Plant a garden

Driven by pressure from its citizens, the Ontario government deemed that community gardens are an essential source of fresh food. Sustainable Merrickville-Wolford members were among the thousands of voices calling their attention to the importance of this sustainable local food source. Merrickville’s community gardens are run by the local Lions Club.

If you have an interest in food security, come out and join one of our meetings or events or contact us any time.

Not only does planting a garden ensure a source of nutritious and delicious food, it also benefits our mental, physical, and emotional health. This year, especially, we have seen just how complex and potentially vulnerable our food supply can be, and we are placing an even greater importance on locally grown food.

So why not get your hands dirty and plant a garden? While you are in the planning stages consider joining the grow-a-row movement and sharing the bounty of your harvest with your neighbours or the local food bank.

If you are new to gardening, this page will give you some resources for starting out.

Getting Started

Gardens don’t have to be complex or labour intensive or even take up a lot of space. You can start with something as simple as buying a few tomato plants and putting them in a container on your porch. But if you are feeling a little more ambitious, here are some basics.
  • Mother Earth News is a great resource full of interesting articles. They also have a ‘garden planner’ that allows you to easily design your own garden. You can use your address to find the last and first frost date for your area and learn when to plant plants indoors, outdoors, and rough harvest windows.
  • Just Food provides a comprehensive Garden Guide with lots of tips from starting seeds to pest control and composting to harvesting all geared to our local environment.
  • The Farmer’s Almanac also has lots of good information.

Testing your soil

Understanding your soil is fundamental to the success of your garden - knowing what will grow well in your natural conditions and how to treat your soil to maximize its potential.

The best way to get a real soil test is to take numerous samples and send it in to the nearest testing facility. The Ontario Government has a list of accredited soil testing labs.

However, for a rough idea of what kind of soil you may be working with, i.e., sandy, loamy, clay, etc. Collect some soil and put into a jar. Fill that jar with water and shake it! Once the soil settles, it will settle separated by the different soil layers: sand at the bottom, silt next, and clay at the top. Sandy soils will have a dominant sandy layer, silty loams will be more evenly split, and clay soils will have a thick clay layer. The LEAF Network has a good illustration to give you a general idea. This page also gives information on adjusting the pH or acidity level of your soil.

Starting from seed

It’s always a good idea to support your local seed companies when looking for the perfect seed for your garden. It’s also a good idea to stay local because you know that the seeds you buy from a local company are great for your climate!

Seed swaps and seed libraries are other great ways to get local seeds. Seed swaps provide the perfect opportunity to chat with other growers and find seeds you didn’t even think of growing. Most seed swaps take place in late March or early April.

A seed library is a place where local seeds are saved for gardeners to use in the spring. Then during harvest time those gardeners save some of their seeds for the library to use the following year. Seed libraries help promote and protect genetic diversity, local climate-adapted seed stock, self-sufficiency and community resilience through better food security.

Once you pick your seeds for this season, let a couple plants go to seed and save your own for next year. Over the years you will develop seed that is very specific to your garden’s little microclimate.

Buying seeds

To find a good seed company, you can refer to the Canadian Organic Growers Seed Directory or check out some of the recommendations from our members:

Merrickville Seed Library

Sustainable Merrickville-Wolford and the Merrickville Public Library launched the new Merrickville Seed Library this spring. While mainly focused on heirloom and organic vegetable seeds, flowers and other seed stock are available as well, as a diversity of plants is key to a healthy garden. The Library website has a list of available seeds which you can still pick up during the current shutdown period. Contact the Library directly to request seeds or set up an appointment to browse the collection.

We would also like to give a shout out to the Lions Club for their generous donation that allowed us to purchase a generous amount of starter seeds, as well as storage bins, to get the project underway.

If you have some extra seeds from last year's harvest, consider donating to the Merrickville Seed Library!

Produce from a garden

Choosing your plants

If you are wondering what to grow, here are some plants that won’t leave you disappointed:
  • Tomatoes - Full sun
  • Zucchinis or other summer squash - Full sun
  • Kale - Partial shade to full sun
  • Basil - Full sun
  • Spinach - Partial shade to full sun, cool season
  • Mint - Shade to full sun
  • Radishes - Partial shade to full sun
  • Potatoes - Full sun
  • Cucumbers - Full sun
  • Peppers - Full sun
  • Lettuce - Partial shade to full sun
  • Sunflowers - Full sun

Planting your seeds

Most seed packets tell you when to start them (indoors or out) and how best to sow them for optimal growth. But you can also check out the company website or other handy online guides:

Note: The last frost date for our area is around May 13. However, keep an eye on the forecast and be prepared to cover frost sensitive seedlings if it gets too cold.

Companion planting

Did you know that cucumbers grow well with peas and lettuce, but that you should avoid planting them next to your basil or potatoes?

Companion planting is a method of planting different crops close together to improve pollination, productivity, pest control, and to encourage beneficial insects, among other things.

Some other classic partnerships include, but are not limited to:
  • Tomatoes, basil and carrots
  • Squash, beans, and corn
  • Cauliflower and celery
  • Beets and beans

Some more plants to avoid putting together:
  • Dill and carrots
  • Beets and pole beans
  • Onions and peas or beans
  • Tomatoes and potatoes or cabbage

A vegetable garden

Saving and donating your seeds

How to save seeds

The best process of collecting seeds varies widely depending on the type of plant. Seeds that grow in pods are not ready until the pod is brown, dry, and beginning to split open, while tomato seeds are best harvested by leaving them in a watery mush to ferment a little. The links below provide lots of detailed information to make sure that you provide seeds with the best potential to germinate.

How to donate to the Seed Library

If you have some extra seeds from last year's harvest to donate to the Merrickville Seed Library, please make sure that your seeds are clearly marked with the
  • Year collected
  • Type of plant and variety of plant (e.g., red cherry tomato; autumn beauty sunflower)
  • Any extra information that may be helpful (how deep to plant seeds, when to start them, amount of sun, soil, etc.)

Seeds for donation can be dropped off at the library (even during the lockdown period) or at Healthily Ever After in Merrickville

Other resources

There are many, many great books out there to help you. Be sure to check out the local library, but here are a couple of favorites to get you started:
  • How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons
  • Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening by Louise Riotte

Good luck with the start to your season.