4 Tips for Growing More Food In An Urban Garden

Don’t have much room for a garden? Don’t worry – there are lots of fun and unique ways to grow your own food in an urban garden or a just tiny bit of garden space! Here are a few options to try…

With summer just around the corner, you may be longing for some fresh, home-grown fruits and veggies – but what if you live in an apartment or other urban setting where you don’t have much space to garden? The good news is, there are lots of ways that you can still grow some of your own food by utilizing thrifty and creative urban garden techniques!

As an apartment dweller for many years, I somehow managed to grow an amazing assortment of vegetables, herbs, flowers, and even fruit in a tiny little area – and in one apartment, most of my available garden space was at least partly in the shade for most of the day. Whether you don’t have a lot of available garden space with full sun exposure, or you just have very little outdoor space to begin with, there are still a number of options for growing quite a few different food crops.

Here are a few options for getting more food out of your small or urban garden:

1.) Container Gardening

If you have limited outdoor space, be it a small yard, shared courtyard or balcony, a container garden may be the thing for you.

One of the great things about container gardening is the ability to grow almost any vegetable and many varieties of fruit, given the right conditions and space enough for an appropriately-sized container.

With the right amount of sun exposure it’s even feasible to successfully grow small fruit trees or bushes this way. In my day I have seen both lemon trees and blueberry bushes thrive in above-ground planters.

Container gardens are also extremely space efficient as every ounce of soil in your container will count as no growing space will be wasted underfoot as you care for and harvest your plants.

Another great thing about container gardening is your ability as the gardener to chase the sun if necessary, as containers can be moved throughout the day. If you have no time to be moving containers whilst life carries on around you, no problem, plant for the amount of sun you have.

While it’s true that many plants will demand a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun per day there are several ‘shade vegetables’ that will tolerate or thrive in partial shade and dappled sunlight.

A few things to consider when container gardening:

  • ‘Upcycling’ can lead to some very interesting containers – steel pasta strainers are great for kitchen herbs, reclaimed vintage boxes will add flair to your vegetative stylings and even upcycled plastic totes can make great planters if you’re more concerned with utility than style. You are limited only by your imagination and preferences. You’ll want to remember to allow for drainage, so if necessary drill holes or otherwise puncture the bottom of your chosen containers.
  • Almost any plant will grow in a container if the container is big enough.
  • Straw bales themselves can be used as containers for gardening. See how this is done here.
  • Be sure to provide enough water and food when gardening in containers, as soil in containers will dry out faster and nutrients tend to flush through them with greater speed than their in-ground counterparts.
  • Assess your sun exposure and plant accordingly.

2.) Vertical Gardening

This is a great method for your urban garden…There are so many ways to grow upwards – from a traditional trellis to a recycled pallet planter to a hanging hydroponic window garden. The options for vertical gardening are vast and require only some creativity.

Which edibles lend themselves to vertical gardening you may be wondering? Well I’m happy to report that the list is long. Here are just a few to get you started:

  • Tomatoes: Cherry tomatoes in particular (but most varieties will do) are very happy to grow in an upward fashion when given the right amount of support. Old nylons cut into strips are fabulous for tying your plants to their upward structures as they are flexible and will result in the least amount of stress on the plant where they are attached. Maybe you don’t wear nylons or your nylons are far too valuable to use in your urban garden, no worries, pick some up at the thrift store, they’ll cost next to nothing.
  • Winter squash and melons: These plants vine naturally and will happily grow towards the sky. Again, they will need adequate support, particularly as they begin to fruit.
  • Peas and pole beans
  • Cucumbers
  • Asian greens, salad greens, strawberries and kitchen herbs will all happily grow in nothing more than a recycled pallet on its side. Instructions for that can be found here.
  • Greens, strawberries or kitchen herbs will also happily grow in sections of rain gutter which can either hang or be fixed to the side of almost any southward facing structure or in a network of hanging bottles in a south facing window as seen  here. Hanging rain gutter garden instructions here.
  • Potatoes. Yup, even potatoes will grow vertically if provided with the right container to do so. Imagine you’re using a clean garbage can with all kinds of holes drilled in the bottom. Throw down a few inches of soil and compost, add your cut and cured pieces of seed potatoes and cover them with 6 more inches of dirt. Water. When the aerial parts of the plant have reached about 6 – 8 inches, add more soil leaving only a few inches of green exposed. This cycle can be repeated several times throughout the season. When the plants turns brown and dies, it’s time to harvest. The potatoes on the very top will be smaller and more delicate than those on the bottom, much like the gourmet “new” potatoes available at the store for an elevated price. I have heard tell of vertical potatoes growing in a straw-filled container (rather than soil) allowing for easier harvest and I plan to try it this year.
  • Try hanging planters: Strawberries will thrive in hanging baskets, even tomatoes will happily grow upside down out of the bottom of a hanging bucket. Our ground covering strawberries do little more than make for fat, happy chipmunks, hanging them means you might get to eat some too. DIY upside down tomato planter instructions here.

3.) Keyhole Gardens

Keyhole gardens are designed to maximize space by eliminating the need for walkways as found in traditional row gardening or with raised beds. The design is also intended to be draught-resistant and deliver nutrients via compost throughout the entire growing season.

Keyhole gardens are a raised style bed that take the rough shape of a circle with a “keyhole” shaped path allowing access to the entire garden. In the center of the circle is a vertical tunnel that houses many layers of compost. As the compost breaks down it delivers nutrients and moisture directly to the bed. Certainly an efficient way to grow, keyhole gardens can be constructed with many different materials as a quick Google search of the term will confirm. If you have space for a circle roughly 8 – 10 feet in diameter you can use whatever appropriate materials that are easily accessible corrugated siding, cedar posts, landscaping rock, bricks or any combination thereof…

4.) Community Gardens

No south-facing window, balcony or yard? Consider utilizing a community garden; it’s a great way to grow food while strengthening relationships with neighbors. If there isn’t already a community garden in your neighborhood, might there be a vacant lot on which to start one?

One thing is for sure, learning how to grow vegetables with others in your community while sharing information and resources will do more than put food on the table. Collective gardening or even just sharing gardening space will help to build and strengthen relationships within your community.

A community garden is also a great way to give kids exposure to food production that they might not otherwise get. We will face many challenges in the future around the issues of natural resources and food production, so the ability to grow food in one capacity or another is a skill that may be quite valuable for future generations.

Find more small space and urban garden tips at EcoHome.net


Rose S.

An avid gardener since childhood, I love sharing my passion for gardening with others! I have gardened in a number of different climates and settings, from large fenced garden plots, to tiny patio and container gardens, and I firmly believe that everyone can learn to grow at least some of their own food - no matter where you live. Growing your own food can help you take control of your own health and food supply, and there has never been a better time to get started!

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