anyone can grow their own urban garden
National Gardening Week has finally sprouted with spring slowly letting Mother Nature in, it's a prime time to sow, deadhead and fork your way to harvesting an array of delicious and nutritious fruits and vegetables. By simply bringing together sunlight, soil, water and nutrients you and your family can enjoy the fresh, organic and scrumptious flavours that gardening brings.
Sticking to the basic principles of gardening can have a huge impact on the environment, the community and can help keep finances well and truly tucked in your pocket. As Ben Mann says in his interview - growing our own food is one way we can help to change the food system (and environment) for the better.
"But gardening is easier said than done" I hear you say, looking at your wilted flowers and leaves chewed by Vine Weevils or some other type of pest...
mr. green fingers
My partner Anthony George (a plasterer by trade) took up gardening as a hobby after a few years helping at his friend's allotment in London's Ealing. In those days he had no experience of gardening but helping out he learned how to identify weeds, how to nurture nurseries, when to dig up potatoes and lots more! Inspired, he became more and more involved with the day to day jobs that needed doing: Spring's arrival means that plants are waking up, mulch needs to be removed and the winter clean-up needs to be completed ready to start planting new goodies!). With a Caribbean background and a need to be outdoors, nature was embedded in him.
no garden needed
It was about this time last year that Anthony decided it was time to grow his own fruits, vegetables and herbs. He realised that buying them from the supermarket was racking up food miles, not as tasty and definitely not the path to stay on if our planet is to repair itself.
In the beginning, he faced a few problems of his own - firstly we live in a flat and don't have a garden!
The first thing Anthony decided to plant was carrots and he did this by simply piercing holes directly into a bag of soil, 3 to 4 inches deep and 3 to 4 inches apart. Next he added some seeds to each hole remembering to water them every other night, this is to give them the best chance possible to uptake water whilst the weather is cooler. From this he slowly got more adventurous - trying different plants and herbs.
Undeterred, Anthony worked his way along our communal balcony, which is now home to over a hundred different plants and vegetables! He faced a myriad of problems along the way; weather, pests, sunlight and sourcing the perfect soil. But he persevered and has succeeded in turning a very ordinary block of flats into a beautiful urban garden.
It's also had a lovely knock on effect for grateful neighbours who open their doors to find roses and dandelions or yummy vegetables including lettuce, chard, spinach, tomatoes and potatoes waiting for them. It starts up conversations that might otherwise not happen and they have plenty to say about Anthony's contribution to their living space:
"Anthony gives his time and effort to make the community area a nicer place for all the neighbours".
Barbara & Eric
"It's made the balcony look so much nicer and less daunting!"
Shanice (Anthony's daughter)
There's a lot wrong with current food production and it's important to press the government to make changes that will protect our planet, but in the meantime it's up to us to do what we can so that we have pockets of food producing gardens, balconies and allotments bursting through everywhere. You may not know anything about gardening now, but like Anthony, start with the basics and work up from there and in no time you'll be growing your own salads, herbs and tomatoes!
To get you started here's my step by step guide to help ensure that your vegetable garden grows. You don't need any experience or even a garden! Just a little time and patience is enough.
where are you going to grow? There are a few essential things that plants need:
- Most plants need 6 - 8 hours of sunlight to grow so check the position of the sun.
- Good quality soil that allows the roots room to grow.
- What's the season? Different plants need to be planted at different times of the year.
- Shelter from the wind to protect against drying and wind damage.
- The right amount of water - which can be different for different plants.
- Protection from competitors and pests.
next you'll need some basic tools
- Gardening gloves for protection and hygiene.
- Trowel for weeding and digging small holes.
- Watering can and/or hose depending on your garden's water needs.
- Secateurs/shears to snip, clip and prune.
- If you have land then you'll also need a spade and maybe a fork and rake.
This link by Sparkpeople looks at a range of tools to get you going.
soil, seeds and water
If you are lucky enough to have access to a piece of land you will need to prepare the soil. The more effort you put into this stage the more you will (literally) reap the rewards. This article 'Garden Soil Preparation for First Time Gardeners' tells you exactly how.
Spreading a layer of mulch on the soil helps retain moisture, keeps down weeds and over time improves the quality of the soil itself. Use organic mulch if you can and once you get started you can make your own.
Now you're ready for the most exciting bit - sowing the seeds!. You Grow Girl will help get you started.
One of the most important components is water. WikiHow gives you a three step guide to choosing the best time for watering your garden.
AND if you don't have access to a piece of land don't let that stop you - buy yourself some growing bags and pots, follow the same rules and start a garden on your balcony or patio like we did.
other useful links
Living Ethically, has a great list of companies for eco-friendly pesticides and offers great alternatives for a pest free garden.
If you have potted plants as well here are three key tips from Online Florists - UK to make sure they flourish.
Real Simple Magazine has a handy Start-a-Garden Checklist
Why not get the kids or even your neighbours involved? You can check out the national gardening website for some activities you can do together and search for local events in your area celebrating National Gardening Week.
Let us know if you've been inspired and how you're getting on!
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