The early spring weather was gorgeous, the patios were bursting, and you’d think it was time to get your garden on. And, sure, it was a good time to plan your planting, but as you saw with the switch in the past week – I hope you waited.
Normal frost-free period for Calgary is May 23 to Sept. 15. We’ll likely freeze again tonight so cover your bedding out plants. #yycfrost
— Paul Dunphy (@paul_dunphy) May 13, 2016
When I wanted to start my first garden back in Calgary in early April the year we moved here, I went to a garden centre to ask for advice. The lady almost burst out laughing when I said I wanted to start planting. “Oh honey, wait until the end of May.”
Sure enough, it snowed a week later.
Last year we had a similar spring, and then it snowed the end of May. When gardening in Calgary, if you get too eager with your green thumb, your season will be over before it starts.
Now is a great time to start thinking about what you’re going to do with your garden. Now is a great time to start building up your infrastructure, But wait until after the long weekend before you get anything in the ground.
Here’s where to go to find what you need to know about starting a garden in Calgary:
WHAT TO GROW
The City of Calgary has a YardSmart gardening brochure to help you pick perennials that are good for our climate region. It lists some native plants that will thrive as well as some water wise annuals to brighten up your yard. Bow Point Nursery is a good place to source native plants.
There’s also a complete video series to help you grow YardSmart.
This garden guide from Scotts Miracle-Gro has helped me get my planning in order to pick the right vegetables and plants for my specific gardening conditions. It’s not just living in a cooler climate that makes gardening harder in Calgary, where your house sits also limits what you can grow.
Scotts Miracle-Gro Canadian head of marketing Glenn Martin says where your yard faces will determine your success for different plants. Peppers, for example, have “got to be hot in full sun and you can’t overwater,” he warns. Same for corn. “It might be tough with the east facing yard because it needs a lot of sun.”
I have an east facing backyard, my garden is in shade by late afternoon. My backyard neighbour, with his west facing yard, gets hours more sunshine each day. Last year he had a bounty of peppers and corn. I likely won’t.
I’m sticking with root vegetables because they do better with less sun. Beans, beets, carrots, and swiss chard all thrive in these conditions.
Many people start their seeds indoors in April, if you haven’t gone that route yet, you can pick up seedlings at your garden centre, or start from scratch in the backyard garden box.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac has a handy planting guide for Calgary to help you with dates to move things outside.
WHAT TO GROW IT IN
Building your garden beds is a great project to get at while the weather’s nice. For my first time backyard vegetable gardening last year, I built a raised garden bed in a sunny corner of my yard.
Here’s how I did it:
If you want to start small, you could work with tomatoes in deck pots or strawberries in simple garden boxes in windows or on decks.
Make sure you have the proper soil to have a successful garden. Just digging up your yard and planting won’t always work. You need to have a balanced soil that is filled with healthy nutrients and can retain moisture. For in-ground gardens Glenn Martin recommends using Scotts Miracle-Gro Potting Mix; however, for raised beds you should choose a potting mix, like Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix.
GROUP GROWING EFFORTS
Joining a community garden is a fun way to learn where a number of people pitch in and reap the rewards. The Calgary Horticultural Society has more information on planning your garden, extending the growing season, and they also have meetups and events where you can learn from peers.
Just west of COP there’s a plot of land worked by volunteers with Grow Calgary. They harvest fresh vegetables to donate to 16 organizations across the city, including the Calgary Food Bank.
However you choose to grow your own, gardening is a wonderful leisure hobby. There’s nothing like a fresh food from the 10 step diet, plucked from your own yard. You’ll eat healthier, save money, engage your kids in a family activity, and have fun. Get at it!