If you’ve ever been the recipient of a neighbor’s freshly-grown tomatoes, you know the value of a good veggie garden. Many folks believe they can’t grow their own veggies because they don’t have acres of space. But did you know you can grow your own edible garden with just a container or a few feet of ground? It’s true! Limited space does not mean limited vegetable potential. In fact, gardening in small spaces has its own name – it’s called Urban Farming, and it’s a growing trend. You may have heard the benefits of eating locally-grown produce – well, there’s nothing more local than your own backyard! And bonus: you control how you grow it, so your harvest can be organic.
I’ve been growing veggies in my urban farm (aka, my patio) for twelve years, and this past season I grew more than forty varieties. But even as an experienced farmer, I still have a tough time getting started in the garden after a long winter. After months of neglect, the garden looks as hopeless as I feel, so taking baby steps makes it more manageable. Interested in starting your own urban farm? Here are some steps you can take right now to get started:
- Identify your space. Most veggies thrive with at least eight hours of direct sunlight, and they need to catch rainfall and drain well. Choose a spot with good light, good water, good light and good soil. If you don’t have great soil (most of us here in Virginia don’t — our soil is very dense with clay and rocks), you can use containers or a raised bed, or amend your in-ground soil with compost.
- Choose your produce. What do you love to eat? Pick a couple of your favorites, and start with those – no need to get fancy, just stick with what you love. Love squash? Plant it! Don’t love tomatoes? Don’t plant ’em! It’s that simple.
- Create a garden plan. It’s important to plan ahead so you’ll have enough space. I use Mother Earth’s garden planning tool to map out my beds – it’s easy to use, and helps you figure out how much space you’ll need for each plant. This is particularly useful for urban farmers like us, who need to maximize small spaces.
- Order seeds. It’s surprisingly gratifying to read through the new seed catalogs each spring. I particularly like Southern Exposure Seed Exchange – they’re in central Virginia, so they know what grows well in our region, and their seeds are organic.
- Prepare your bed(s). When the weather is bearable, begin cleaning out your space. Enlist a helper, put on some good tunes, grab your tools, and take it bit by bit. Clear out rocks, throw away debris, and start turning over the soil and adding compost (I use a hoe, but a sturdy rake or shovel also work). An easy alternative is to use containers – it saves you from having to break through our dense Virginia clay.
This preparation is the least gratifying phase of farming, but building a strong foundation is critical for a successful harvest. Like life, the garden is cyclical. And I’m thankful for that.