herbs into mixed containers that are more ornamental with contrasts of leaf shapes, leaf colours, and flower colours. An edible container can be both functional and ornamental.

Potting Mix — In containers, always use a good quality peat- or coconut coir-based potting mix with added perlite. Products like our Sea Soil Container Complete, which also has added compost, is ideal. You can also blend potting mix with your own or purchased compost. In garden beds you should add Sea Soil or garden compost every year to a depth of 2-3 inches. Compost doesn’t add a lot of nutrients but it feeds the soil microbes which enhance overall plant health and make more water and nutrients available to your plants.

Fertilizing — The goal with edible gardening is production. So don’t forget about fertilizing. In containers you must fertilize for good results. You can choose organic or conventional fertilizers. Organic fertilizers are relatively weak so you need to fertilize at least once or twice a week. Conventional fertilizers can be in liquid form, granular, or slow release. Liquids are best used in containers and should be applied once a week. Granular fertilizers are best for garden beds and often last 3-4 or 4-6 weeks depending on the type. Slow release fertilizers last for months. For instance, our Perennial and Flower 14-14-16 with Micros lasts for 4 months! Fertilize once and you’re done for the season. It can be used in containers or in the ground. If you are interested in growing organically, remember that the most important thing from a human health perspective is that you’re not using pesticides. Fertilizers are just comprised of ¬†benign elements from the periodic table like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and micro-nutrients. These do not present a risk to human health. The air you’re breathing right now is 80% nitrogen after all. Overall, stick with what feels right to you but also be realistic about your lifestyle and gardening habits. If you’re good at fertilizing regularly, go organic. But if you can’t trust yourself to be out there regularly watering in your liquid fertilizer, choose a conventional fertilizer for best results.

Light and Heat — Most edibles require full to part sun. A minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight a day is a good guideline though veggies such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants grow best with as much light as you can possibly give them. Leaf crops like kale, lettuce, chard, and spinach and herb crops like mint, parsley, and water cress can get by on less light. Edibles also have different tolerances for low temperatures and different needs for daytime temperatures. Cool season crops like peas, beans, lettuce, kale, spinach, parsley, and mint are fine with cool nights and prefer to do their growing in the early season when daytime temperatures are also cooler. Warm season crops like basil, peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes prefer to be above 10 degrees Celsius at night and love as much heat as you can give them.

Watering — Providing the right amount of water is very important. Water in the morning or early afternoon if you can and avoid wetting the foliage of your edible plants if at all possible. The timing of watering and your technique will help reduce fungal issues on your crops. Most edibles require a regular supply of water to avoid wilting but not too much water that the soil never has a chance to dry out. As a general rule of thumb for containers, it is time to water when the top inch of soil is dry. Stick your finger one inch into the soil. When the soil is dry on the sides of your finger but just slightly moist at the tip, it’s time to water. Water until you see water begin to trickle out the bottom of the pot and then stop. Never water if the soil surface is still moist. Always wait for the top inch to dry out.

A platter of freshly prepared vegetables

Edible Pre-Orders from Phoenix Perennials

At Phoenix Perennials we offer various pre-orders for different edible plants each year. These pre-orders usually launch in November or December for pick-up in spring, usually early to mid May. Our pre-orders allow gardeners to plan their edible season in advance from the comfort of home and to secure all of the plants they want for a fulfilling and delicious season in the edible garden.

The Grafted Veggies and Sweet Potatoes Pre-Order – The Mighty Matos, Mighty Veggies, Mighty Melons and Ketchup ‘n Fries are all edibles hand-grafted onto extra strong rootstock that makes them more cold tolerant, more disease resistant, and more vigorous supplying you with 2-3 times more produce per plant than own-root plants. Some well-grown Mighty Matos can give you as much as 100 pounds of tomatoes! Then there is Ketchup ‘n Fries which give you deliciously sweet cherry tomatoes on top and yummy potatoes below. In this pre-order you can also order (non-grafted) sweet potatoes which will give you delicious tubers and beautiful foliage at the same time in shades of green, gold, and burgundy. Normally we don’t get many requests to ship these plants but we can do it.

The Essential Edibles Pre-Order – This special pre-order was recently introduced as a response to the Covid-19 crisis to allow gardeners to shop from home from 140 different essential veggies and herbs for pick-up or courier in early to mid May. (This pre-order is not for mail order.) There are also lots of cool and unusual versions of many different edibles to have some fun with.

The Great Citrus Pre-Order ¬†– Nothing says food security like growing your own citrus fruits. These do really well in containers protected over the winter. Or, if you live in coastal BC there are a handful of cultivars that can be grown outside year round like the ‘Owari’ mandarin, the ‘Nagami’ kumquat, yuzu, and sudachi. Citrus are available by pick-up, courier, or shipping.

The Avocado Pre-Order – Our newest pre-order offers named cultivars of avocado plants. We’re not sure if you’ll get enough avocados for your avocado toast every morning but it will be fun to try. These plants are quite large though it is possible to ship them.

Have a great time growing your edible plants this season!

Click on the images for the Avocado, Essential Edibles, Citrus, and Grafted Veggie pre-orders.