From the Ground Up: Planning Your Garden

The adage holds true; if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The success of our gardens greatly depends on us creating a solid plan. Typically, this process starts at the end of the previous season. With all the data collected throughout the season still fresh in our notes we can begin to identify what worked well, what could be improved, and things we might not do again. Hopefully we spend more time on the first two, but no one is born with a green thumb.  

Now, I hope you aren’t sweating thinking that you have missed your opportunity to start planning your garden. It’s only too late if you don’t start. By following this post, we hope to help you create an effective plan quickly that will get you producing food efficiently this season.  

Where do you start? 

Before we can think about the types of plants we want to grow, we need to first determine the best spot to put our garden. Many people avoid starting a garden believing that they don’t have enough space or that the space they do have doesn’t get enough sunlight. Though many of our main crops do require full sun i.e., 6-8 hours of direct sunlight, many plants will do just fine in partial sun (4-6 hours of sunlight) or partial shade (4-6 hours of diffuse sunlight or shade in the afternoon). The first step we recommend is identifying the length and quality of sunlight that your potential growing area is exposed to. Make a list of potential garden sites that you have access to, this could be your entire back or front yard or a specific section of your yard, a deck or balcony for those with limited or no yard. Beside each potential garden space, list the light exposure (backyard – full sun 6-8 hours, front yard – partial sun 4-6 hours).  Another note on sun exposure is that throughout the season sections of our gardens can have varying degrees of sun exposure. An area that receives full sun exposure during the middle of summer might be a partial sun or partial shade area in the spring and fall. Keeping notes on the sun exposure of your garden can help you in further planning. 

Next, identify the terrain and landscaping elements of the potential garden spots. Is the area flat, sloped, or uneven? Is there anything already growing in the area (grasses, trees or perennial bushes)? Also, is the ground bare soil, mulched or paved? Identifying the quality of the terrain of a potential garden is an important step as it will give you an idea of the time commitment needed to build the garden. For example you may choose a spot that receives less sunlight but has ground that is flat, soft and rich in organic matter (basically ready for a garden) over a site that has full sun but also compact soil, is on a steep slope or is very uneven. Choosing the shadier garden location may mean you have to change your crop list for more shade tolerant plants (think lettuces and leafy greens such as kale, and many herbs do wonderfully in the shade). Last season I planted bush beans in an area that was mostly shade and produced an enormous amount of beans, others have had success growing peas, carrots, beets and even winter squash in partially shaded areas. Crops that do not do well in the shade however include potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Prioritize planting these in areas that do receive full sun. 

Now that you have a location that you are satisfied with, go back to our first post about soil to test its quality (structure, drainage, fertility etc). If you don’t have time to do the tests (or don’t want to) amending with compost is a cure all for every garden.

Crop Selection and Seed Procurement:

Your goals and location will likely be the biggest factors when deciding what vegetable or fruit crops you want to grow. Many gardeners grow to save money, become self-sufficient or to provide a larger variety of crops to their diet than grocery stores offer. 

If saving money is a major motivation, you may want to consider herbs as a top priority. On a per pound basis herbs and spices are the most expensive produce items at any grocery store with many costing over $50/lb! Lettuces and other leafy greens are also great options to grow to decrease the grocery bill. Many salad ingredients (lettuce, radish, green onions) grow incredibly fast, while leafy greens like kale produce quickly and for long periods of time. 

Perhaps you are wanting to become more self-sufficient. In this case growing higher calorie crops that have the ability to be stored for prolonged periods will be a feature you look for. Excellent crops to grow for storage are potatoes, onions, carrots, parsnips, turnips (I’ll save myself some time and just say basically any root crop is great for storing) and winter squashes. These crops are fantastic choices for the self-sufficientest (not sure that’s a word) as they provide energy and vital nutrients during the bitter Winter months. Other options for self-sufficiency are crops that are dried for storage. Many gardeners refrain from growing corn as ears of sweet corn are extremely affordable when in-season. However, there are many varieties of dry corn available which can be ground into corn flour for breads and tortillas. Dry beans are a necessity for any self-sufficientest (yes, it’s a thing now) as they are magnificent sources of protein. In a future post we will explore and demonstrate how squash, corn and beans are incredible crops to grow together in an intercropping system. 

