Guide to Urban Gardening
What is Urban Gardening?
Urban gardening, which is also sometimes called urban farming or urban agriculture, is the practice of growing food in urban areas. This is sometimes practiced to grow food only for oneself or their family and sometimes practiced as a way to grow and distribute food locally. It most often includes growing fruits, herbs, and vegetables, but can also include growing grains, beekeeping, and raising fish or chickens.
Urban gardens may be located on rooftops, balconies, patios, backyards, front yards, porches, windowsills, window boxes, and just about anywhere else you can find a little space for a few planters or a raised garden bed.
Benefits of Urban Gardening
1. Know where your food comes from and how it was grown.
One of the best reasons to grow your own food is simply knowing where it comes from and what was used to grow it. When you grow your own produce, you do not have to worry about which fertilizers or herbicides were used on it, what kind of soil it was grown in, or what kind of contaminants it might have been exposed to during packaging or transportation.
2. Save money on organic fruits and vegetables.
Once the upfront costs of setting up your urban garden are recouped, you can save money on organic fruits and vegetables by growing your own.
3. Reduce transportation miles for food.
It does not get any more local than your own backyard, so growing at least some of your own food reduces the energy, water, and pollution related to transporting food from farms to urban areas. This lowers your carbon footprint and helps to reduce the overall footprint of the food growing, processing, and distribution system.
4. Reduce packaging waste.
Growing your own food instead of purchasing it at a grocery store reduces packaging and the water, energy, transportation, and waste associated with single-use packages.
5. Increase food security.
For many people living in urban settings, healthy foods are not readily available or, in the areas where healthy foods are available, they may be outside of the budgets of most local residents. Urban gardening can help change this situation and allow people living in these food deserts to grow their own healthy foods affordably.
6. Increase access to locally grown food.
Locally grown food is fresher, because there is less time between harvest and consumption. Because it is eaten right after being harvested, it is also more nutritious and more flavorful. By growing food in an urban setting, you allow your family to enjoy easier access to locally grown food. You can also provide produce to your neighbors, set up a barter system among neighbors to share different foods you grow, or look into selling some of your produce in your community.
7. Enjoy fresh produce throughout the year.
Urban gardening allows you to grow fresh produce in your home or just outside of your home throughout the year, which means you and your family can harvest and enjoy fresh herbs, fruits, and vegetables any season. This will be particularly true as you learn which items grow best in your area during different parts of the year.
8. Enjoy the benefits of low-impact exercise and spending time outside.
Getting out into nature can be more difficult when you live in the city, but establishing an urban garden can help you spend more time surrounded by greenery and enjoying the physical and mental benefits of being outside. Pulling weeds, moving containers, planting seeds, and watering also help you fit some low-impact movement into your day.
9. Teach your kids a life skill and help them connect with nature.
Growing some of your own food is a great way to spend time with your kids while teaching them how to grow food and where food comes from.
Urban Gardening Tips
If you think urban gardening might be right for you, here are some tips to help you get started.
1. Test your soil.
If you plan to grow food in the ground, you should first test the soil. This is even more important when you live in the city where the soil may be contaminated. If you find out that your soil is not safe for growing food, you can still have an urban garden by using above-ground methods, such as containers or a raised garden bed with a barrier at the bottom.
2. Find a sunny spot.
Most fruits and vegetables like to have about six to eight hours of sun each day, so look for a sunny spot in your yard or on your balcony. Ideally, most of the sun would occur in the morning while some shade might give a reprieve from the heat of the afternoon sun.
3. Consider raised garden beds.
If you have space for raised garden beds, they are likely your best option. You can place them on top of soil or on a concrete or tile patio, so this is one way to expand your planting options while also having more control over the quality of soil and planting environment.
4. Start with things that are easy to grow.
If you are new to gardening, you might want to start with just a few herbs to get in some practice before moving on to things that require a bit more skill and time. Tomatoes, leafy greens, and peppers are also very easy to grow, so you could start with them. For most urban gardeners who are new to gardening, it is best to start with a limited variety of plants. Once you have learned to care for those, you can expand your garden to include more variety.
5. Grow lights are an option.
If you do not have an outdoor location or a sunny windowsill on which to grow food, consider using grow lights. This will allow you to grow food almost anywhere in your house. You will need to make sure there is good airflow, so you do not want to set up your indoor garden in a closet or cabinet, but any airy space will do if you have grow lights.
6. Take advantage of vertical space.
One of the challenges of urban gardening is finding enough space to grow the number of plants you would like to have. You can remedy this by taking advantage of vertical space by placing your pots on shelves, using hanging planters or window boxes, or by growing a vertical garden on a wall. Many plants grow well in containers and hanging baskets, including leafy greens, herbs, strawberries, tomatoes, and peppers.
7. Get to know your hardiness zone.
Knowing your hardiness zone will help you avoid purchasing seeds and plants that do not thrive where you live and to focus on options that do.
8. Learn how to save seeds.
Once you have your garden going, look into how to save seeds from the plants you are growing. Seed saving is a great way to continue to grow produce you love and to save money by not having to purchase more seeds the following year.
9. Almost any vessel can be a container in your container garden.
Urban gardening often involves growing food in containers, since space is usually limited. Almost any vessel that will hold soil can be used as a growing container, such as buckets, coffee cans, teacups, wooden crates, washtubs, bowls, and even old boots.