The Urban Homesteader: Small Space, Big Potential
As the vegetable gardening season finally arrives a common lament I hear is from people who think they don’t have enough space to grow food for themselves. I’m here to show you that you can.
First, look around for sunny areas that get at least six hours of sun. The more sun the better in the winter, although herbs can also easily thrive in a sunny window too.
Next, select your plants. When choosing vegetables or fruits for potting, look for varieties that have a more compact growth form, or be sure to have adequate support nearby for plants that spread or vine. Depending on your preference, timing and what’s available, you can start with seeds or seedlings. If you’re not sure, check with your favorite nursery or garden shop, or your local extension agency. Once you have a location and your plants, you need vessels for planting – hanging baskets, ceramic pots, vegetable bags, window boxes and vegetable container systems (like the locally invented EarthBox) are all good options. You are only limited by your creativity.
For most vegetables, you need to check the spacing (on the package, in a book or online) to see how large of a pot you will need (herbs can be in small 12-inch-wide pots, while some vegetables maybe need as much as 24 inches). Keep in mind that most vegetables will need about 18 inches of depth to ensure they have enough root space. Be sure that any container you choose has adequate drainage so plants don’t end up drowning in the event of a downpour.
Fill the containers to one inch below the top edge of the container with a potting soil mix that will allow the soil to drain effectively. For heavy feeders like tomatoes, I also like to mix in some good garden soil and compost to give the mix an extra boost. You might also add mulch or oak leaves to the top of the soil to discourage weeds, and to regulate moisture and temperature in our dry winters.
Add your seeds or seedlings, and water as directed for your particular crop. Then enjoy the daily relaxation of checking on your personal veggie garden and, hopefully, the fruits of your labor. Above all, have fun with it – the best part about container gardening is that you can experiment with plants and locations with minimal investment.
Container gardening is an easy way to start producing your own food. Here’s what you’ll need.
A sunny spot: Look for a space that receives at least six hours of sun a day.
Seeds or seedlings: Good container crops include cherry tomatoes, round carrots, lettuce, greens (collards, kale, chard), pineapple, figs, patio-sized citrus, blueberries, strawberries and herbs.
A container: Choose one that’s appropriate for what you’re planting and ensure it has holes on the bottom for drainage.
Potting soil: Container mixes should include moisture-retaining materials (such as peat moss) and those that encourage drainage (such as perlite). You can help ensure good drainage by adding packing peanuts, stones or other filler at the bottom.
Know a neighbor who has an abundant garden? Have a garden club in your area? You can often get seedlings free – or close to it – simply by asking, or by keeping your ears open for plant sales in your community.
For seeds, my go-to is the online catalog of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (southernexposure.com), which offers heirloom seeds that are more tolerant of growing in Florida.