I wanted to do a post on urban gardening because it seems to be the next big thing with the current economy and concerns about the environment. People who are raised in the sticks and out on farms already know how to start a garden and they usually have all kinds of space to start it in. But in the cities, urban areas and even suburban areas, land is more limited and resources are more costly. But the idea of growing your own food is a tempting one with the price of gas driving up the cost of food every day. It just doesn’t make sense to limit your food choices to those items that are cheap to truck to your local area. So I think there will be somewhat of a boom in urban gardening.
Not everybody is cut out to be a farmer, of course, and even some of those who would like to grow a carrot or a potato think it’s really hard work, expensive to start and hard to maintain. You’ve heard the term “green thumb”, right? Well, I have personally come to see, first hand, that this is a myth. I, myself, was a total night life girl with a career job and a lot of pricey trappings. It wasn’t until I got my own home and was forced by economic circumstances to expand my knowledge of gardening and to sharpen my handyman skills. I started spending an awful lot of time in Home Depot and wandering through nurseries. I never believed, not for a moment, that I could even grow a Pothos in a pot. I had never had plants even in my home because my fussy roommate complained about the “dirt” smell. And the water mistakes I made, puddling on the tabletops, quickly had me tossing the pots. But I have learned since that a little application, a will to experiment and finally succeed is all anyone needs to learn to grow. Nature does most of the work herself.
But if you are considering the slim possibility that you might be able to grow a herb or vegetable around your home, I want you to know it can be done. And on a larger and more successful scale than you imagine. But you do have to think it through. Because you don’t have a lot of land and space to make mistakes and just correct them without disrupting the whole project, there are things you should consider. There are three types of gardening that I would recommend to urban and suburban farmers and you should choose the one that best fits your circumstances. One is rooftop gardening, the other is gardening in a small lot or backyard and the third is indoor hydroponic gardening under controlled lighting. Any of these can be fruitful and successful but whether one will work or not will depend upon your housing situation and available land. If your home is bigger than your yard and you have room to spare, consider an indoor garden. If you have a fairly sunny lot with a sizeable backyard area and easy access without disturbing bbq grills or sunbathing, then consider a yard garden. And if you live in a townhouse, home or apartment that has access to a rooftop, then consider using that space for your garden. This last, of course, is best suited to people who have town homes, apartments or offices on the upper level of their housing complex with access to the roof. So, before you even think about starting, consider which of these will work best for you.
And once you have chosen, the items you will need and the kind of plants you will grow will be dictated by this arrangement. Rooftop gardens will have total and complete sun exposure so plants should be chosen for their tolerance to heat and light. Indoor gardens will require the purchase of lighting systems and these should be chosen in consideration of the kind of plants you want to grow. And backyard gardens will be limited by the amount of sun exposure vs shade and the amount of ground space that is available for growing plants. Each of these garden choices will mostly be done as container gardening so certain benefits are present from the start and other obstacles will make their presence known. You can buy containers in any size up to enormous and the only things you can’t grow in containers are large trees like Oak or Sumac. Even certain types of Pine can be contained and grown in a pot. So the fact that plants are in a container should not hold you back from growing anything. I’ve known of people who have grown Potatoes, Squash and even Watermelons successfully in containers. You just have to work with the plants the way they like; mounds in the pots for the Squash and Watermelon and dirt piled on for the Potatoes. My advice to anyone starting a project is to buy the largest containers you can find and start your garden right in these big containers. Gradual removal from small containers to large is often a reason for healthy plants to retreat into shock and become weak and even die. Build the conditions you expect the plant to need right into the pot at the start, such as building a mound for ground sprawling plants like Squash and Grapes or layering sand on the surface of the pot to grow Cactus or Succulents.
For the utmost beginning gardener I would suggest a patio, rooftop or backyard container garden with a few pots growing hardy herbs like Basil and Rosemary and a few pots growing vegetables like Tomatoes, Peppers and bush Beans. Do not expect to feed your family with the first harvest, such bounty will come in time with practice and devotion. And it doesn’t take as much time you might imagine. Give the plants a good start with a rich soil mix, a steady feeder like a Jobe stick or Miracle Gro and make sure to water about every other day as the soil drains out. Pay attention to sun and light exposure, moving plants into shade when it’s way too sunny for long periods and pushing them into the sun when it’s been cloudy for a while. If growing indoors, set lights on timers so the plants have periods of light and shade. And last but not least, before you even start, buy a book or online ebook (cheaper) about starting gardens and growing whatever food you wish to tackle. The very best thing about indoor or rooftop gardening is how few bugs will threaten your plants and your harvest is likely to be heartier and more fruitful because of this one simple benefit. For more information on beneficial insects and other methods of natural insect control, check this blog from time to time for future posts on all these topics.