Is it possible to grow enough food to feed your family in an urban setting? Yes! Don’t you need acres of farmland to produce enough to make a go of it? The answer is a resounding, “No!” More people in an urban setting are turning their hats toward the idea of small-scale urban gardening in a big way. As people are becoming more aware of the foods with which they choose to nourish their bodies, so they are shifting toward a start-to-finish approach to feeding themselves. Plant it, grow it, nourish it, harvest it, prepare it and eat it. Lather, rinse and repeat yearly. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that 800 million people worldwide grow vegetables or fruits or raise animals in cities, producing what the Worldwatch Institute reports to be an astonishing 15 to 20 percent of the world’s food. Doesn’t it make you want to grab a piece of the pie, knowing exactly where your food is coming from?
“Sustainable” means the ability to continue something with perpetuity; to be able to uphold or maintain. It is possible to supplement a “grocery store lifestyle” or replace it completely within the confines of your own home located within a city lot. It takes careful planning and attention to placement of edibles, growing seasons and smart use of vertical space, but it is possible and is being done right now in cities around the world.
Despite their relatively small size, urban farms grow a surprising amount of food with yields that often surpass those of their rural cousins. This is possible for a couple reasons.
First, city farms don’t experience heavy insect pressure, and they don’t have to deal with hungry deer or groundhogs. Second, city farmers can walk their plots in minutes, rather than hours, addressing problems as they arise and harvesting produce at its peak. They can also plant more densely because they hand cultivate, nourish their soil more frequently and micromanage applications of water and fertilizer. There’s no need for a big green harvester within city limits; just a little elbow grease and the will to get it done!
Let’s talk about that concept of vertical gardening. Many vegetables grow on vines. Vines will travel up and wrap themselves around the nearest hospitable host. If you make use of trellises, you can double your ground space just by growing up instead of out. Plant your vine vegetables in neat rows with a trellis between them and all of a sudden you’ve maximized your space and opened up dirt for the next crop.
Each plant has a unique growing season. You can spread out the work by planting early season crops first. Root vegetables and hardy vegetables can be planted extremely early in the season, even before the danger of frost is past, if you cover them with straw to help insulate. Later on in the season, that straw will help mulch the beds, holding in moisture and making more efficient use of water.
Lettuce and salad greens have a short growing season but can be harvested at intervals throughout the growing season. Plant early and harvest early to take maximum advantage of this delicate edible. Long-season crops, such as brussels sprouts, need to be planted early and then left alone until well into the fall. If your area is in danger of early frosts in the fall, portable hoop houses can be utilized to drop over late-season crops at night to insulate them from the dangers.
Are you ready to benefit from a homegrown lifestyle? Imagine strolling through your garden beds and deciding what goes in your salad that night based off of what’s ripe. Imagine sending your children out to “grab a snack” off the vine. Fresh tomatoes, fruit right off of the tree or bush, snap peas, beans, carrots and more. The possibilities are endless. Are you more of a gourmet? A supplemental herb garden will give extra zip and zest to your dishes. There’s nothing quite like fresh rosemary and oregano in your spaghetti sauce or fresh mint muddled into your favorite drink.
Some advice: If you don’t know if you can commit to turning your beautiful green lawn into an edible landscape, start small. Put in one or two raised beds, with well-tended soil, and two or three varied plants. Salad greens are a plant that gives immediate success, with its short growing season and ability to thrive under a variety of conditions. Throw in a few herbs, such as thyme and chocolate mint for variety, a tomato plant or two, and just go from there! If you can handle more, plant more.
A popular favorite of gardeners is a salsa garden; tomatoes, tomatillos, pepper plants, garlic and onions all grown together with cilantro. When it’s ripe, harvest a little of each and blend it all together for a savory fresh salsa that will be the envy of your block party. When they ask where you got it, just say you “shop local.”