New to TO and looking to plant a garden*



First of all, what wonderful service. Thanks!

I’ve just moved to TO. We have a little plot in our back yard which we are looking to seed. The soil seems good but perhaps a little clay heavy. Crops we would really like would be kale, beets, carrots, cabbage and tomatoes. Open to other crops too of course.

As you can see from the picture (the picture was taken facing east) the plot is a bit shaded. There’s a garage on the south side and a solid fence on the east end. There’s the chain link fence on the north side, which we were thinking might serve as a place for peas or tomatoes to climb. (We also have some pots we can move to a sunnier place if the Tomatoes would do better there.)

Any advice you could offer would be wonderful. Advice to do with layout and crop selection. Advice to do with specific planting techniques. We were hoping to plant within the week.

Thanks so much,



Dear Kelly

Thank you so much for your questions to Toronto Master Gardeners.   Your inquiry is similar to several that we have previously answered, so my first suggestion is that you check our website for the wealth of information there:  Enter the word vegetable into the Search box and you will get pages of results.

Here’s a link to a special Fact Sheet we have developed with the City of Toronto:

The first step is to plan what you can realistically manage and the amount of produce you want, before you start digging. Here are some suggestions to help maximize yield and minimize maintenance.

The guide notes that you should position your beds where they will receive at least 6-8 hours of sun each day.  However, some crops do well with partial shade.  The fence is ideal for climbing crops. You may want to maximize your use of space by creating raised and/or intensive beds rather than traditional rows. Intensive beds can be any size as long as you can reach into the middle – typically no more than 4 feet wide – with pathways between the beds to give access.

A good book to assist with the planning of intensive beds is Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Garden. He gives clear instructions on the space requirements for each vegetable.  In terms of overall garden size, he recommends one 4 ft X 4 ft bed (16 square feet) for each household member you plan to feed.

Once you’ve laid out your beds, you can build the soil. We do not recommend tilling.  It can be detrimental to the soil structure and the many beneficial microorganisms that live in the soil. Digging down about 6 inches and removing weeds and debris will do a better job. Organic matter such as compost or manure can then be added yearly to improve your clay soil.

While you are at your computer, check out Mark Cullen’s advice at the Toronto Botanical Garden website.

You may also want to follow an expert Ontario gardener, Ken Brown, for some humorous inspiration.  Click here for his blog.

Your next stop might be the Toronto Public Library.  You’ll find Bartholomew’s book there as well as:

  • Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Organic Gardening, Anna Kruger. Rodale Press, 2005
  • The Holistic Garden; Creating Spaces for Health and Healing, Karen York. Prentice Hall, 2001
  • The Organic Home Garden, Patrick Lima, Key Porter Books, 2003

Toronto Master Gardeners and Toronto Public Library have teamed up to offer Ask An Expert Presentations.  We cover many gardening topics so check out the website again. The next vegetable  talk is: Top Tips for Top Vegetables  on May 31, 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm, at Taylor Memorial Branch, 1440 Kingston Road.

Best of luck with your garden. There’s no rush to get everything done by next week.  Planning and preparation are the keys to success. Please contact us again if you have other questions as the garden starts to take shape.