When you live in a city like DC where space is limited, you might think your only option for fresh produce grown organically is the local farmer’s market. While we’re all grateful for farmer’s markets and the local, organic produce we can buy from them, there’s something to be said for growing your food yourself: a sense of accomplishment, a connection to nature that you might not otherwise feel in the city, or simply knowing EXACTLY what went into what you’re eating. So, what do you do if you’re living the city life with country-life longings? Give container gardening a try!
The first thing you need to do to start growing on your own is to figure out what kind of light your space will be getting. Most fruits, veggies and herbs require a good bit of sunlight to produce, but not all of them. If you’re trying to grow heat-loving veggies like tomatoes or peppers, a southern or south-western exposure (with 8 or more hours of sun everyday for the best results) is best, but if you’re stuck in the shade, you can still grow leafy greens like lettuces, cabbages, chard, or even broccoli. Once you figure out your exposure and how many hours of sunlight you’ll be getting every day, you can better research what fruits, veggies and herbs might be compatible with your space and start deciding what kinds of containers will best fit your space and your plants.
There are all sorts of containers available now that will help you save space and get the most out of the space you have. Maybe you have a balcony and you want to grow tomatoes and basil, but you’d still like to fit a café table and chairs, or even just a chair, out there to relax. Or maybe you have a little slice of soil, but you can’t give it to a garden because you have a dog that needs to go out or a child that needs a play space. Container gardens may be the answer. Line the edges of your space with long, narrow boxes, or buy (or build) a tiered planter that is made to fit in a corner. You can even buy planters these days that allow tomatoes to be grown upside down. Do some research on the internet if you’re looking to save cash and natural resources. There are some really innovative ideas out there for reusing every day containers to grow plants. If you’re feeling at a loss and aren’t sure where to start, go to a local nursery or garden shop and ask for their advice. The configuration and maximization of your space is only as small as your imagination.
Once you’ve got your containers all squared away, you need to fill them, so let’s get down to the dirt. When you’re growing plants in containers, any old dirt won’t do. Even if you have a garden with great soil that’s been supporting hardy vegetables for years, it probably won’t work in your container. The thing to remember about soil for containers is aeration and drainage. While the soil in your garden may work well there, chances are that when it’s packed into a container, it will be too dense to support proper aeration and drainage. Instead, you’re going to need to hit your local garden supply store and purchase container soil, which ironically, is mostly soilless because it is made of artificial media, such as peat, vermiculite, coir (ground coconut hulls) and bark in different recipes (depending on the manufacturer and the types of plants being grown). You can mix some of these elements with your garden soil, if you like, and create your own container media, but you may also be getting insects, weed seeds and disease organisms. The easiest answer for city dwellers is probably just to buy it. If you’re looking to go organic, you can easily find organic container media.
Once you’ve figured out your light situation, secured containers, and gotten your hands dirty, your plants are ready to go. Make sure you know their water and fertilizer requirements, and you can sit back and watch them grow. Soon enough, you’ll be enjoying your own fresh veggies from your own backyard (or patio or balcony). When you get there, take a few pics and post them to our Facebook page or tweet them to us at @EatBrownBag! At Brown Bag, we love to see people taking an interest in their food and where it comes from. You’re not just getting delicious fruits and veggies when you grow them yourself; you’re doing the earth a favor.