Whether you have a tiny yard or no outdoor space at all, you can become an urban farmer. Growing your own produce saves money, beautifies your space and reduces your carbon footprint. It is a lot of fun, a great learning experience for kids and strengthens your connection with nature. And harvesting dinner directly from your garden can provide you with the healthiest and most delicious produce available. Here’s what you need to get started:
Location, Location, Location
First, take some time to plan your garden. The most important consideration is the amount of available space. Do you have a back, side or front yard? Or is your living space surrounded by concrete? If possible, dig directly into the Earth. If you rent, be aware that some landlords may require the use of outdoor containers. If no outside space is available, place a few containers on your deck, balcony or even windowsill.
Consider vertical gardening as a great space-saving technique as well. Add a trellis and allow plants like squash, cucumber and beans to climb skyward instead of all over your garden.
The ideal area for a garden is one that receives at least four to six hours of sunlight per day. If you are planting indoors, look for a window with plenty of sunlight.
Deciding What to Grow
Next, begin the process of selecting which plants to grow. A good starting point is making a list of the vegetables you enjoy eating. Then narrow the list down based on which plants do best in your area. Seed packets almost always provide this information and employees of your local garden center should be able to help. Then select vegetables that mature at different times of the year for a continual harvest.
Keeping It Simple
Remember: Experience is the best teacher, so go slowly if you are just beginning. Keeping it simple will help you to absorb the ins and outs of gardening by building on your successes and learning from your mistakes. Some of the easier vegetables to grow are cabbage, lettuce, spinach, basil, carrots, tomatoes and sugar snap peas.
Laying Out Your Garden
Now you are ready to map out the design and placement of your plants, taking into consideration space availability, sunlight and the types of plants you’ve decided to grow. A small 2×4-foot outdoor plot is sufficient space to produce a nice harvest of lettuce, sugar snap peas and carrots. A few indoor containers can support basil and spinach. For smaller spaces, learn which plants grow well in close proximity and which are not good neighbors. For example, tomatoes do better when not grown near cabbage or corn, but do well when planted near carrots and celery.
Timing Is Everything
Plant seeds or starts outdoors when appropriate for your area. Again, seed packets and garden center staff are invaluable resources in finding out planting times. Many plants do well when seeded directly into the Earth, like lettuce and carrots. Some, like tomatoes, do better when started indoors and then transplanted outside several weeks later. There are many online resources available to help.
Supporting the Soil
You may need to amend your soil with organic fertilizer or compost. This doesn’t have to be expensive or anti-environmental. Try your hand at making your own compost, or find out if your city gives away compost from leaf debris and household food scraps composted by city waste-management facilities. Make sure any pesticides you use are natural and organic. Also, many community groups support seed exchanges where you save seeds to exchange with other gardeners.
If you do not have indoor or outdoor space of your own, consider sharing a plot with others. Your best bet in this regard is to join one of the many community gardens springing up in cities across the country. They provide opportunities to raise your own produce, meet like-minded people, trade produce and share gardening tips.
From global warming to the economic crisis, the time has never been better to take action with our own hands, simply by digging in the dirt. By turning intentions toward producing our own sustenance—to whatever degree we are able—we commit a revolutionary act in reclaiming our food supply. The rich, delicious and eco-conscious flavors we seek in our food are there if we want them—it just takes some soil, some seeds and some time.
Even if you live in the most urban of environments, you can still enjoy the amazing transformation from tiny seed to robust plant to delicious food. You’ll find that your efforts on behalf of the Earth never tasted so good.
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