Finally, perhaps one of the most popular reasons gardeners continue to grow their own food every season is the enormous variety of crops available as seeds (compared to what is available at grocery stores or even the farm market). There are over 10,000 varieties of tomatoes despite grocery stores only selling a handful. How about potatoes? Over 4,000 varieties. Those are some pretty easy to think of examples. What about broccoli? I don’t think I’ve ever seen grocery store broccoli be labeled anything other than broccoli. It is actually possible to find 40 different varieties of broccoli seeds. They come in all shapes, sizes and even colors! 

These are just a few of the most popular reasons to start a garden and things to consider when selecting the crops you want to grow. Perhaps the most important thing to consider when planning your crops is to select ones that you actually enjoy eating as this will only encourage and motivate you to grow more. 

Now that you have an idea of what crops you would like to grow you will need to consider if they are well suited for your context. Refer to the chart below for crops that grow well in the various forms of sun exposures. Note: this is not an exhaustive list, just some ideas to help you get started. 

Next you may be wondering how to procure your seeds. Springtime is a spectacular season, the snow is beginning to melt, buds are forming on the trees, the birds are returning and filling the outdoors with their beautiful songs and every garden/grocery/hardware and dollar store has their planting and gardening isles full of seeds, tools, bobs and gardening doodads. 

These stores are great places to purchase seeds though grocery, hardware and dollar stores likely won’t have the variety that garden centers do. As well, garden centers do not carry anywhere near the variety of seeds that are available through online sources. 

Each seed source has benefits and drawbacks associated with them. Local stores typically only stock the most popular varieties and depending on the location of online sources shipping and pollution costs may be high. With a little bit of research however you are likely going to be able to find a local seed producer that grows rare and diverse seeds mitigating both the drawbacks of box stores and online retailers. Being a small business that specializes in rare seeds expect to pay more or get fewer seeds for your dollar. 

Heirloom, Hybrid and GM Seeds

With the “growing” popularity of gardening (lame gardening jokes and puns will be a theme in all blogs), there are many different camps and opinions about what kind of seeds you should get for your garden. Again, your gardening goals will likely be a major determining factor when you are purchasing seeds as each type of seed (heirloom or hybrid) has a distinct set of benefits and negatives. 

First, it is important to dispel a common myth. Genetically modified seeds are not available to home gardeners. You can not purchase them at the grocery, hardware store or garden center and you can not get them through online seed suppliers. They are only available to farmers. These are crops that have had specific genetic material added to them to make them resistant to herbicides, pesticides, or to improve traits that allow them to grow in an environment that they may not have thrived in before. Why are these seeds not available to home gardeners? One major reason is that regulators want to limit the ability of GM crops to cross with native plants which could lead to an ecological disaster. Another is that adding genetics for herb- or pesticide resistance allows the farmers to spray large fields with chemicals to kill weeds more efficiently and economically. The use of these chemicals is also tightly regulated and requires certification. So, GM seeds are not available to the public.

What about heirloom and hybrid seeds? 

Heirloom seeds are ones that have been isolated from other varieties and grown for many generations until their genetics become relatively stable. The stability of these genetics means that plants grown from these seeds will produce plants and fruits that are the same as the parent plants. The main benefit of heirloom seeds is that home gardeners can save the seed, plant it next year and grow the same crop (as long as it has not crossed with another variety). 

Sometimes new gardeners will get “hybrid” seeds confused with GM seeds. They most definitely are not the same. Hybrid seeds are ones that have been selectively bred from two varieties of a crop. You will most often see “F1” after the variety type on seed packets indicating that the seeds are hybrids.  Seed breeders hand pollinate two varieties of a crop by transferring pollen from a flower on one variety to a flower on the other variety. Tomatoes are often cross pollinated this way to create hybrid seeds. Hybrids often have traits that allow the plant to taste better, improve appearance, improve hardiness, improve disease or pest resistance. There does seem to be trade offs such as growing seeds from hybrid plants will not give you the same plant as heirloom varieties do. Often people will also report that hybrid plants that are grown for improved disease/pest resistance, improved appearance or hardiness, or for better storage don’t taste as good as heirloom varieties. 

