Resources for the Urban Gardener

My Introduction to Gardening

When I tell people I grew up on a 75-acre farm, they think it’s the perfect connection to my gardening habits. Our main farm export was horses though, with our back fields growing hay, soy, and sometimes alfalfa. 

My grandmother loved to garden though. She had hanging baskets with trailing blooms on every beam on the porch, with big flower baskets across the balcony, and her own tomato plants that supplied most of our summer salads. 

My first foray into gardening my own food, at the tender age of 8 or 9, resulted in 6 potatoes half the size of my thumb. As an overly sensitive person, I didn’t venture back into growing until the apartment I moved out of last year, at about 22. 

But when I realize I really like something, I tend to become a bit obsessive (hello my fellow auties), so my knowledge and experimenting grew pretty quickly. Some of this was accelerated by the first lockdown. My dad had left me with a mitre saw and I had extra wood from a few DIY projects around the apartment. So, I built a few planters as a way to avoid grocery stores and get my hands on fresh, high-quality produce.

Mid-August balcony harvest
Snapdragons in an urban garden

The Best Places for Basic Garden Tools

Lee Valley

Generally better for specialty gardening products, you can find specific tools here, as well as great informational books. Pre- (and hopefully post) ‘Rona, they also help DIY classes on a range of different crafting techniques. An excellent way to level up your adulting skills.

Home Depot

I go to home depot for all my soil, soil testing, and a lot of me seeds. Sometimes I also like to scour their pot section for small decorative flower pots. I also got my Grow lights for my DIY Plant Shelf there.


If you have the opportunity to go to your local thrift store, do this first. But if you’re looking for large and cheap posts, there are a whole bunch of ways to DIY baskets, cubbies, and even old slats into cheap gardening containers.


In the past few years, I have found the weirdest collection of organic seeds on sale in the checkout line. Recently though, they’ve upped their game with plant pots, and hydroponic growing kits. Their best resource by far is the books they keep on gardening.

Etsy – If you have the funds to buy cute pots, do it from someone local! A few of my favourite pot stores are listed to the right, (or below on mobile).

You can also find interesting watering cans, glass bottles (Useful for so much really), and specialty growing mediums.

Pinterest – legit my favourite place to go for inspiration. You can see what I’m loving on either my Plants board or Garden Hoe.

Green Witch Seed Co. 

From Edmonton, Alberta, this grower has a wide range of interesting plants. They focus on organic and heirloom plants but have all ranges of herbs, vegetables, and flowers. Try the atlas carrot – specifically bred for container gardening and perfect for throwing some extra veggies in a bed. 

Exotic Garden Co. 

This shop really lives up to its name. Also, run by a Canadian grower, this shop has all the colours you could want for your garden. They also sell succulent and houseplant seeds or cuttings. 

Eco Seed Bank 

Based out of Montreal, this seed store has amazing garden kits, with well-curated seed collections that are perfect for exploring new plant types for your garden. 

Starting an Indoor Herb Garden

urban garden examples

You’re going to need shelf space, floor space, wall space, or all of the above. When you know how much space you have, you can determine what will grow well there. Herbs like lots of sun, so if you can’t put them in a window that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight a day, consider supplementing with grow lights.

Most herbs grow well in containers, such as basil, oregano, mint, chives, green onion, sage, thyme and parsley. Last summer I found my experimental summer savory and rue also grew well. Beware if you are gardening in a small space; bay, thyme, and rosemary are shrubs and can outgrow their little containers quickly.

It’s best to grow what you already cook frequently. Herbs are best when they’re harvested regularly. If you can’t use it all, create a little herb drying rack to store the extras or use it for medicinal purposes. You can also freeze fresh herbs in an ice cube tray with oil or butter for per-portioned, long-term storage.

Most herbs are grown for their leaves. Because of this, you want to focus on feeding your plants nitrogen-rich fertilizers. Blood meal or fish emulsion are good organic options. Spent coffee grounds are also a great nitrogen source, but microbes in the soil take about 6 months to make it available for plants.

Starting a Balcony Garden

Balcony gardening comes with a very special set of challenges. Yes, there’s space, and sunlight, but there’s also residual heat from the concrete, wind tunnels, and pests. You’re also going to want to check with your city and building guidelines on gardens.  And finally, make sure that your balcony can handle the weight you want to add. Wet soil and ceramic pots add up, so consider lightweight growing options like bags, fibreglass, or plastic. 

Finally, water is a big resource that you want to consider. Can you hook up a garden hose to your faucet and run it to your balcony? If you can – that’s more than any of my apartments have had. You might want to consider a rain barrel, it means no extra water costs for you, and it’s really the best thing for your plants. But if you don’t get a lot of rain or you have a covered balcony, buy two large watering cans.

