How to Grow Your Own Food In the City

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Yes, it is possible to grow your own food – even if you live in an apartment in the city! Here are a few tips to help you get started…

In spring, a middle-aged woman’s thoughts turn to gardening… Isn’t that the saying? 🙂  Maybe not, but for me, this time of year certainly inspires the desire to grow things! In my opinion, one of the most important aspects of sustainable living is being able to produce at least some of your own food. (If you absolutely can’t, just try to source your food as close to home as possible.)

Even if you live in the city or in a small apartment, you may still be able to grow your own food – at least on a small scale. When I moved into a tiny one-bedroom apartment in the suburbs, the very first thing I did was dig up the dead bushes out front, and start making a garden in the tiny corner of the building next to my front steps. Over the next 8 years, I grew a great number of different things in my little nook, from flowers and herbs, to strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, hot peppers, salad greens, potatoes, peas, and more. This all despite the fact that my little garden area barely got any sun, and was almost continually molested by squirrels, skunks, and uninformed groundskeepers armed with weed-killing sprays!

Although it was a challenge at times, growing a bit of my own food was incredibly fun, interesting, and fulfilling. Now that I have a huge garden out in the country, there are still times when I miss the simplicity and creative aspects of making the most of a tiny bit of garden space…

Here are 4 tips to help you grow your own food in the city – from a Bonappetit Brooklyn gardener growing an urban garden in one 8′ x 4′ bed:

Especially in cities, not everyone has the space to build a bed or the time to cultivate what’s in it. But there are other ways to grow your own food in an urban area. Though we’d never tell you to put pots on your fire escape (those are for firemen, you know), you can certainly use a balcony, patio, or communal roof. Or if you have no outdoor space at all, inside is a completely viable option if you choose the right plants.

Think beyond tomatoes

“Do you want to eat something that saves you money? Do you want something you only have access to if you grow it yourself? A lot of people go straight for tomatoes,” says urban gardening professional Annie Novak, “but truth is they’re difficult and you can buy them anyway. What about more obscure herbs, like shiso, anise, papalo, and fresh coriander seeds?”

There’s no shame in a start

There are certainly more seed varieties to choose from (have you ever looked at an online seed catalog?), but the ones you can’t sow directly into the ground (like carrots, or beets, or radishes) almost always require a grow light, plus a fairly involved process called “hardening off” in order to make the transition to the harsher elements of the great outdoors. There’s no shame in buying plants that have already been started on their way.

Microgreens are mighty

Not only do you have to figure out how much room you have to grow things, but also how much sun your garden gets. Certain plants require a lot of light, like tomatoes, pepper, and squash (basically most fruit-bearing plants). But you can still get something edible in partial shade. In that case you want to think about the leafy stuff, like lettuce, herbs, beets, radishes, and nasturtium. If you want to grow broccoli or kale but can’t manage, try baby broccoli or baby kale. “For indoors, microgreens are especially great,” says urban gardener Mallory Sustick. “You’re only growing the very beginning of a plant, so there’s a smaller window of time in which you can mess it up. They don’t take up a ton of space but produce high yields. They’re the easiest to sustain and so rewarding.”

Get the dirt

If you lay a strong foundation, your plants are much more likely to flourish. Novak says peat moss and compost mixed in will bring a wide variety of nutrients. If you’re planting in a closed container, no matter the size, you want potting soil mixed with those things, too… And skip the non-organic brands. “They’re not as healthy for the plants, or for you,” says Novak. Putting mulch on top is helpful, as well, because it retains moisture (read: less watering) and keeps weeds at bay. When in doubt, go to your local nursery (they’re everywhere) and talk to the people who work there. They’re super knowledgeable and eager to give advice for your particular situation.

For more tips on growing food in small spaces, visit our Sustainable Gardening Blog.


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