Growing vegetables in urban areas has exploded in popularity during recent years as gardeners, and soon to be gardeners, get reacquainted with fresh, local, organic produce. Imagine sweet strawberries, juicy tomatoes, tasty peppers and fresh spinach all direct from your own garden.
For me, I was tired of buying grocery store produce that was low on flavor and high on price. I’m certain those store-bought tomatoes spent the six weeks on a slow boat from Chile or Argentina because they had the flavor of cardboard.
With a small urban garden vegetables and fruit can go from garden to table in minutes. Compare that with store-bought vegetables that have spent the last month or so on a truck or in a cold storage locker.
Starting a vegetable garden is easy. With some easy to follow help and a little planning, it nearly guarantees success.
First, vegetable gardening is fun! It does require some physical labor. But remember, the reward is freshly harvested, flavorful, high quality, locally grown produce for you and your family.
Take the time to plan the new garden. If you are new to gardening, begin small. An eight by twelve foot garden can yield an astonishing variety of produce if planted correctly. Or, you can plant pocket vegetable plantings among your other existing flower beds.
1. Where to start growing vegetables
A successful vegetable garden can be anywhere there is sunlight, water, soil, and good drainage. Think about planting options: along a driveway, along a curb strip, in a side yard, by an entry or along a fence. Pick a location that gets at least six hours of direct sun a day. Vegetables like beans, tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant and cucumbers need those six hours to prosper. Other vegetables can make do with three to four and still produce. But, more is better when it comes to sunlight and vegetables. And plan your rows to run from East to West for best results in distributing sunlight.
An inexpensive pad of ¼ inch graph paper can help you plan and organize the new garden. Deciding on paper where to place each vegetable is easier than digging up the garden to move plants as garden takes shape.
Grow your garden in the ground, in raised beds or even in containers. First, loosen the soil, down a foot, for in ground gardens and raised bed gardens. Choose to do this by shovel or rent a rototiller. I’m a great fan of rototillers. They make quick work of stubborn soil and rocks.
Once the soil is loosened, mix in quality topsoil, compost, and any amendments needed to improve the soil. One part compost and four parts soil seems to work the best for most gardens. Where I live the soil is mostly decomposed granite. So, I needed to increase the amount of organic material, compost and topsoil.
For container gardens, use potting mix instead of soil. Potting mixes are engineered to drain well, stay loose, and not become compacted. The proper mix will be dense enough to anchor roots securely but light enough to handle easily in large containers. Potting mixes purchased from most commercial sources are sterile, minimizing the danger of plant disease and insect infestation.
2. When and What to Plant
In milder climate zones its possible to grow vegetables nearly year round. But, in very cold climates it’s best to wait until a week or two after the final frost.
Cold season crops for a vegetable garden might include: arugula, beets, fava beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, endive, garlic, lettuce, onions, parsnips, peas, radishes, and spinach.
Warm season crops for the garden include: green beans, corn, cucumbers, melons, eggplant, peppers, summer squash and tomatoes.
Talk to local experts at nursery or botanical centers for recommendations on which vegetable varieties are best grown from seed or from transplants in your climate zone.
Plant what you like but remember it’s fun to sample several new vegetables each season. I’ve discovered delightful new tastes by trying new vegetables and exotic greens.
3. Go Vertical for More Space
Adding arbors and trellises to the north side of your garden is an easy way to provide more growing space without blocking the sunlight. Squash, nasturtiums, and pole beans are natural climbers. Look for arbors and trellises at nurseries, home centers and by mail order in redwood, bamboo and steel.
A wire cage can be easily made from five or six foot wide concrete reinforcing wire. Rolled into two-foot cylinders, it makes a great vertical support for tomatoes, squash or beans.
4. Remember to Feed The Garden
Choose a fertilizer formulated for vegetables. Fertilizer labels state the percentage by weight that the product contains of the three macronutrients: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) listed in that order. A fertilizer labeled 10-3-1 contains 10% nitrogen, 3% phosphorus, and 1% potassium. This example is a complete fertilizer. Balanced fertilizers are composed of equal parts of each macronutrient, such as a 5-5-5 product. An incomplete fertilizer has only one or two of the nutrients. These are useful when you want to give crops a supplemental feeding of nitrogen after planting.
How often do you feed your garden? If fertilizer was dug into the soil when preparing the vegetable bed, that may be sufficient for asparagus, berries, and grapes. But vegetables such as tomatoes and corn requiring long growing seasons will need more. Read the plant tags or talk to your nursery. Usually vegetables require feeding every 4-6 weeks. Even more often for container gardens.
Vegetable gardening can be fun for the entire family. Have a discovery trip to your local nursery to see which varieties of fruit and vegetables are growing this month. Give the kids a garden row and encourage them to plant their favorite vegetables. Harvest baby greens to give the kids an early reward for their garden project. Get creative, experiment and, most of all, have fun.