Starting a Vegetable Garden

examples of urban farming and vertical gardening
vertical gardening, easy DIY's for urban gardeners

Balcony gardens really do need a lot more water than growing in the earth. Every balcony can grow something, even if you only get indirect light you can grow salad greens. It’s common advice, but start small, and grow your garden as you get comfortable. 

My Favourite Balcony Gardening Hacks 

Go Vertical 

I had a lot of trouble trying to figure out how to fit all the produce I wanted on my balcony. So, I custom-built a bench I could add a back to, then allowed myself multiple ways to connect planters. Suddenly I had a green wall and some added privacy. 

Many vegetables can be grown in hanging baskets (hello tomatoes, blueberries, and beans), or you can try your hand at growing these plants upside down. It’s said to help with moisture retention and nutrient absorption, but you have to train the plant downwards. If anyone has extra tips please leave them for me in the comments, I think growing upsidedown will be a 2023 adventure.

Layer Your Garden 

If you don’t have the conditions you need to grow something well, sometimes you can manufacture it. If you’re like most people in my quickly expanding city, oftentimes balconies and vis-a-vis. Grow Lights are getting cheaper, with great options from Home Depot, or you can get solar-charged ones. On the other hand, if you have too much sun, using sun-loving plants on hoop trellis can shade delicate plants from the hot afternoon sun. 

But, because we are not growing in lush fields, the air in the city is quite a bit drier and hotter than where these plants usually thrive. Grouping lots of plants together can help the overall humidity and heat retention or shading of certain areas in your balcony garden. Also, consider interplanting your boxes and baskets to help create a living mulch that helps stop water from evaporating. 

Find Creative Ways to Water 

Your biggest task in the garden, other than checking for uninvited guests, will be watering. So if you want to help manage the work of the garden, look into creative items like watering globes, spikes that you can reuse 2L water bottles on, or terra cotta spikes that slowly release water from wine bottles! but, if you’re using glass, be sure to secure everything really well. The last thing you need is to drop glass off the balcony and have a condo board come after your garden (because some will).

What Every Gardener Needs

You may find a lot of lists on top tools for gardeners, or insecticides and fungicides. Mixing your own soil can even involve as many as 7 different particle types. It can get pretty overwhelming. Start slow and build out. Make sure you have enough time to enjoy your garden and only expand if you find yourself with downtime to plan additional projects.

The Garden Plan

There are so many ways to set up a garden plan. Most include what is growing when it will be planted and harvested. That way you can plan succession plantings and germinate your new seeds in time. When you work in an urban garden, you probably have a smaller workspace and need to have succession plants ready to go.

One of the biggest mistakes I made the first year I was gardening on my balcony in the city, only half of the plants had the lifespan of the full summer, and I blew most of my budget on spring flowers. By knowing how long you can grow things outside, you can have a bountiful urban garden that can feed you for the majority of the year. 

One of my favourite books on how to zone property and plan a garden is Your Edible Yard by Crystal Stevens. She goes over a lot in her book, and explores many types of plants and the conditions they grow best in. Her focus on permaculture will have you doing things in ways that will save you money in the long run, because she looks at ecosystem management for your garden planning.

Dreagons Tounge Bush Beans from the community garden

Quality Soil

I first knew I was upgrading from crazy-plant lady to quasi-farmer when I bought my first soil pH testing kit. This is really important as you start diversifying the number of plants that you have. Not every plant likes the same conditions, and it’s better to test soil acidity before going to buy extra pesticides or fertilizers. 

Plants that like a low soil PH 

Peas are famous for thriving in low acidity. You can grow several varieties in a range of colours, and they flower beautifully. Consider a bush variety for hanging baskets, but use pole varieties if you have space to trellis them up. Radishes, onions, and potatoes also love acidic soil. If you have space for small shrubs, Gooseberries, blueberries, currants, and strawberries all prefer a soil pH under 7. 

Soil pH is often lowered with peat moss, but the harvesting of this can be detrimental to natural landscapes. Instead, consider mixing your soil with diluted vinegar for a quick fix. You can buy elemental sulphur from garden stores, but those take a few months to break down and become available for plants. 

Improving your Soil Quality 

Hands down the best way to improve your soil is through your own compost and the following section will discuss that. But, there are many other ways that you can take care of your soil and keep your plants as healthy as possible. The simplest of ways is to rotate your crops. Plant a variety of crops in each bed, that draws different things from the soil. Most plants add something back to the soil too, most commonly carbon. 

If you’re working with soil that has other pollutants in it, you can grow a range of plants that draw toxins out of the soil. This is known as bioremediation. Effective plants include; oyster mushrooms, sunflowers, brown mustard, fava beans, barley, rapeseed, and broccoli. Just remember, you really shouldn’t eat the plants that have absorbed the toxins. Let nature break it down.

