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How To Plant A Small-Space Garden

Jun 2, 2016

Spring means it’s time to prepare the garden at Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site in Manitoba.

Lower Fort Garry has Canada’s oldest collection of stone fur trade buildings. In keeping with the spirit and tradition of the site, our farm manager helps grow the same food that would have been fed to men who worked in the fur trade. 

Every year, we plant heirloom vegetables like potatoes, beans, corn, lettuce, beets and more. Once the vegetables are ready for harvest in July and August, we invite kids to visit the garden with interpretive staff dressed in authentic bonnets and britches to pick the vegetables for supper.

Spring is the perfect time of year to start your own vegetable garden—even if you only have a little bit of space! With the right vegetables, you can grow your very own garden in small pots or containers on your windowsill, balcony or porch.

Container-friendly vegetables

Historically, not all of these were found at Lower Fort Garry—but they’re all easily accessible today:

  • Lettuce
  • Spinach (tip: grow in cooler weather, like early spring or late summer, to prevent the plant going to seed)
  • Cherry tomatoes (choose a variety that is compact and bushy or miniature)
  • Radishes
  • Peppers
  • Peas (will need a support system to climb and grow)
  • Beans (will need a support system to climb and grow)
  • Several types of herbs (thyme, rosemary, basil, mint, parsley, oregano, etc.)

Once you’ve chosen your vegetables, you can sprout seeds in clear plastic cups or put the seeds in soil in small containers.


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Method One: Sprout seeds in clear plastic cups

This method is great for younger children—they’ll love watching the seeds sprout. It’s ideal for easy-to-manipulate seeds like peas and beans.

You will need:

  • Small or medium clear plastic cups
  • Paper towels or cotton balls
  • A lid, plastic cling wrap or a small clear plastic container with holes at the top (like a salad or spinach clam shell container)
  • Seeds of your choice
  • Water
  • Optional: spray bottle

4 steps to sprouting seeds in clear plastic cups

Instructions:

1. Spray paper towels or cotton balls with water until damp. Do not soak.
2. Roll up the paper towels and place in a medium cup, or fill a small cup with cotton balls.
3. Insert seeds between the paper towels or cotton balls and along the sides of the cup. You can put two seeds in a small cup or five in a larger one.
4. Cover with a clear lid or plastic cling wrap and make a few holes at the top. You could also place the smaller cups in a clear plastic container. The idea is to create a mini greenhouse.
5. Place in a bright area.
6. Ensure the paper towel or cotton balls do not dry out. Add a bit of water when needed.
7. Watch the seeds sprout!   

Method Two: Sprout directly in soil in small containers

If you choose this method, kids won’t be able to see the seeds sprouting, but it’s less stressful on the seeds. It’s ideal for smaller seeds.

You will need:

  • Containers: fibre pots, plastic cell trays, greenhouse kits or recycled plastic containers (just make sure to clean all pots before planting and punch small holes at the bottom)
  • Potting soil/seed starter mix (choose a subsoil that is light, porous and will retain moisture well)
  • Seeds of your choice
  • Optional: clear plastic containers, like salad or spinach clam shell containers

4 steps to sprouting seeds directly in soil.

Instructions:

1. Fill your containers with moistened soil/seed starter mix.
2. Make a little hole for the seed. The smaller the seeds, the shallower you should make the holes. You can also read the seed package direction to determine how deep each seed should be planted.
3. Drop a seed into the hole. Cover the seed with soil. If you are planting herbs, you can place a couple of seeds in each container.
4. Optional: Put the containers into a clear plastic container to act as a greenhouse. As soon as the seeds sprout, remove the clear plastic container.
5. Put in a warm bright place and water if needed, to keep the soil moist (be careful not to soak the soil).
6. Wait for the seeds to sprout!


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Transplanting seeds

After a few days, the seeds will have sprouted. Once they’ve grown about an inch (sprouted in cups) or are about three or four new leaves high (sprouted in soil), you can transplant them into bigger pots so they’ll have enough space to grow.

You will need:

  • Different size pots or containers, preferably with drainage holes or a tray system
    • Spinach and lettuce: deck planters or flower boxes (approximately two plants per container)
    • Peas and beans: rectangle boxes or bigger deck planters with supports (bamboo, wires, netting or trellis) for the plants to grow and hang (approximately three plants per box)
    • Herbs: one-gallon pot
    • Radishes: two-gallon pot (six or seven radishes per container)
    • Tomatoes: five-gallon pot (one plant per pot)
    • Peppers: five-gallon pot (one or two plants per pot)
  • Potting soil (choose a subsoil with plenty of nutrients)
  • Optional : compost

Instructions:

1. Put moistened soil in a pot. If you want, add a little bit of compost.
2. Dig a hole in the soil.
3. If you sprouted the seeds in a clear cup, gently place the sprouted seed into the hole, roots towards the bottom. If you sprouted seeds in soil, gently slide the container off the moist soil and plant, and place the seedling into the hole.
4. Cover the roots and bottom part of the plant with soil and add a little water.
5. Let nature take over and watch your plants grow. Don’t forget to water your plants every couple days.

Vegetables grow in containers on a windowsill.

Growing your vegetables!

You can keep your garden inside if you live in a colder climate, but you will need to put the pots as close as possible to a window with a lot of sun exposure. When the weather is warmer, you can move your pots outside.

Your plants will need to “harden up”—for a few hours each day, you can put the plants outside to expose them to outdoor conditions, then bring them back in. This can be repeated for a longer period of time each day, for at least a week, before leaving the plants outside for good.

You may need to bring your pots in on cool nights (below 10ºC).

If your balcony or yard is in direct sun all day, it will get very hot. You might want to move your pots in the shade or water them more often during hot periods.

Gardening is a process. You and your kids can experiment to determine what grows best in your area. The main thing to keep in mind is to have fun while learning all about how nature works!

Enjoy growing and eating your own vegetables!


Emily Hamel is a heritage presenter at Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site, the place where you can see fur trade history come alive with costumed interpreters dressed in 1850s attire.

Article Author Club Parka, Parks Canada
Club Parka, Parks Canada

Club Parka is a Parks Canada program for preschoolers at national parks and historic sites across the country. Kids can take part in the program online, too!

Visit parkscanada.gc.ca/Parka to download activity pages and get to know Parka, the busy little beaver who helps kids explore the world around them.

You can watch Parka weekday mornings on CBC TV following each episode of Chirp.

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