How to grow your own food in Canada

By: Callum Denault

Published on: March 22nd, 2024

For thousands of years, people have grown their own crops rather than buying fruits and vegetables at the local grocery store. In today’s world, it is a fun, rewarding way to save money on food. It is also a Canadian tradition, with Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood being named after the crops that Irish immigrants would grow in their front lawns.  

If you want to learn about other ways to save money on food, check out The Newcomer’s articles on gathering edible wild plants, Canadian hunting and fishing laws, and how to grow microgreens from home. 

Crops you can grow indoors 

There are over 28 different plants you can grow indoors to eat or use in cooking. Some of these are herbs—such as cilantro, oregano, basil, parsley, mint, or black pepper—while others may be fruits, leafy greens, or other vegetables. Some plants that are considered exotic in Canada can be grown indoors, such as dragon fruit. 

Some indoor plants can also be quite nutritious, and easy to grow. Other than microgreens and sprouts, you can cultivate indoor tomatoes, lettuce, and grow several types of peppers on your window, including bell pepper, jalapeños, and more!  

However, not every plant that can be grown indoors is recommended for everyone. For example, carrots require a very specific pH level in their soil to be healthy, celery is a slow growing plant that needs a lot of moisture, and while squash is easy to grow throughout the year, it takes up a lot of space, making it awkward for anyone who does not have a lot of room in their homes. 

Kale and spinach are great options for an indoor garden, as are cherry tomatoes which are smaller than normal tomatoes. The Farmer’s Almanac has advice on how to grow salad greens, which is a large variety of plants that can be eaten raw or cooked.  

Some plants such as lettuce continue growing even after parts of their leaves have been shaved off, and these conveniently harvestable plants are called “cut and come again” in some catalogs. The Farmer’s Almanac also recommends greens are grown using row covers—which keep the plants free—and that these containers are made out of a material that allows the plants to breathe with access to water and sunlight. Spun-bonded polypropylene is the material they recommend. 

Growing plants outdoors 

A good place to start is to look at the crops Canada is known for growing in its big, commercial farms. In order, these are: wheat, canola, potatoes, barley, corn, fruits, and vegetables. Canadian farmed fruits include apples, apricots, and several types of berries, while the most widely grown vegetables in Canadian farms are broccoli, cauliflower, and kale. Tomatoes are also popular among home gardeners, and they are the most eaten vegetable among most Canadians. 

On the topic of fruits and vegetables, it might help to know that several “vegetables” are actually grown as fruits. In the kitchen, fruits and vegetables are distinguished by taste, given that fruits are usually sweeter and/or more tart than veggies. Botanists have a scientific definition of fruits which is different from the culinary one: “fruits” are parts of a plant that bear seeds and help that plant reproduce, and berries are a type of fruit.  

Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and several other “vegetables” are actually fruits in the scientific sense. This is different from root vegetables, such as carrots, which are vegetables in both the culinary and botanical sense. Root vegetables are grown underground, and that underground part is what people eat. 

While it may seem silly, knowing this difference may help you when growing your own plants. For instance, if you want to grow carrots, all you need to worry about is if your plants are growing big enough. However, if your goal is to grow tomatoes or peppers, you need to make sure that not only is your plant growing, but that it is healthy enough to grow its own fruits so you can eat them.  

Dealing with pests 

Just as you may want to chow down on the delicious plants you grow in your home, there may be a number of animals that also plan on devouring your crops. In order to keep your plants safe, make sure you know how to safely, humanely, and effectively deal with these common garden pests. The Canadian government has a long, detailed guide to pest control for pretty much any animal you could consider a nuisance. They also have a list of pest species, including animals, plants, and diseases.  

When it comes to vertebrate pests such as birds and mammals, your best option is to deter them. Squirrels are too common to even kill, since more will come to your garden, so the best option is to either make obstacles they struggle to navigate or have a squirrel feeder nearby to keep them from wanting to eat your crops.  

There are different foul smells which keep animals away, such as deer which can be kept away with eggs, pepper, scented oil, and/or Irish Spring soap. Rabbits avoid the smell of predators, so getting some dog hair (either from your own dog or a local pet groomer) and sprinkling it on your yard is a good choice. Moles can dig new tunnels if you destroy their old ones, so a better option is to make their existing tunnels undesirable by pouring down castor oil or another liquid they hate the taste of. Dense soil and the smell of cats or dogs (predators) can deter moles as well, as does making sure your lawn is free of grubs which moles like to eat.  

Birds are little complicated and may take multiple different deterrents to fully shoo away. Streamers, noise makers (including wind chimes), and reflective scare tape are common solutions. Scarecrows and owl statues are old tricks to keep away crows. 

When it comes to insect pests, the best options are to keep them from making their home on your property. Mosquitos lay eggs in standing water, so make sure to clean any ponds your garden may have, and get rid of any still sources of water, including rainwater, which may have built up in your gutters or outdoor pots. Wasps and bees like to make nests in dark areas, so light up any garages or sheds you may have, and fill holes in your yard before wasps burrow into them.  

Aphids are small, lice-like insects that eat plants, and can destroy crops in large numbers. Shrivelled, unhealthy plants can be the victim of aphid attack, which like hiding on the underside of plants, and leave behind a distinctive, sticky honeydew after eating. Hosing down your plants and crushing any straggling aphids is a good option to keep your crops healthy, and if that fails you can spray your plants with soapy water every two to three days.  

While pesticides are effective at killing aphids, they are terrible for the environment and come with other risks. There are organic alternatives, such as using horticultural oil or neem oil to repel aphids. You can also plant dill, cornflower or other plants that attract the natural predators of aphids: ladybugs, hoverflies, and lacewings.  

Ants can be kept out of your house by sealing any cracks they come into, including those around doors and windows. They also hate vinegar, dry citrus, cinnamon, peppermint oil, and ground chalk, which can be placed near possible entrances to keep them out.  

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