Urban Gardening: Bringing Nature into the City and Food into Your Tummy

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What is healthy, full of green leafy things, and lives in an apartment?

An urban garden!

Sure, your vegan neighbor also qualifies, but for the purposes of this article we’re focusing on plants — small ones, big ones, in different varieties and shapes, that can grow in the most urban of environments. Urban gardens have started to become a fixture in busy cities, and you’ll often find them in patches of earth between buildings, on rooftops, and even on apartment balconies.

The Roots of Urban Gardening

Gardening in the city isn’t an entirely new venture as many urban communities have been growing their own greens for years. In New York for example, the Bowery Houston Community Farm Garden holds the distinction of being the oldest community garden in the city, being established in late 1973.

The 70s were a tumultuous time for New Yorkers. The city was suffering a financial crisis, apartment buildings were falling down, and neighborhoods started declining, prompting people to seek better conditions elsewhere. Buildings were abandoned, and empty lots sat fallow and generally neglected. It was a bad, bleak time.

The community garden movement in New York was borne of a great desire to beautify the urban eyesores with greenery. The Green Guerillas, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserve urban gardens, began throwing “seed bombs” over fences to empty lots. These seed bombs were packed with seed, water, and fertilizer. A crafty and clever move, and it worked. Soon these vacant lots started growing life, and the greening of the city became not only an act of an environmental group but a grassroots program that fostered the participation of the entire neighborhood.

Liz Christy was the founder of the Green Guerillas. With the help of the Lower East Side community, Christy started greening the vacant lot at the northeast corner of Bowery and East Houston. Soon they were harvesting cucumbers and tomatoes, and hosting a diverse array of insects and birds.

News of the Green Guerillas’ exploits reached the other boroughs of the Big Apple and beyond. Community gardens began sprouting in earnest, and the local parks department started supporting urban gardening initiatives. After Christy’s death, the Bowery garden was renamed the Liz Christy Memorial Garden.

Today, New York’s urban gardens and farms not only grow nutritious food and encourage members of the community to come together and get their hands dirty, but also teach people about sustainability, expand awareness about climate change, and help those in need. And the movement is not confined to New York, either — other city dwellers in the United States, and in different countries around the world, have begun to create their own urban gardens, whether in an empty lot, rooftop, or even a window box.

You can grow your own urban garden too, no matter the size of your available space. If you need a little more convincing, here are more reasons to get started on creating your own patch of green amid the concrete.

Top 10 Benefits of Having Your Own Urban Garden

1. An urban garden provides you with fresh and nutritious ingredients and is a great way to teach kids to eat their veggies!

2. Growing your own food reduces your risk of ingesting chemicals, which are usually in food bought from the supermarket. You have full control over what you eat!

3. Connecting with nature through gardening is a relaxing and rewarding activity that relieves stress, something that city dwellers experience often.

4. Growing plants in your home improves indoor air quality.

5. Growing your own food works out to be cheaper than buying produce at the grocery.

6. It decreases and may also eliminate food miles, or the distance from where food is grown to where it’s eaten.

7. It can be a source of income.

8. You can get funding from the government for starting your own urban gardening initiative.

9. You do your part in reducing waste because you do away with food packaging — simply harvest the greens that you need, wash them, and eat!

10. You contribute to food safety, especially when you share your bountiful harvest with the other members of the community.

Getting Started on Your Urban Garden

Any available space can be utilized to become a garden in the city, no matter how small. If the place you live in already has community gardens or urban farms nearby, sign up to take part in their gardening efforts. You can also create your own small-scale garden at home — here are some great urban gardening projects you can get started on today!

Indoor Gardening Tips

When growing your urban garden indoors, it’s best to plant vegetables that are productive and take up less space, such as peppers, tomatoes, beans, lettuce, carrots, and spinach. Choose your favorites and grow them in abundance!

• Choose a space that gets morning sun — as little as two hours will suffice.

• Use a certified organic potting mix for best results.

• Start small — some of the easiest plants to grow are tomatoes, beans, and herbs such as parsley, basil, rosemary, and mint.

• Container gardening lets you grow healthy food in pots, empty tin cans, and just about anything that can hold a bit of soil and have drainage holes (you can make these yourself!).

• No horizontal space? No problem! You can try out window or vertical farming to make the most of the space you do have. A vertical garden system by the window, patio, or a wall that gets sunlight has a reservoir at the bottom that collects the water that is not absorbed by the plants and pumps the water back up.

• If all the available space you have is a window ledge, don’t worry — you can grow a windowsill garden instead.

• When growing from seeds, do your research or ask your local gardeners about the seeds that grow best in your area.

• Join a local urban gardening group to learn more about indoor gardening, swap seeds and seedlings, and get advice from fellow urban gardeners.

• Recycle as much as you can by using plastic bottles and other discarded materials.

Hydroponic, Aeroponic, and Aquaponic Gardening: The Basics

Gardening technology has also brought us hydroponic, aeroponic, and aquaponic methods of growing food. Here’s a quick look at what these “soilless” gardening methods are to entice you to learn more about them and try them out in your urban gardening efforts.

Hydroponic GardeningHydroponics makes use of water with nutrients to grow plants.

Aeroponic GardeningAeroponics involves growing plants in an air/mist environment, requiring very little water and no soil.

Aquaponic Gardening — two in one! In aquaponics, you grow both plants and fish and use the waste from one to feed the other. To illustrate, you use fish excrement as plant fertilizer, and water waste from the plants (as well as some green bits) feed the fish.

So, when are you getting started on your urban garden? Which plants are you most interested in growing? Let us know!

Photos by Shutterstock.

Sharon Delaney is an aspiring writer. Her favorite topics are home design, gardening, and DIY projects. When she has free time, she tends to her front-yard garden. She dreams of becoming a famous landscaper someday.

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