My simple suggestion for new gardeners… save seed saving for later. Grow plants that are easy, produce a lot and that you really enjoy eating. There isn’t much that is more rewarding and encouraging for new gardeners than finally getting your first harvest and enjoying fruit and vegetables picked at the peak of their ripeness. Conversely, there isn’t anything more discouraging to a new gardener than planning and caring for plants that don’t produce a great crop or that they really don’t like the taste of. 


I hope that this quick article helps to spark some thoughts for your gardens. Remember, gardening should be fun, enjoyable and relaxing. The planning phase can sometimes be overwhelming but try to stick to the basics. 1) Pick an ideal location and 2) grow what you enjoy to eat.

In the next article we will be discussing sourcing water for your garden and how to set up a rainwater collection system. Bookmark our page and check back each week for new posts. 


About the Author 

E Kelly (they/them), aka the Garden Gnome, is passionate about supporting the health of their community. While working closely with individuals in the health & fitness industry E noticed a concerning trend. Many individuals’ health concerns did not stem from a lack of knowledge, willingness or desire to eat healthier or exercise more. Instead, a growing number of health issues were correlated with a lack of access to healthy foods. Thus started E’s journey to learning more about sustainably produced foods and how to produce an abundance in small spaces.  

With a formal education in Kinesiology and years of experience growing food as a hobby, E is combining their experience and knowledge base to promote the production of local and sustainable produce.  

E is the Garden Coordinator at United Way of the City of Kawartha Lakes and Edwin Binney’s Community Garden located in Lindsay, ON.

By |2023-04-18T12:13:57-04:00April 18th, 2023|Community Gardens, Uncategorized|0 Comments

From the Ground Up: Fit to Garden

Garden season is upon us whether we are ready for it or not! Before we get right into the heavy slugging of it though we should take a few moments to check in with our bodies to make sure they are up for the tasks ahead. Gardening can be physically taxing on the body requiring individuals to have a considerable amount of endurance, strength, flexibility and balance. Gardening can be a great way to improve your health and fitness, but taking on more than you can chew (pun intended!) may lead to injury which puts the rest of your season in jeopardy. In this post we’ll cover the endurance required for gardening and a simple fitness test to assess your aerobic endurance. 

The energy needed to perform gardening tasks can be measured in terms of METs, or metabolic equivalents of tasks. Simply put, MET values are a multiple of the energy required to maintain your metabolism at rest. Gardening comes in at 4 METs meaning it is 4 times as energy consuming than rest. Activities that are similar intensities include brisk walking, cycling, raking leaves, table tennis, and badminton.  

We can use the MET value to determine if an activity such as gardening is appropriate for our current fitness level. To do this we need to know two things; 1) the oxygen consumption rate of the activity and 2) our current VO2 max (the most amount of oxygen our bodies can utilize). The former is very simple, at rest roughly 3.5 ml of oxygen is consumed per kilogram of body weight per minute (ml.kg.min), so simply multiply the MET value of the activity by 3.5 and that gives the oxygen consumption of our selected activity per minute. For example, gardening is 4 METs multiplied by 3.5 gives 14 ml.kg.min O2. Finding a true VO2 max is slightly more challenging (and should be supervised by an exercise professional) but there are indirect and lower intensity ways of calculating an estimate of our VO2 max. A simple test that can be done on your own with minimal equipment is the Rockport One Mile Walking Test. You will need a stopwatch, heartrate monitor and a flat one-mile (1609m) walking route (a 400m running track works great). Before starting the test put on your heartrate monitor and perform a light warm up by walking for 5 to 10 minutes. Once ready, start your watch and start walking the one-mile route as quickly as possible, make sure not to run or skip, one foot must be always on the ground. Once you have completed the mile stop your watch and immediately check your heart rate. Now to calculate your estimated VO2 max you can input your data into the equation below. (If you want more information on the Rockport One Mile Walking Test follow this link; Rockport Fitness Test (topendsports.com) ) 

132.853 – (0.0769 × Weight (kg)) – (0.3877 × Age) + (6.315 × Gender (1=male, 0=female) – (3.2649 × Time to complete test) – (0.1565 × Final heart rate) = VO2 max (ml.kg.min) 

Now that you know your estimated VO2 max you can determine the relative intensity of gardening to your fitness level. Divide the oxygen consumption of gardening (14 ml.kg.min) by your VO2 max and multiply by 100, which gives you a percentage value. If your value is less than 80% you are in great shape to garden as much as you see fit. If your value is greater than 80% you can still feel safe in the garden, but you may want to perform your garden tasks in smaller chunks of time (15-20 minutes) and gradually increase over the season.  

