Wider Horizons

“Not many people have a job where they get to garden at work,” smiles Penny Takahashi tomatos(Renewable Resource Management ‘03), Aquaculture Technician in Lethbridge College’s Aquaculture Centre of Excellence.

And although her speciality is aquaponics gardening – a fairly high-tech and environmentally friendly approach to growing food – many techniques she uses can be applied at home.

“Even people who live in high rises or have no outdoor decks can garden. You can do it in your home, backyard or on the deck,” says Takahashi. You can even garden in a greenhouse in the winter if you have a heat source and LED lights.

Takahashi finds that lettuce is among the easiest plants to germinate, while spinach can be trickier to coax into production. “I do well with root vegetables; beets and yellow onions grow well and radishes, too,” says Takahashi.

She adds that advanced gardeners may enjoy experimenting with new types of plants or creating large-scale aquaponics projects to produce trout to eat along with their vegetables.

But for gardeners of all levels of experience, Takahashi suggests increasing your harvest by purchasing seeds from a commercial grower. Try to find seeds with a guaranteed germination rate of at least 75 per cent, she says, and check the date on the seed package to make sure they are not more than two years old.

Don’t kill those ladybugs in your garden, she adds. They kill aphids. Bio-controls, like ladybugs, which can be purchased online from retailers, are natural predators that attack pests.

Using natural predators cuts down on chemical use in your garden. You can also try complementary planting to keep bugs away. Seeding an eggplant among your beans distracts pesky thrips from munching on your legumes. Planting beans with corn enhances nitrogen content in the soil.

Or use fish to fertilize your crops. All you need are a couple of aquarium pumps, two plastic totes, and a few pet-store fish to get started. You’ll find plenty of introductory demos online, and “Introduction to Aquaponics and Aquaculture” at Lethbridge College on Oct. 25 and 26 can give you more in-depth learning.

While aquaponic gardening conserves water by recycling it from your plants back to the fish, all gardeners can lower water bills by using rain barrels to catch water. There is a lot to learn when it comes to gardening.

Fortunately, you’ll find information online, at your local garden centre and from continuing education classes. “That’s the fun part,” she says, “researching and seeing what you can create.”

Wider Horizons
By Jane Harris-Zsovan
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