Sunday, May 30, 2010

Gardening in Small Urban Spaces

This is the year to start your food garden, even if you live in the city, even if your space is tiny, even if your gardening spot is your front lawn, or next to the street, or a bunch of containers, or at someone else's house.

If you have gardened before but not around here, I recommend Steve Solomon's book, Gardening West of the Cascades. He gets a bit excited, but the information about the special quirks of our biosphere is invaluable.

If you have never gardened before, hit the library and do some reading. Some great books to start with on intensive urban gardening are Square Foot Gardening and The Bountiful Container. There you will get all the right advice about sun, building soils, using trellises to grow vertically, etc.

I want to talk to you today about why to garden in the city.

1) Flavor. The food you grow yourself is really good stuff. No broccoli, even organic, that has spent three days in truck from California will come close to the flavor that you get from walking out in your garden and picking dinner. And that bursting vegetable flavor is signaling that the nutrition content is higher as well.

2) Money. Small gardens will really pay, in a most literal sense, in the shoulder seasons. In the summer, the Farmer's Market is in full swing and Bellingham is bursting with great local food. In the other eight months, the most value is from raising your own. We are blessed with a great climate for winter gardening. We can have fresh greens and scallions in spring months before the Farmer's Market opens. Kale, cabbages, beets, broccoli, chard, parsley and many roots last all winter in the ground most years.

3) Favorite foods. Many prized, and often pricey, ethnic vegetables and herbs grow just fine in Cascadia. I love stir-fried Asian dishes. Bok Choi and a whole collection of other Asian are no harder to grow than kale and lettuce.

4) Skill building. The most challenging gardening is the first 10%. And besides, now is a great time to get ahead of the curve.

No room to garden? If you have a sunny spot, consider a container garden. You can grow a surprising amount in containers. There are compact tomatoes, dwarf bush peas, summer squashes, and more. Salad greens and herbs do well in containers and give you a high value for the space.

You can garden on the space between the sidewalk and the street, if there is enough room to leave some space so that people can get out of their cars. It's official - the Bellingham Parks Department will let us dig up those forlorn grassy planting strips and plant food. It is always a good idea to bring in new soil to build raised beds in planting strips. If you are concerned that there might be accumulated lead in the soil, start with a crop of mustard. Mustard is a lead accumulator. Harvest the mustard leaves and dispose of them, don't compost them. Now you are ready to go.

Next - Planning your small urban garden

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on February 1, 2010. Check out for recent articles.

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