Your urban vegetable garden at home, easy and accessible
More than a few people have succumbed to the green wave that has turned indoor plants into the stars of decoration. Whether it is because they have learned about their multiple benefits or because there is now a little more time to take care of them, many of us have filled our lives with plants. But there is another facet to this movement: urban gardening. It is about transcending the aesthetic aspect of plants and starting to make the most of them for their function. Believe it or not, it is possible to grow aromatic herbs and even vegetables at home. Forget about complications, now having an urban garden is much easier and more accessible than ever.
why have a vegetable garden at home?
Urban gardens first became popular not out of taste but out of necessity. During the Second World War, when it was impossible to rely on food imports, urban gardens, known as Victory Gardens, were promoted in the United States and the United Kingdom. These small gardens were able to produce up to 40% of the vegetables consumed in North America.
In developing countries, home gardens are essential for vegetables and fruits that become a fundamental part of the diet. In fact, the UN states that one of the fundamental steps to eradicate hunger in the world is to abandon the industrial-scale food production model and start thinking about local, ecological and sustainable development through urban gardens.
Although we are not in the objective need to grow what we eat because we have the privilege of being able to go to the supermarket to get what we want, it is a sustainable and ecological alternative to be able to sow and consume certain herbs or vegetables. Sprouting the seeds, tending the first sprouts, watching the plants grow, harvesting and then using them in the kitchen offers a unique way of relating to food, to what we eat. If you are on a quest to reconnect with the natural, to eat real food and to reconcile yourself with food, an urban garden is just what you need.
Benefits of an urban garden
– Promotes healthy, natural eating for the whole family. Home-grown food tastes more delicious and fresh, so you’ll be more motivated to incorporate it into your diet.
– You save some money. It may be a few euros, but if you have your own basil plant, you no longer have to worry about buying basil to garnish your dishes.
– You gain new knowledge about nature and the cycle of plants. If you have children, this is the perfect opportunity for them to absorb important lessons about plants first hand, otherwise you will be gaining valuable knowledge yourself.
– Improve your relationship with food. Many of today’s eating problems (including overeating) come from an estranged relationship with food. We are not involved in the production process and sometimes not even in the preparation, so we perceive it as just another object of consumption. By planting and producing some vegetables you become part of the cycle and it will help you to heal that aspect by understanding it as a process.
– You increase green areas. Cities need more greenery, so by having a portion of your terrace, balcony or window for your edible garden you are supporting this initiative.
– You reduce your carbon footprint. If there’s one thing that’s really green, it’s local consumption, and that’s that you don’t have to leave your home to consume your harvest.
– You eat organic. No pesticides, no harmful chemicals. Your vegetables will be free of any risk, more organic impossible.
what if I don’t have space? Urban gardening in small spaces
When you have a small patio or garden it is very easy to think and plan an urban garden, but if you live in a flat where there is a tiny balcony, a terrace or just a window you don’t have to deprive yourself of the pleasure of planting your edible garden, because there are tricks and strategies to take advantage of every last corner to plant bulbs and seeds.
Depending on what you have in mind and how far you want to take your urban garden idea, but even with one square metre you can grow up to 16 types of vegetables, if you divide the land into small squares and use vertical structures. You may not want to grow so extensively, especially if you are just starting out in the edible garden business, but the important thing to know is that space is not a constraint.
You can use hanging pots, shelves with planters and you can even make recycled pots out of plastic containers or buckets. The important thing here is to use a pot that is suitable for what you are going to plant. A crop such as tomatoes, for example, requires a much deeper pot than lettuce, which is a plant that spreads upwards and does not have such deep roots. You can create a small vegetable and/or herb garden almost anywhere as long as you follow a few rules that will guarantee the success of your harvest.
What you need to make an urban garden
Plenty of sun
All vegetables and herbs require at least 6 hours of sunshine a day. If you have a space where there is direct sun, that’s the perfect place, but it doesn’t have to be. The important thing is that there is enough light. In case you don’t have enough, don’t worry, technology is there to help you, just get a UV lamp and that’s all there is to it.
A water fountain
It is not essential, but it can make watering easier. I prefer to water with care and not with a hosepipe, especially if the garden is on a balcony or in a window. You can use a nice watering can to give your vegetables the water they need. It all depends on what you are going to grow.