Gardening is a great way to get active and improve many aspects of health. No matter your current fitness level, make sure to start the season off easy and gradually increase as the season progresses. Rest in the shade, drink lots of water and make sure to enjoy nature around you.  

About the Author 

E Kelly (they/them) is passionate about supporting the health of their community. While working closely with individuals in the health & fitness industry E noticed a concerning trend. Many individuals’ health concerns did not stem from a lack of knowledge, willingness or desire to eat healthier or exercise more. Instead, a growing number of health issues were correlated with a lack of access to healthy foods. Thus started E’s journey in learning more about sustainably produced foods and how to produce an abundance in small spaces.  

With a formal education in Kinesiology and years of experience growing food as a hobby, E is combining their experience and knowledge base to promote the production of local and sustainable produce.  

E is the Garden Coordinator at United Way of the City of Kawartha Lakes and Edwin Binney’s Community Garden located in Lindsay, ON. 

By |2023-04-14T13:04:52-04:00April 14th, 2023|Community Gardens, Uncategorized|0 Comments

United Way for the City of Kawartha Lakes kick off greets new leadership, celebrates retirement, and announces new matching grant

On Tuesday, September 28th, the United Way for the City of Kawartha Lakes (UWCKL) held its annual fundraising campaign kick off event at Edwin Binney’s Community Garden with the introduction of a new Matching Collaborative Grant. They also welcomed Paul Murphy as new Board President, introduced Emily Beall and Shantal Ingram as new Co-Executive Directors, and bid warm retirement wishes to outgoing Executive Director Penny Barton Dyke.

(left to right) Murphy, Ingram, and Beall address kick off attendees.

Paul Murphy, the current General Manager of Crayola Canada, has been a long-time supporter of UWCKL, most notably through the agency’s supportive relationship with Crayola. Concerning his appointment to Board President Murphy offers, “I have been involved with UWCKL for many years as a Crayolian: volunteering at the sales, fundraising and trying to support where I could… I am very honoured and proud to be working with not only the great individuals that make up the Board, but also with our fabulous staff.” Murphy then introduced UWCKL’s newest funding opportunity, the Matching Collaborative Grant.

This new Matching Collaborative Grant will award up to $10,000 per project, contingent on the collaborating agencies providing a matching amount of funds to what has been requested (in capital, not in-kind). Each application requires a minimum of three collaborating agencies, at least one of which must be registered as a charitable organization with the CRA, to receive funds. All partners must be located or serving clientele in Kawartha Lakes and/or Haliburton County. Two grants will be available in this funding stream, one in Kawartha Lakes and one in Haliburton County.

Shantal Ingram, incoming Co-Executive Director notes “UWCKL has been promoting collective impact models for a decade and a half.  It is important to look at ways to strengthen our community impact on poverty and collaboration is the necessary.  Although many collaborations exist, at times those involved need an infusion to look at some innovative tactics. UWCKL is and will remain focused on actions to end poverty and help our most vulnerable. We hope to inspire new partners to join and also further match the funds given out to help increase our trajectory of ending poverty.”

For more information, guidelines, and application please visit www.ckl-unitedway.ca/funding.

Outgoing Executive Director Penny Barton Dyke greets an attendee.

UWCKL’s two incoming Co-Executive Directors then took the time to update attendees on ongoing and future initiatives introduce this year’s Campaign Chairs Jeff Tompkins and Brian Nash representing the City of Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton County respectively. Several staff and board members then took a few moments to congratulate outgoing ED Penny Barton Dyke on her 17 ½ years of service to UWCKL and the community before Barton-Dyke addressed attendees herself, imparting praise and advice on both Beall and Ingram as the UWCKL begins its next chapter.

