With limited space and time, a garden may be the last thing on your mind. However, the benefits of an urban organic garden can change your opinion.
Take container gardening, for instance. This type of gardening lets you grow food in a confined space –- such as a bucket or flower box. By growing your own food in a container garden, you’re re-establish roots in nature and reconnecting to the Earth even if you have become accustomed to living in an urban setting.
Don’t let a lack of space limit your ability to eat healthier and eliminate toxic pesticides.
Fortunately, vegetables require only three basic things to grow: soil, water and light. They also don't need to be planted directly in the ground. Plants can grow in containers on your roof, in window boxes, patios, doorways or sidewalks. Place your garden where it will receive the most hours of sunshine each day.
(Before you start, be sure to ask your landlord about your garden plan.)
When acquiring a container, consider 5-gallon buckets, terra-cotta pots or wooden boxes. Your container should have drainage holes and be big enough to host your growing veggies. Shallow-rooted plants such as lettuce, spinach, radishes and herbs need only 6 to 8 inches of soil depth to grow. Tomatoes and squash, which have deeper roots, need around 12 inches of soil depth. To fill your containers, use a well-draining potting mix with either compost or organic granulated fertilizer.
Remember: Well-prepared garden soil is even more important when planting in a container. Container soil needs to be sufficiently aerated and drained while still retaining enough moisture for your plants to thrive. Using garden soil by itself in containers yields little or no plant growth. Container soils are often composed of other media and may differ depending on the type of plant you are growing. For example, herbs, succulents and perennials prefer soil that retains less moisture over time. Before adding the soil to your containers, put it in a tub and lightly fluff the media while adding water.
What to consider before you plant
In order to know what types of produce you can grow, you must first determine the amount of sunlight your garden will receive each day.
There are 4 main categories of sunlight exposure for plants:
Full sun (6+ hours)
Partial sun (4-5 hours)
Partial shade (2-4 hours)
Shade (less than 1 hour)
In urban environments, structures -- nearby buildings, overhangs, fences and walls -- can have an effect on your garden’s sun category.
Now, grab a pencil and paper and sketch a map of your garden space. As the day progresses and the sun moves, keep an eye on the space and section off the areas cast in shade by surrounding structures. Take notes while monitoring, and at the end of the day you will be able to determine your sunlight category.
When growing your own food, your preferences matter most. Make a list of the vegetables and herbs you use the most. You want to make the most out of your small gardening space, after all, so why grow something you won’t eat?
Herbs are the easiest to grow in containers and can be an excellent way to enhance to your meals.
Air and soil temperatures are the most important factors in seed germination. Although all plants need some warmth to grow, lettuce, peas and radishes do well in cool soil and will not require as much sunlight. Tomatoes, corn and squash require warmer soil. Consider using a heating pad or cover to keep your plants from getting too cold.
How to maintain your organic urban garden
Your garden will require water at least once a day, and possibly even twice a day during a heat wave. Keeping your pots and containers close together will make watering more efficient.
There are no foolproof plants, though, as all plants will need some sort of care.
To reduce the amount of plant upkeep, considerself-watering pots and containers. When your plants are not getting enough water, they appear smaller than normal, they don’t produce fruits or seeds, they are more susceptible to disease, and they will stay wilted later into the day.
Extra tips for your garden
Do some research and make sure the vegetables you choose will flourish in your environment. If you have plants that grow vertically, use stakes and supports. Vegetables such as pole beans, melons and cucumbers are all able to grow vertically. This will maximize the use of your small space.
For the best results and most successful harvest, your garden should be well-tended. Be sure to check your plants for dead leaves, weeds and vines. Try to catch molds or diseases early on. Water your plants early in the day. Make sure to concentrate the water near the base of the plant, away from the leaves. With a little planning, you will be on your way to a healthy, happy, urban organic garden.
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