Urban farming: How to get started in your own backyard

Recently I caught up with Landscape Ontario Horticultural Trades Association Public Relations Manager, Denis Flanagan, who shared some of his expert tips on how to become a glorified urban farmer. With plenty of motivation and inspiration, I am now feeling super excited about unleashing my inner farmer.

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Trending here, there and everywhere is the action-plan to support local artists, trades, and manufacturers. It seems every weekend (and in just about every town and city in Canada) there’s a pop-up local farmers’ market, art sale or craft show; all of which are booming with energy and enthusiasm. It’s no surprise that we are all making greater efforts to not only support local production and sales, but to go even further and educate ourselves on DIY.

When I first learned that growing your very own vegetable garden, herb garden, and furthermore composting, was becoming increasingly popular amongst city folks I, admittedly, wasn’t all that keen to participate myself. But when I took the time to research what exactly was so appealing about at-home farming, I soon learned that creating your own, live fruit and vegetable patch can not only help inspire healthier meals, it can even lighten your grocery bill.

Before picking up my pitchfork, I put in a call to Denis Flanagan from Landscape Ontario, for tips on how to get started with my own garden.

Q: What are some of the misconceptions around developing an at-home, urban garden?

A: Generally people are hesitant to plan their own urban garden, thinking they need a lot of expertise and that it’s going to be a lot of work. Thankfully, this is not true. Anyone can do it so long as they take the time to care for it.

Q: Is it possible to grow a vegetable garden in any size yard, balcony or terrace?

A: Yes, growing in small spaces is definitely possible. Consider using containers and look for plants that are dwarf varieties. Also, consider training your plants to grown on vertical fences or walls.

Q: What are the basic steps to get started?

A: Pick an area that gets a minimum of 4-6 hours of sunlight. Make sure the soil is well cultivated and mix in organic matter, like compost. Set a budget for yourself and for the project at large and dig in.

Q: What are some of the costs associated with preparing a fruit or vegetable garden?

A: For an average 10×10 foot plot your soil amendments will run between $20-40. Your fertilizer will cost between $10-20, your plants $40-50, your stakes will cost approximate $10, and basic tools can run between $20-80. Weeding is free!

Q: Is there any produce we should stay clear of growing ourselves?

A: Most vegetables are annuals so we are only dealing with one season at a time. Try to pick plants that will ripen by mid-summer. Unless you’ve got a little experience under your belt, try and avoid crops like corn. Otherwise, it’s entirely up to you.

Q: Is there anything specific to organic farming we should be aware of?

A: Get to know your garden centre or source really well so that you know where the seeds, plants, and soils originate.

Q: Are there any governing regulations we should learn of before getting started?

A: Be aware of any local bi-laws regarding location of gardens. Also, educate yourself on local laws pertaining to chemical restrictions.

Q: Where can one turn to for more information and support on urban farming?

A: More advice and guidance can be found at or Look for community seminars and meetings held by Master Gardeners or Horticultural societies.

My advice, if this is your first garden, is to start small. Produce like salad crops, lettuces, radishes, etc. are foolproof. At-home gardening and urban farming is a great way to get kids active and educated on healthy eating, as well as great ways to meet neighbours and swap ideas about crops. Overall, it’s a great way to get outside, get active, and live healthier. Most of all, have fun!

What kinds of produce do you grow in your garden?

Photos by Landscape Ontario.