Pay Dirt: Overcoming the Challenges of Urban Gardening

Gardening in urban areas is challenging because of space limitations. About five years ago, I decided to take the plunge and begin growing my own vegetables.  I knew very little about gardening and failed to do the research necessary to have a successful harvest.  I planted haphazardly and without any sort of plan.  The most important lesson I learned was to plan!

In my opinion, the benefits of growing your own food outweigh the challenges.  Vegetables grown in garden containers have much better flavor and the colors are more vibrant than anything you find in a big-chain grocery store. You control what you grow and the type of soil you use.  If you are lucky enough to have an abundant garden, you can share with your family, friends, and neighbors.

There are challenges to gardening in small spaces, but there are tricks to bypassing those challenges.  There are limits to what you can grow in containers.  Areas with full-shade and full-sun are often overlooked because growing in these areas can be a challenge.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, peas, and beans benefit from growing in areas with full sun.  Shade-tolerant crops like arugula, kale, lettuce, greens, and spinach are great for shade gardens. My front yard faces south and receives about 10 hours of sun a day.  I have been able to successfully grow patio tomatoes and jalapenos in containers in my front yard.  The west side-yard only gets about three hours of sun a day, but vegetables like snow peas grown nicely on a trellis.

I’m going to say this one more time! Planning is key to a successful harvest.  Before you decide what to grow, you need to decide what you can grow in your geographic area.  The U.S.D.A. has an easy to use plant hardiness zone map. Type in your zip code and the U.S.D.A. will give you your plant hardiness zone.  For the purpose of this blog, I will use mine, which is 7b.

Next, we’ll look at a planting calendar for zone 7. The Vegetable Gardener has charts for cool and warm season vegetables. Be sure to choose vegetables and herbs you like and know you will eat. Now that you’ve chosen what you will plant, you need to figure out where to plant.A planting journal is an invaluable tool when planning your garden. You can make your own or use the Old Farmer’s Almanac on-line gardening planner. This online tool is free for 7 days.  Planning where to plant is an all-day affair so grab your journal, a cup of tea, and a good book.  Draw a picture of the front, back, and sides of your yard in your journal.  Beginning at 7a.m. and ending at 5p.m., record where the sun and shade is every hour. Seed packets will give you the number of hours of sun or shade your plants need and if you plant from starters, nurseries will supply this information.

Making your own containers is easy even if you are not crafty.  Below are pictures of some of my containers.  Raised beds can be placed in long narrow areas, mobile containers allow you to move containers, hanging baskets work great where space on the ground is limited, and teepees and trellises allow you to grow vertically.  A great website for D.I.Y ideas is The Cottage Market.

You’re ready to plant! Now, the million-dollar question is should you use organic or non-organic soil? I use organic potting soil when I plant, but this is a personal choice.  The benefit of organic soil is that is has soil organisms that attack disease-causing organisms. It is possible to build healthy soil from non-organic potting soil over a period of time.  Bonnie Plants can answer some of your questions about organic and non-organic soil.

Happy growing and remember, if you have an abundance of vegetables and herbs, share them.  This is a great way to meet neighbors and grow a healthy community.

-Posted by Moya

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