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Get Growing

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— May 30, 2017

Get Growing

  • Urban gardening is simple, yields a delicious harvest and requires less space than you think.
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You pick up fresh produce at the farmers market and look for the “locally grown” labels at the supermarket. So how about growing colorful, ripe, delicious tomatoes, cucumbers, peas and beans at home? The desire to grow food has taken root. The National Gardening Association (garden.org, @NatlGardening) reports that 42 million households in the US are growing food at home. Among Millennials, gardening participation has increased 63% since 2008. Dave Whitinger, executive director of the NGA, believes the “grow your own” trend is catching on because there is a high return on investment and a lot of satisfaction that comes from preparing a meal with fresh-from-the-garden ingredients. “Nothing tastes better than food you grew yourself,” he says. Whether you have a patio in the middle of the city, a small backyard or a plot in a community garden, here’s all the information you need to get started.

Choosing the Best Method

You could sow a handful of seeds in a pile of soil, water them well and hope that fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs sprout. But there are a few other tried-and-true methods of establishing a garden that will improve your odds of success in urban areas:

Straw bale gardening: In this creative approach to urban gardening, the straw bale serves as the garden’s container. A high-nitrogen fertilizer applied to the bale rots the middle out of the straw, leaving a place for planting. “It’s a good medium for growing, especially if you don’t have good soil,” Whitinger says. Over time, the straw.

decomposes, providing organic matter for the plants. Square foot gardening: Square foot gardens: turn raised beds into grids measuring one square foot each; vegetables are planted in the grids. This method makes it possible to plant more crops in a smaller space and simplifies crop rotation (the same vegetable is not planted in the same square from one season to the next to improve the soil). Square foot gardens, according to Whitinger, appeal to gardeners who like to have a plan. Lasagna gardening: Also known as sheet mulching, this garden style is built in layers—just like lasagna. Common layers include cardboard, grass clippings, compost, pine needles, coffee grounds, and fruit and vegetable scraps; each layer is about one inch deep. These layers break down, providing nutrient-rich soil for planting. It takes a few weeks to turn the layers into compost ready for planting but it’s worth the wait, according to Whitinger, who calls lasagna gardening “the best way to build your soil.” Container gardening: All you need to start a container garden is a pot, soil, and a plant. “Most vegetables will grow well in containers,” says Whitinger. The obvious exceptions are corn, which is too tall, and root vegetables, which require too much depth for most containers. If you have enough space, Whitinger recommends half barrels. “They are large and deep, almost like a miniature raised bed,” he says.

Natural Pest Control All gardeners have to deal with unwelcome intruders, from slugs snacking on cabbage to aphids noshing on the broccoli. Instead of reaching for chemical-laden pest and weed controls, Colin McCrate, author of Food Grown Right, In Your Backyard (Skipstone) and host of the Encyclopedia Botanica podcast, offers four non-toxic alternatives. Be vigilant: The more time you are in the garden, the easier it will be to spot pests. McCrate suggests checking for signs of insect infestation, such as chewed leaves with eggs laid on the undersides. “If you recognize the signs early, you can pick pests off by hand before they take over,” he says. “It’s a low-tech, low-investment way to manage problems.”

4 Easy-to-Grown vegetables

You can almost guarantee a good harvest by starting with these four easy-to-grow plants.

Cucumbers: Can be harvested in approximately 50 to 70 days. Varieties to try: Burpless: disease resistant, mild fruits. Spacemaster: suitable for containers. Green beans: Plant seeds after danger of frost has passed. Bush beans (also called string beans) mature in approximately 55 days. Varieties to try Derby: a prolific grower that produces slim, tender beans. Tomatoes: Plant after last frost. Plants are suitable for containers or the garden; mature in approximately 70 days and can produce up to 10 pounds of fruit per plant. Varieties to try: Super Sweet 100: small clusters of cherry tomatoes. Strawberries: Plants take 65 to 80 days to mature. Each plant can produce up to two quarts of berries. Varieties to try: Allstar: large red fruits with mild, sweet flavor. Quinault: 5 weeks to maturity; good choice for containers Plant beneficial flowers: Flowers like cosmos, bachelor buttons, and sunflowers look great in the garden and attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs and lacewings that will eat other pests. It takes time to attract a critical mass of beneficial insects but, as McCrate notes, “It’s great for the long-term health of the garden.” Remove infested plants: It’s common to see a row of healthy plants and a single plant being decimated by insects. “Taking out the weakest link can stop a pest from becoming a major problem in the garden,” says McCrate. Spray carefully: Sometimes natural pesticides are the best option. McCrate suggests opting for neem oil, BT and other pesticides approved for organic production. Even though these products are derived from natural substances, it’s important to use them judiciously. “If you use them too often, pests will build up resistance over time,” McCrate warns.

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