Good drainage system
You should know that you will be watering your small vegetable garden regularly, so everything should be set up to get rid of the excess water that will run out of the pots. The space should have a way of draining the water and, if not, you can install trays to hold the excess water, although you will need to empty them regularly if they are in contact with the bottom of the pots, as the accumulated moisture can affect the roots.
Plan the space
You should plan what you are going to grow, but above all you should take into account the environmental conditions, the temperature, the time of year, the space you have available, and prepare for it. Nowadays it is easy to get complete growing sets, which are perfect for people who do not have much experience with this type of plants, because they are almost always easy to care for.
Find your tools and supplies
Don’t make the same mistake I did when I got excited and bought a bunch of seeds and had no idea where or how I was going to plant them. Remember to make a list of everything you need, including pots, substrate, compost and of course the seeds. Don’t forget tools and items such as UV lamps or watering cans.
It sounds silly, but many people struggle with whether to buy seeds or use the seeds they get from vegetables or fruit. My advice is to buy seeds directly, as these are carefully selected to germinate and bear fruit, whereas if you use seeds from a tomato, for example, that you have bought from the supermarket there is no guarantee that they will sprout or be of the same quality as the purchased seeds. It is better to avoid the hassle and play it safe.
What to plant in your first garden
Aromatic herbs are perfect for beginners, as you can grow them in any pot as they don’t require much substrate and little fertiliser. In fact, most prefer poor soils to produce more palatable plants. If you are the forgetful type who never remembers when to water, plant rosemary, oregano, sage or thyme. If you want parsley, coriander, basil, mint or spearmint you will have to water a little more. Mint and spearmint should be planted on their own because they are very invasive. Basil is an annual, which completes its cycle and dies; to avoid this you should cut the flowers as soon as they start to appear. This way you will have it all year round. Rosemary and oregano are almost immortal. Chamomile prefers indirect light and frequent watering.
Radishes are great because they grow so fast. In fact, as soon as you sow the seeds, it takes less than a week to see the first sprouts. You’ll be able to harvest them in a month or so – you’ll know when you’ll be able to harvest them because you’ll see them peeking out of the ground a little bit. As for watering, they prefer more or less frequent watering and organic fertiliser mixed into the substrate. They do require direct and abundant sun.
Lettuce, arugula and similar salad greens are great, as they are quick to grow and don’t require much space or deep pots. You can have several and cut the leaves as you need them. They require a lot of moisture and you have to be careful if you have them in full sun, as they burn easily if they are not well watered.
Small tomatoes do require a slightly deeper pot (at least 20 litres) but you can make the most of it if you combine them with radishes, for example. They grow very fast and do not require much care. Some people don’t use stakes, but you may need them, depending on the development of your plant. Watering is about a couple of times a week, the soil should be moist but not soggy. If you water too little, the skin of the tomato comes out thick and hard, so you must pay attention to this detail in order to obtain tasty fruits.
Believe it or not, it is possible to grow watermelons in pots successfully. It has a creeping growth, so you can take advantage of this characteristic to turn it into a climber. You need a pot about 30 cm in diameter and at least 15 cm deep. You can entangle its shoots as they grow on the balcony railings, for example, or put up stakes that can support the weight of the fruit. It requires medium watering, light fertiliser and can be in full sun. It takes about 3 months to complete its cycle but it is worth the wait to harvest delicious and very juicy watermelons.
You can grow carrots all year round, using 2 litre pots that are taller than they are wide. You can have up to 3 carrots in these pots. Sow several seeds, pull out the weaker sprouts and leave the 3 larger ones. The substrate should be loose, cool and light. Watering is moderate, the soil should always be moist but not waterlogged. It prefers abundant and direct sun. They take a little while to grow, but I assure you that you will never eat a carrot that tastes better than one you have harvested yourself.
It grows in abundance and will make a fantastic addition to your kitchen. They prefer substrates rich in organic matter and humus. Try to keep them moist, although they are not too fussy about this. They do not require deep pots as their roots are quite shallow. You can keep them in semi-shade. Cut the flowers so that it behaves like a perennial. You can use their green leaves regularly, as they will keep growing non-stop.
Peppers and chillies
Peppers are one of my favourites, because not only are they easy to grow but they look very cute with their fruits. They require a more or less large pot, about 30 cm in diameter. The watering of the peppers is rather frequent, as the beauty of their fruits depends on this. They need a lot of sun, about 6 hours a day. It takes about 60 to 90 days to produce its first crop. A tip: germinate the seeds first before potting them up, so that you can choose the seedlings that look the strongest and healthiest.