By |2022-09-30T09:45:56-04:00September 29th, 2022|Campaign, Kickoff, News, Special Events, Uncategorized|0 Comments

United Way CKL receives $78,100 OTF Grant

Earlier this year, the United Way for the City of Kawartha Lakes (United Way CKL) received a $78,100 Resilient Communities Fund grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) that it’s used to hire a project manager, a summer student, and a strategic planning consultant to help rebuild and recover from the impacts of COVID-19. The project is underway and will allow United Way CKL to prepare for change.

“The pandemic has had a significant impact on local non-profit organizations and how they deliver services to our community members,” said Laurie Scott, MPP for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock. “This funding will help United Way CKL recover and adapt to the emerging needs of the community by building their organizational capacity and ability to deliver programs and services.”

In addition to the strategic planning process, United Way CKL will also be able to equip board members and employees with the supports to implement new approaches, improve and increase access to financial resources and develop new sources of revenue. With this grant, United Way CKL will be able to adapt the organization’s ability to respond to emerging needs in the community.

“The impact of this Ontario Trillium Foundation grant cannot be underestimated,” said Duncan Gallacher, Board Chair of the United Way CKL. “This grant has started our pandemic recovery process and we look forward to working with the strategic planning consultant to create a plan that will help us rebuild and strengthen our organization’s ability to respond to emerging needs.”

The United Way for the City of Kawartha Lakes is committed to improving lives in the City of Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton County by engaging people and working together. For more information on how the United Way is helping our community, please visit www.ckl-unitedway.ca.

The Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) is an agency of the Government of Ontario and one of Canada’s leading granting foundations. Last year, nearly $112M was invested into 1,384 community projects and partnerships to build healthy and vibrant communities and strengthen the impact of Ontario’s non-profit sector. In 2020/21, OTF supported Ontario’s economic recovery by helping non-profit organizations rebuild and recover from the impacts of COVID-19. Visit otf.ca to learn more.

By |2021-09-20T13:04:45-04:00September 20th, 2021|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Please help police find stolen tractor

As the work of growing food for our communities continues at Edwin Binney’s Community Garden, some of our production and processes have been slowed by the theft of a John Deere tractor that took place on July 9th or 10th.  A tractor is an integral tool for an agricultural endeavour.  It helps increase our production meaning more food can be donated to more than 20 agencies and programs. This project is a direct response to our community and is one more layer of help for hundreds of people needing help to access fresh and healthy foods.  

“We consider this a despicable act that impacts many people in the community.  We are grateful to the Kawartha Lakes Police Services for responding quickly and launching an investigation.  Police are looking for any witnesses who may have seen the incident or know who may have committed this alleged crime and are asking them to contact police at 705-324-5252. If you wish to provide information anonymously you can do so through Crime Stoppers at 1.800.222.TIPSS (8477) or at www.kh.crimestoppersweb.com . Please help find this tractor. 

We want to extend a big thanks to David E Burns for helping us with a few of the large, urgent chores,” says Penny Barton Dyke, Executive Director for United Way for the City of Kawartha Lakes.   

By |2021-07-23T12:21:23-04:00July 23rd, 2021|Uncategorized|0 Comments

United Way for the City of Kawartha Lakes, Crayola Canada cancel 2021 ‘Crayola Sale’

For a second year, the Pandemic has forced the United Way for the City of Kawartha Lakes and Crayola Canada to cancel the popular Crayola Sale. Prior to 2020, this annual event had taken place every fall for more than 30 years.  Over $1 million has been generated from the sale and Crayola’s workplace campaign.

Hundreds of people come to this sale from across the province and with continued health concerns, both UWCKL and Crayola Canada decided the safety of customers and supporters must be a priority.

“With so much uncertainty, we have made the very difficult decision to cancel the sale again, as the health and safety of staff, customers and volunteers is our highest priority,” explains Paul Murphy, General Manager of Crayola Canada. “The cancellation of the sales does not change Crayola Canada’s commitment to our relationship with the UWCKL.  We will continue to work with them and find new ways to support their efforts within our community.”