Cool Seeds

Etsy has more than just cool tools for gardening. It’s also a great place to find seeds, saplings, and cuttings of plants! You can also check Home Depot and Canadian Tire seasonally. Sheridan Nurseries in Toronto has a huge selection of both flower, herb, and vegetable seeds, and your local nursery may have some too. 

To get free seeds, save additional seeds, or learn about other good varieties of plants for your areas, check out local seed libraries. Most will connect you with small growers who specialize in certain varieties, but they can be a great way to get your hands on experimental seedlings.

Finally, It’s important to save and share seeds from your own garden every year! If you have particularly well-performing plants for your space, save those seeds and breed your own balcony-optimized plants. Seeds of Diversity is an incredible Canadian seed bank where you can find rare varieties and volunteer in breeding programs.

Your Own Compost

I will say this until I’m blue, everyone needs a compost bin. If you have any outdoor space at all, consider building yourself a little compost to help improve your gardening game tenfold. Contrary to what most think, a properly cared for compost shouldn’t smell. But if you really can’t do it, try to find worm castings or vermiculture compost from a local gardener.

Not only are there small rolling containers you can buy for small space composting, but there are also in-bed designs you can DIY for a hidden compost and an amazing vegetable bed all in one.

An Ideal Garden Timeline

I hate winter, and my little green seedlings really help me through my winter blues. I start some seeds as early as February but it all depends on what you plan on growing. If you have indoor aquaponics systems, start new seedlings every time you replace a plant.


This is downtime during the year. You can grow a few things in cold frames, but on a balcony, this is significantly more difficult. Best to clean pots and equipment to ensure there are no diseases or pests you transfer to your new seedlings.

– Onions 
– Peppers – these guys need some time to get going before they’re ready to produce fruit. Give them ample time to harden off before transplanting outside.


– Broccoli 
– Brussels Sprouts – these guys take upwards of 100 days to start producing the vegetable that we are all familiar with, but the leaves of the plant are also great in salads before the sprouts come along! 
– Cabbage
– Spinach 
– Swiss Chard
– Strawberries – most strawberry seeds need to be cold stratified, which means putting them in the fridge for a few weeks so they think they’ve gone through winter. 
– Tomatoes
– Herbs


– Beans
– Blackberries
– Carrots 
– Cauliflower
– Cucumbers 
– Egg Plant 
– Lettuce
– Peas 
– Radish 
– Raspberries


– Arugula 
– Basil
– Beets
– Broccoli 
– Blueberries
– Cabbage
– Carrots 
– Cilantro 
– Chamomile
– Chives
– Dill
– Fennel 
– Kale
– Lettuce
– Marjoram
– Melons
– Oregano
– Parsnips
– Parsley
– Potatoes 
– Pumpkin
– Peas
– Radish
– Sage
– Squash 
– Zucchini


– Beans 
– Corn 
– Cabbage 
– Cucumbers 
– Egg Plants 
– Endive
– Leeks 
– Pumpkin 
– Squash

examples of urban gardening


At the start of your summer season, most of your crops should already be transferred outside. Make sure to harden seedlings off properly before transplanting to avoid shock. Start monitoring for pests and fertilize your veggies regularly.

city garden picture of squash blossoms
female squash flower


Any lettuce or cool-season crops may start to bolt, so look into shade cloth if you need it. Otherwise, you can plan shaded areas through trellising crops like peas, cucumbers, or companion planting under taller crops like tomatoes.

Sunflower field at the RBG


As we get ready for the weather to cool off again, start germinating your cool-season crops. Planting ahead of time and keeping seedlings handy will ensure that you can succession plants anytime you need to harvest, or if there are infections that take plants out.

– Cabbage
– Carrots
– Lettuce
– Rapini 
– Swiss Chard 
– Turnips


This is a great season for planting Bulbs. If you’re growing for the next year. Many flower beds will be planted at this time. Also, most trees and shrubs like to establish their roots between 12 – 18 degrees Celsius.


Before the ground freezes, get in any crops that need to be frozen. Think onions, garlic, and artichoke.

November & December

There really isn’t much left in the garden. Take stock of the seeds you saved, label and plan for next year. It’s also a good time to wash any of your pots, planters, or seed starting trays, as you want to be careful not to contaminate any new plants next year!

