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Q&A with Peter Cantley

We sat down with Peter Cantley, the Vice President of Floral & Garden at Loblaw Companies Limited, for a quick chat about all things gardening.

Springtime always brings an abundance of good things, but one of the most anticipated treats by far is the return of fresh produce—especially when it’s been grown at your own home. Few people know this like Peter Cantley, the Vice President of Floral & Garden at Loblaw Companies Limited, the largest food retailer in Canada. In charge of bringing in new gardening products and plants to the company’s more than 650 garden centres and armed with almost three decades of experience with Loblaw, we could think of no one better to talk to regarding our questions about edible gardening.

Peter Cantley
Peter Cantley

1. Can you tell us a bit about your own experiences with edible gardening over the years?

I have been growing edible plants for years now and my wife and I both love not only the freshness of growing our own produce and herbs but also the convenience. I love our Mighty ‘Mato Grafted Tomatoes since they have an exceptional ability to absorb nutrients from the soil and deliver plentiful harvests. During the spring and summer months, I can pick them right from my garden and incorporate them directly into a fresh salad or sandwich. Our neighbours are always impressed when they come over for dinner and we’re using fresh tomatoes in our menu right from our garden.

I also love potted herbs. I keep a pot full of fresh herbs like basil, chives and oregano on my back patio behind my kitchen. In the morning when I am making my breakfast, I love to be able to quickly cut some fresh herbs from my back patio and use them right in my omelette.

At Loblaw, we’ve seen dramatic growth in the category of vegetables and herbs. We are finding that our customers want to grow more and more of their own produce.

2. What tips would you give someone looking to start an edible garden for the first time?

First and foremost, vegetables, herbs and fruits require a lot of bright sunshine. Make sure you have a space for them where they will get a lot of sunlight (around six hours of direct sunlight a day). If your garden doesn’t get this amount of sunlight, consider other spaces for your edible garden. Putting a large vegetable planter on your front patio or planting  a window box filled with herbs are other good options.

If you are planting it directly into the soil of your garden instead of in a planter, make sure you’re using the right soil that is amended with things like compost and manures. The nutrients in compost or manure will ensure that your edible garden is getting off to the right start.

3. Are there certain edible plants that grow better in Western Canada’s climate/conditions?

The main thing to be conscious of in Western Canada with your edible garden is the possibility of frost and cold temperatures in the evenings. Things like basil and tomato plants are especially sensitive to cold temperatures. If you’ve purchased some of these plants, wait until the danger of frost has passed in order to plant it. Or, if you’ve planted it in a box or planter, bring it in at nighttime until the warmer weather has officially arrived.

4. It’s easy to forget that edible gardening can extend beyond fruits and vegetables, and can include flowers. What are some of your favourite edible flowers that could be incorporated into meals?

My favourite edible flower is the nasturtiums. These flowers are very easy to grow and have a spicy/ peppery flavour. Nasturtiums are great in salads with a combination of sweeter green lettuce.

Hibiscus flowers are also edible and have been used by chefs all over the world. Try using the leaves to create your very own hibiscus tea. Other flowers like Lilac blossoms are also edible and can be steeped in water to create a refreshing cold-water drink or as a tea.

When entertaining, it’s also great to use colourful blooms from your garden as garnishes on your desserts or platters to add some simple elegance to your dishes.

For best taste scenario, use flowers that are fully bloomed and healthy, not wilted. Also, make sure to rinse the flowers before use to ensure that there aren’t any insects stuck to the leaves.

5. Using fertilizers is important for growing healthy plants, but are there certain fertilizers/products we should avoid using on plants that will be eaten? What alternative products would you recommend?

If you are growing your own edible garden, make sure to stay away from using any type of chemical pesticides. Look for an organic fertilizer that is safe for consumption. Bone meal is a great alternative and works as effectively as a natural slow-release fertilizer for your plants.

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