“Crayola continues to support our work in the community, and we are grateful for their commitment to United Way. While we are disappointed that the sale will be cancelled again this year, we appreciate Crayola’s commitment to our community,” says Shantal Ingram, Community Investment Coordinator for United Way for the City of Kawartha Lakes.

Our work continues with Edwin Binney’s Community Garden, located on Crayola’s property in Lindsay, where we grew over 12,700lbs of food last year which was donated to food programs in the City of Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton.  If you would like to support our education centre and food security program, go to our website. https://ckl-unitedway.ca/donate-now/

The LEX helps host the event at its facility here in Lindsay. In an effort to continue support for non-profit agencies it held the Merry & Bright Festival last year to help local organizations. The LEX will be hosting this again and will release details shortly.

By |2021-06-16T13:13:10-04:00June 16th, 2021|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Edwin Binney’s Community Garden exceeds 10,000 lbs of produce harvested in 2020!

Edwin Binney’s community garden has exceeded 10,000 lbs of produce harvested this season; United Way for the City of Kawartha Lakes announced Monday. The community garden is in its second year of production, and provides food to 11 local food banks, 10 charity organizations, as well as additional clients and school groups from May to October. The garden came about through community consultations with local stakeholders, Crayola Canada and Fleming College becoming lead partners with UWCKL.

Last year, the final total was 5,500 lbs of produce donated. This year, the size of the plowed area was expanded in order to produce larger yields, and multiple crops were planted in succession throughout the season.

Reaching the milestone was an important moment for UWCKL’s team, explains Executive Director Penny Barton Dyke, “We have had a fabulous team working to create substantial leaps in the yield this year in anticipation of greater need for fresh food during Covid-19.  Our team is excited about reaching this milestone and they worked tirelessly through some tough weather and within COVID-19 restrictions.”  “Knowing this garden is helping people is what drives all of us,” she adds.

As the season wraps up, their team is as busy as ever. Not only is work at the garden continuing to prepare for its third season, but UWCKL’s work in providing funding to community programs is facing greater demand than ever, explains Shantal Ingram, Community Investment Coordinator. “Donations to this year’s campaign will help UWCKL address essential needs in the City of Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton County during the COVID-19 pandemic and as we recover and rebuild over the long term. Every donation will make a difference to the lives of your friends, neighbours and colleagues who are experiencing challenges due to the pandemic.”

More information on Edwin Binney’s Community Garden can be found at https://ckl-unitedway.ca/edwin-binney-community-garden/

By |2020-10-05T13:42:37-04:00October 5th, 2020|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Over 5,000 lbs of produce harvested at Edwin Binney’s Community Garden!

A local community agriculture initiative, Edwin Binney’s Community Garden, exceeded 5,000 lbs of produce donated as of last Wednesday, United Way for the City of Kawartha Lakes announced.

The garden is in its second year of production, last year the final harvest total was 5,500 lbs. Currently the total is 5,944 lbs, and their goal is to double the amount harvested. All of the produce grown at Edwin Binney’s Community Garden is donated to 10 local food banks and 11 non-profit organizations.

United Way has recently started 3 pilot projects to deliver produce to clients in the City of Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton.

Through a collaboration with Community Care City of Kawartha Lakes, called Garden at Your Table, produce from Edwin Binney’s Community Garden has been delivered directly to 50 clients in the City of Kawartha Lakes.

In addition, Fresh Produce Fridays, a pilot led by UWCKL delivers produce to three social housing units in Lindsay. An extension of this project in Haliburton is already in the works.

“Agency partnerships are critical to help people immediately in tough and unusual times,” writes Penny Barton Dyke, Executive Director of UWCKL.

Edwin Binney’s Community Garden has many partners with each contributing and dovetailing to bring knowledge, land, access to products and the opportunity to bring fresh produce to kitchen tables. This is an agricultural and education project that is building sustainable practices and partnerships,” she adds.

To access programs, donate, or learn more about the work of UWCKL and Edwin Binney’s Community Garden, please visit ckl-unitedway.ca, email office@ckl.unitedway.ca or call (705) 878-5081

By |2020-09-10T15:10:45-04:00September 10th, 2020|Uncategorized|0 Comments
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