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Colette Murphy's Urban Harvest

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By Noelle Munaretto

As the seasons change from winter to spring, and the ground softens up from its icy chill, it's the perfect time of year to begin planning an herb garden. Herbs can be started indoors from a variety of seeds, and transplanted outside when the warmer May breezes roll in. Toronto gardener and Urban Harvest founder Colette Murphy is the go-to gal in the city for organic vegetable, herb and flower seeds. I caught up with her at the Dufferin Grove Farmers' Market, where she offered insider tips and tricks on the best way to start growing a bountiful herb garden right from your own windowsill.

The first step is to choose a selection of seeds for the project. Murphy suggests chives, parsley, marjoram, savoury, oregano, thyme and different types of basil (such as lemon, cinnamon, and Genovese) since they all transplant well directly from seed. Next grab a hinged plastic container - similar to one you would get croissants in at the grocery store - and poke holes in the bottom and the top for drainage. Fill the container with a few inches of organic potting soil, packed down tightly. Then sow the herb seeds one to three times deeper than the size of the seed, covering lightly with soil. Murphy explains that herbs like a lot of sun, so be sure to place the container in a south window in order to create an effective greenhouse environment. Sprinkle lightly with water, always keeping the soil slightly damp, and close the container. Be sure not to over-water though, as herbs are prone to mould growth in their roots.

Murphy started gardening with her grandmother in Ireland when she was only five years old. "I've always loved weeds," she says. "I can't remember not gardening." With degrees in landscaping and permaculture, she has nurtured her passion for cultivating delicious, sustainable food, encouraging Torontonians to start their own soil-to-table initiatives. When Murphy first started Urban Harvest in 1998 she offered 25 types of seed and today, ten years later, the company has over 130 varieties sold at city farmers' markets. All of Murphy's seeds are certified organic, sourced from Ontario growers that do not use genetically modified materials. This is an ecological practice that Murphy insists upon. "The most important part about our garden is our soil, and that soil is our planet's soil so it's about stewarding the land," she says. "Taking care of the earth and honouring what we eat is a spiritual act."

When the first little herb sprouts poke out from the container, Murphy recommends transferring the seed groupings into four-inch pots. Continue to water sparsely, giving the plants lots of exposure to the sun. Then, in mid-May when the ground is ready for transplanting, bring plant pots outside for a couple of days to accustom them to their new growing environment. Finally, transplant them into a garden area in your backyard, let them grow fully, and enjoy cooking with them at home.

You can find Colette Murphy with her seeds at the Dufferin Grove Farmers' Market and later this spring with her plants at the Riverdale Farmers' Market. Seed orders can also be placed on-line at www.uharvest.ca


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