If You Want to Get Serious About Urban Gardening

vertical and urban farming resources, land and resource comparison

(above image from City Farms Canada)

Podcasts are one of my favourite ways to learn about what others are doing in the industry! There are so many experts out there talking about the challenges that they’re looking at or trying to solve, and there are so many inspirational people trying to make changes in the agriculture sector. Some of my favourites include; The Vertical Farming Podcast, The Urban Farming Podcast, The Young Farmers Podcast, Impact Farming, and Farm Small Farm Smart

There are also a lot of places that have free educational resources and videos; Foodshare, The University of Guelph, and Fruition Seeds are some great places to start.

Toronto Based Farming Initiatives

The big community or educational farms in the area are: 

The Stop – operating as a part community centre, part urban garden, this space fed over 63,000 nutritious meals to people in need during COVID. They have community kitchens, a weekly farmers market, and tons of other educational resources and opportunities. 

Black Creek Community Farms – an 8 Acre property operating in the Black Creek Ravine, they put a heavy focus on food education and farm training for locals. You can buy produce directly from their market garden, or support through their harvest share

Riverdale Farms – 7.5 acres located in Cabbagetown Toronto, this farm has flowers, vegetables, and animals. Once Toronto’s first zoo, this property has been owned and operated by the city since 1856. They take visitors every day and do farm animal presentations most mornings at 11:30. 

St Jame Co-Op – So much more than a farm, this Co-op allows community members to bank hours that can be used for services from the co-op or from other members. A lot of the co-op projects revolve around their food initiatives, that provide families and individuals with fresh produce and meals. 

Sundance Harvest – operating only on ⅓ of an acre, Sundance Harvest has made a name for itself in educational programs and the food sovereignty movement. She has free agricultural mentorship programs as well.

Other Cool International Farming Ideas

Vertical Harvest – I first listened to these founders on The Vertical Farming Podcast, then on The Urban Agriculture Podcast. Lemme just tell you I love when women realize a system is broken and create a better system to leave no one behind. And these ladies are killing it. When one was working doing social work with neurodivergent, they wanted to create jobs for people ageing out of the system.

They now have two farms and employ hundreds of people with developmental disabilities and look to employ more forgotten workforces with their replicable model.

Grow up Farms – I love a good complete closed-loop system that provides a double harvest. Using fish as a nutrient source for farming is a really old concept. But, using fish excrement to nourish hydroponic plants and using the plants to filter the water so you get a large fish crop as well is efficient for any major restaurant that wants to vertically integrate.

Beacon Food Forest – 2000sq ft permaculture garden in south Seattle, beside a park. People are welcome to forage and harvest from the hundreds of native fruit trees and berry shrubs. Learn about beneficial guilds on their website or get inspired to start your own open-harvest urban garden.

For when you need a mental break

But you still kinda want to hyper-focus on farming…

resources for the urban gardener infographic by cia prior


The Biggest Little Farm – Shortlisted for an Academy Award in 2020, this documentary follows a couple and a sustainability expert regenerating a property in California. They have the most adorable interactive map so you can see the design principles they are talking about in the film!

Kiss the Ground – Not only a Netflix documentary narrated by Woody Harleston but a full-fledged organization. Focusing on regenerating our soil to help with our other environmental initiatives as a species. In 2020, they raised $250K to help 38 farmers transfer to regenerative farming.

Win the Wilderness – One thing that I keep trying to remember as I learn more about gardening is that mother nature is to be emulated and enhanced if we are to be successful cultivators and urban farmers. This shows 6 couples adapting to a life with nature for the chance to win a retiring couple’s estate.


Clarkson’s Farm – so, my girlfriend absolutely loves cars and formula1 and all that. This guy is famous in Europe for driving fast stuff and being a goose. I started watching this with her because it was a good intersection of our interests and did it deliver!

This man is so innocent in his desire to produce food and the joys of his success. It’s an honest look at what starting a farm is like. The second season has just been announced!

Anything with Monty Don – I have a crush on this man that is reaching Dave Grohl levels of infatuation. this man really cares about the environment and wants to see farms last long into the future. He has two shows helping people become better land stewards.

Land Girls – Cute and soapy, based on the lives of the women who were recruited to work the farms in England during World War 2.

Some of the lines in this resonate. I have heard similar sentiments on young women working and earning a living without their fathers or a husband to control them. As with all Estate based shows, classism is alive and well, and the women are both strong heroes and villains, which we love to see. – Since I wrote this Mr. Bezos has betrayed me again by putting this behind a paywall.


Exploring Alternatives – This channel with 1.8 million subscribers features a young couple that lives in their van and visits all types of alternative housing. Get tons of ideas for your next project here.

Epic Gardening – A great channel that has tons of videos that walk beginner gardeners through how to grow a wide variety of food. Start here if you’re about to build your first raised bed.

Urban Farmstead – This man grows with a little bit more space than your average urban gardener, but his DIY’s are super creative. He creates hyper-productive edible lawns.