Adventures in Organic Urban Gardening
I am an urban dweller. I like to be able to walk to the shops, ride my bike to museums and restaurants, and be close enough to the action that I don’t feel completely cut off of the culture that a city has to offer. Not to mention that my commute time is almost non-existent. That said, there are drawbacks from living in the downtown corridor of any city. Small living spaces, street parking, and being in close proximity to your neighbors. These are all things I am willing to put up with, but the one thing I am not able to compromise on, is having an outdoor space that is all ours. That can be hard to find in any city, so you have to get creative if you want to have room to grow your green thumb. Raised garden beds, boxes and planters are a great way to have smaller plots without having to use up your entire space.
We always knew that we wanted to grow some of the veggies that we love. My husband and I are mostly vegetarian, and we like to eat food cooked from scratch, as well as organic if we are going to be eating the skin. It just tastes better (as well as being free of all sorts of additives and sugars). Homemade salsa beats jarred salsa any day, but there is a cost difference. You can buy a store salsa for $4 or $5, but to make it, would cost double that to buy all of the ingredients fresh and organic. So last year we started our garden, and wanted to share some tips we learned along the way, as well as some recipes for what to do with your harvest.
Step one- Where to plant
When selecting a spot, you must think about the amount of sun an area gets every day. If you have mature trees, or tall bushes, study their shade pattern to make sure that the area you selected gets at least 6 hours of full sun or more. If none of the areas on your property get enough sun, you can always find a community garden in your area to plant in. There are a million reasons to love a Community Garden, but some of the advantages for the novice are the advice you can get from your fellow gardeners, meeting your neighbors, and even being able to exchange with the others if you have a bumper crop that you can’t use up.
Step two- To raise or not to raise
In the city you see a lot of raised garden beds. There are lots of options, from prebuilt options in most gardening and hardware stores, to repurposed tubs and horse troughs. You can also plant a patio container garden, using individual pots for each plant. These work great on balconies, or you can line the edge of your deck with them, adding to the landscape.
We chose to build our own and save some money over buying the prebuilt varieties. This also allows you to make the box custom sized to your space and dimensions. We chose to use 2×10 Red Wood lumber, and love the look.
One thing to keep in mind when using lumber is that wood is almost always treated with arsenic, as well as other chemicals. After you have the box frame built, line the sides with a protective barrier (plastic, landscape cloth), this will keep those chemicals from seeping into the soil and the vegetables.
Step three- build your box
After getting your lumber, cut your pieces down to the dimensions you need. Sometimes the store offers a free cutting service, and taking advantage of this service will save you a lot of time.
Once you have the materials cut to the dimensions, line up the pieces in the spot you want to install. Starting at one side, line your first corner up at 90’, and drill through the wood, and then secure with wood screws (I used 3”). Continue with the other corners until the box is complete. Once you have the finished box in the position you want, line the sides with a protective barrier.
Step Four- Picking a soil
There are lots of options when it comes to soil- potting soil should be used in house plants and small container plants. You will also find an array of gardening soils. Some are designed for flower beds, some for vegetable, and some are multipurpose. When looking for organic soils, your option will narrow. I like to use a combination of gardening soil for vegetables, as well as compost. When working with organic, it can be hard to find a food that isn’t loaded with artificial growth aids and pesticides. That said, compost works as a great soil nutrient, and there are some great all natural foods that have a good dose of nitrogen, which is really what you are looking for in a food.
Soil is sold in cubic feet, so to determine how much soil you will need, use the following formula when measuring your container
Length X Width X Depth= total cubic feet
You can purchase the soil at any gardening or home improvement shop, or you can also purchase it in bulk from local farms, who sometimes will even deliver it for you. If you need a lot of cubic feet, the second option is often more economical.
Please Keep in mind that you will need the soil to stop 4-6 inches below the container, so you will have room for mulch after planting.
Once you are done, it is time to start planting. My next post will cover how-to’s for how to seed your own plants, how to pick already sprouted plants, as well as lay out to ensure the best growth.