Growing up, I stayed with my grandparents in what was once a rural neighborhood and has now become one of the largest suburban areas of Pittsburgh, Cranberry Township. My grandfather was a World War 2 vet and he lived off of his small half acre plot of land. He planted a quarter acre garden every year and even came to my parent's house to help me plant my own miniature version. Our little gardens yielded plenty. He canned enough for a whole year. The flower beds along his house were never flowers, but different types of vegetables! Needless to say, urban gardening was never something that felt like an impossible or daunting task to me. My grandfather really helped to normalize the idea.
Very shortly after giving birth to my daughter, I sought out gardening. I wanted to be a part of the Earth and show her what it meant to really have a connection with nature like my grandfather gave me. Growing up in rural western Pennsylvania but raising a family in the city of Pittsburgh, I was always feeling like a contradiction. My brain was in the city and my heart was in the country. I planted some container vegetables and started a small garden. When we moved to a different urban plot, we had a slightly larger yard but it was essentially a 60 degree cliff. "Yard" is a really laughable term to me now. My flat yard in my first plot was overgrown and often full of garbage from the highway and my cliff suburban yard was steep and mostly shaded.
Despite all of those obstacles, in the five years I lived in the city or suburbs, I learned more about gardening, self sustainability, and homesteading than any other time. I had to be creative in order to have sunlight. I had to be even more creative in designing cost effective space saving grow spaces.
Everything in the city has to be smaller so when homesteading, the key is to think small space, large harvest. I am going to define to you what that means to me and the ways that have worked and the things I would not do in urban homesteading.
How to Create an Urban Garden:
The most important takeaway I can give you when preparing a garden, any garden, is to plan your plants according to where you want them and plan for what you would like to grow in the future. Make a garden map. Even if you don't plant them all the first year or even within the first two years, it will save you time when you eventually are ready to expand.
After you have an idea of where everything will go, you have to then decide what materials you want to build your garden beds out of. Yes, I do 100 percent suggest to create garden beds for urban gardens. They help with weeds and they help with space. However, there are many different types of materials you can work with.
After you plan and organize, build your beds and plant, there is not much more to do other than wait and pray your plant babies do well. They might not the first year. The key is to keep going and to keep trying. There are a lot of problems plants can have and it could be a vitamin issue in the soil, try a different soil or a new compost. Many municipalities have community compost where you can pick it up for free or very little cost.
Common Urban Garden Challenges and How to Overcome them:
The biggest challenge I have faced when gardening in urban settings is the amount of concrete you run into or in a lot of circumstances, there is only concrete. How do you garden when there is only concrete? There are many ways! One way is to create a hydroponic set up with grow lights indoors. We have a set up to grow lettuce in our basement right now. We love hydronic lettuces. They are crisp and full of flavor. Another way to garden with concrete is to build beds in which root systems can grow and have plenty of room. Typical beds that I build here on my farm are only about 10-12 inches tall. Beds on top of concrete might be 2-3 ft tall depending on what is to be planted there. Look up how much space your plant needs before planning your beds on top of concrete.
Another challenge you might face in urban gardens is the amount of critters and rodents find their way to your space. I certainly had a lot more garden visitors when I did not live somewhere with so much biodiversity. One way I combatted that was to place bird netting over the tops of the beds. This not only keeps birds away but if you secure it every night, it will keep out raccoons, possums, and even deer.
Have any additional questions about urban gardening? Check back soon! I will be adding more to this series about homesteading including, indoor gardening, garden bed materials and how to make your own soil!