Can you grow your own food to beat inflation? It depends

·3 min read
Colin Hayles of Golden Acre Home & Garden recommends testing out the soil, adding compost and learning about optimal growing conditions. (Calgary Food Bank - image credit)
Colin Hayles of Golden Acre Home & Garden recommends testing out the soil, adding compost and learning about optimal growing conditions. (Calgary Food Bank - image credit)

If you've been toying with the idea of growing your own produce and taking your gardening skills to the next level, you'll be happy to know your goals aren't out of reach.

Colin Hayles, a horticulturist and buyer at Golden Acre Home & Garden, says the best way to get into gardening is to "start small" and take it slow until you feel comfortable.

"Don't start big. Don't bite off more than you can chew," Hayles said. "It's a recipe for disaster — and that's any hobby that you get into."

Hayles recommends testing out the soil, adding compost and learning about optimal growing conditions to make the best out of what you've got. For example, leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale can easily thrive in the shade while other options like tomatoes and peppers need plenty of sunlight to grow.

According to Joanna Tschudy, community development co-ordinator with the Calgary Horticultural Society, it's difficult to completely rely on homegrown produce for your everyday needs.

"I don't think you could fully, you know, provide all your food from the garden, but there's definitely a great supplement from our home gardens," she said.

Tschudy added that everyone can start gardening and grow their own vegetables "as long as there's land to access and some time" coupled with basic resources like water.

Consumers do need to find ways to combat higher grocery prices. According to the Consumer Price Index that was released in April, inflation has "slowed in recent months" but grocery prices remain higher than usual.

Submitted by Kath Smyth
Submitted by Kath Smyth

Home gardening may not be everyone's cup of tea, though. Some may struggle with the long-term commitment that is often linked to home gardening, according to Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, professor and director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.

"Anybody who started their garden will tell you that it's very costly to start," he said. "And of course, there's always some misses along the way because … you have to learn about your soil, the sun itself. There's an art to it."

Charlebois says the costs may rise if you need to purchase expensive gardening equipment and tools, making it an inaccessible option for some.

'You can do urban gardening downtown'

There may be ways out, though. Tschudy suggests recycling and looking into alternative resources like community gardens, tool libraries and seed exchanges to save costs.

"I really love to garden with things that I already have, and often they come right out of the recycling box," she said.

One of her favourite hacks involves using newspapers to make pots for indoor seedlings.

If you're looking to take things slow, Hayles suggests trying something simple like planting cucumber seeds in a window box.

"You don't need a large area, you don't need a full garden," Hayles said. "You can do urban gardening downtown."

Tschudy and Hayles believe it's crucial to keep the weather forecasts in mind while planting seeds. That said, root crops and leafy greens like garlic, potatoes, carrots, kale, Swiss chard, and lettuce are a good bet in Calgary.

"The best option for a new gardener would be to lower your expectations and choose things that already will be tolerant of our cold nights and our windy weather and maybe even our wildlife," Tschudy said.

For amateur gardeners who don't know where to begin, working with a friend or signing up for classes may be a good option.

"Everybody fails, even expert gardeners," Tschudy said. "There's fails or learning curves every year and then that's how we learn the most."