This was the query of someone who found my blog last week. (I added the “Yes.”)
But. (You know there is always a qualifier!)
You must be ready already, or be willing to put up with the learning curve and the need for help, for the following things:
- Start your seedlings indoors in March. That means now!
- Try not to spend more than $100 on the effort; every small business – and this isn’t a business, this is a cost-saving measure and a work of pleasure – should be able to be started with a minimum of capital. You won’t be happy at the end of the growing season if you spent as much as just buying food from the store. You’ll have a harder time arguing with the city folks who “admire” your “perseverence.” They don’t get it. But if it costs you money to do the work, you will feel the proffered discouragement.
- When spring comes in April, test your soil ASAP! There is a soil testing lab accessible by metro in Longueuil. Make the necessary corrections with lime. Take a future orientation for the productivity of the garden and try not to sulfur the ground and plant acidic plants, unless your soil really is acidic enough to support them without the sulfur.
- Find out in March or April where to get your compost from in late April and early May. Take your vacation in April – or early May if you can – because you will need to dig in your soil amendments, compost, and build up all the plots you need for your crops. It’s better to dig the compost in several days before the plants go in, not after, except as mulch. Compost can burn seeds and young plants. The growing season in Montreal starts with a huge leap of growth – but you need your city soil to be well-amended to take advantage of it.
- Before the plants go in, install a fence (yes, you almost certainly will need to). Ask handy friends or be prepared to hire someone to assist; good fences make good neighbours was at one time sarcastic, but now it is an expectation. You have to keep certain critters including people out of your plots while still allowing wildlife to get around – total exclusion is no fun – and you don’t want the fence to be rackety or fugly or the neighbours might complain.
- Arm yourself with multiple rainbarrels (cheap, from various EcoQuartiers) and seeping hoses (any garden centre), and obtain permission from landlords and neighbours to get water from their rooftops, too. Beginning with the May 2-4 weekend (Victoria Day, which the locals call Fête du Dollard), just when the growth is getting going, Montreal is prone to having an early heat wave. This will cause lettuce to bolt and other plants to not grow enough to produce. Rain barrels with seeping hoses could be – and please speak up if you know a few tricks – the way to keep the ground just moist enough for highly transpiring plants during the growth phase. And mulch, mulch, mulch!
- The late June-to-July and then the August heat waves are experienced in other parts of this climate zone. If you come from a different zone, or you are just learning, read up on strategies in the garden and the varieties of fruits and vegetables to plant. We are in Plant Hardiness Zone 5a, but due to the urban heat island effect (from all those people blasting AC and all that over-building without enough green space), the city is more like 5 b and even c, depending on the direction your building faces and the amount of sun it gets.
- Because of house sparrows and, yes, the occasional rat (don’t panic), seedlings and very young plants do not often get the opportunity to unfurl their 4th and 6th leaves – they are often gone by the first two. Have a net over top of the delicate leafy things, because house sparrows love them. Try to plant them after they’ve gotten “big enough to defend themselves” – and then protect and watch them like a hawk! Once the delicate things are hardy, you’ll need the net to stave off the squirrels going for your fruits.
- Hang a house for solitary bees, just in case. We must give them every hospitality, because we’re dependent on them. Also get a small shop vac to suck up insect pests. (But not sugar ants, lady bugs, bees, spiders, centipedes, or sowbugs, please!)
- The season here grows long. Get a good gardening book that tells you the stages for successive plantings, and keep going with the seedlings until mid-to-late July for an autumn harvest.