December 9, 2008
It is possible to grow food in small spaces. In the southeast US, I was able to start seedlings indoors in March and plant them after the latest frost warning (Memorial Day weekend).
It started with a Stack and Grow that I received from a family member, and grew into a large container gardening project that produced vegetables and herbs from June-December 1st.
I grew: kale, lettuce, radishes, summer squash, zucchini squash, tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, basil, swiss chard, sage, parsley, mustard greens, catnip, chives, oregano, thyme, and dill.
Since local foods and sustainable agriculture are available where I live, I had joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share for the past 2 years, but wanted to try my hand at supplementing my own intake. I also received inspiration from visiting community gardens, and reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Coincidentally, I also tried my hand at making beer, cheese, and yogurt.
My apartment has a very modest walk-out back patio, but it receives almost 6-8 hours of direct afternoon sunlight. The back patio is basically a 2 foot cement slab. It needed some work. Digging up the soil wasn't a great option b/c the lawn maintenance crew sprays the ground with pesticides, or they mow over or trim whatever was growing.
These are the things I found most useful:
1. Find a location - backyard, community garden, or other communal space. Container, or in the ground?
2. Locate resources - many states have Cooperative Extension agencies that provide extremely useful urban horticulture/gardening info aimed at the location that you live in. They have listings of what kinds and varieties of plants grow best in what kinds of soil, pot vs. ground, shade vs. sun. Local gardening centers, garden clubs, or farmer's markets were extremely helpful. They can tell you what kind of bugs are eating your leaves. Lowe's will not know.
3. Invest in some tools whether you make or purchase them: pots, labels, shovels, seeds, soil, compost bins, rain barrels, mulch, tomato stakes, etc.
Depending on where you live and what the climate is like these are the pot sizes I found worked best with the vegetable varieties:
Cucumbers (patio pik, spacemaster, potluck) 1 plant/1 gal pot & vining crops need atleast a 20 inch diameter and something to grow along.
Eggplant (slim jims, black beauty, ichiban) 1 plant/5 gal pot
Onions (white sweet Spanish, yellow sweet Spanish) various bulbs/5 gal window box
Lettuce (most leaf varieties) 1 plant/1 gal pot
Tomatoes (Tiny tim, small fry, sweet 100 patio, burpee's pixie, toyboy, early girl, sweet baby girl, yellow pears and bush varieties). 1 plant/5 gal pot - stake tomatoes early; use cage as guide.
Bell peppers (keystone resistant giant) 1 plant/1 gal pot
Compost - large garbage can with many drainage holes