Agriculture in the City

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In the last couple of years, I’ve had to adjust a lot to live in town as a college student. People who grew up in “the middle of nowhere” (it’s about 20 minutes to the nearest city) find things such as street lights, pizza delivery, and neighbors strange. A major in agriculture and not having a yard has been my biggest adjustment. I can dig in the dirt by container gardening. While I plant flowers in pots, I also have a small patio garden with peppers and tomatoes. My concrete patio is only about 10′ x 10′, so I couldn’t grow many plants.

Enjoy agriculture? Learn more here.

Urban Agriculture

Urban agriculture is an example. If you haven’t heard of the term, urban agriculture is growing food within city limits (i.e. not on a rural farm). There are many forms of urban agriculture, including backyard gardening, container gardening, indoor gardening, and even community gardens.

Farmers’ markets and eating locally grown foods have gained popularity in urban agriculture. People who live on balconies or patios (like me!) may choose container gardening, while community gardens are viable options for those who are willing to share the harvest (and work). The local food pantry recently received fresh vegetables from my 4-H club’s community garden. Town support allowed us to use an unused lot and helped with water. Community gardens are practical solutions to overgrown, unused lots, as well as providing fresh produce to food pantries.

Gardening

Container gardening, however, is more challenging. They produce less than a traditional garden, but they are easy to maintain, and they don’t require weeding! Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, broccoli, spinach, radishes, and vine plants such as cucumbers thrive well in containers. Use a large enough pot (I have my tomato and pepper plants in 12″ pots) to avoid root-bound plants (this is when roots are unable to grow and spread out). Keep your plants watered and fertilized regularly. Plants in pots can’t store water or gain nutrients like plants in the ground.

What is container gardening?

Container gardening is growing plants in pots, planters, tubs, half barrels, or any other container that can hold some potting soil and a plant. Basically, it’s growing plants in anything other than a traditional garden plot.

plants growing in colorful pots
A wide variety of plants can be grown in pots and containers.

Container gardening is perfect for beginners because of this. Unless you have a lot of space, you can grow a single tomato or a few herbs.

Can containers be used to grow plants?

Potted plants, vegetables, herbs, succulents, cacti, and even some dwarf trees can be grown in pots. Growing edible plants is the rage right now.

growing lettuce in container gardening for beginners
Romaine lettuce growing in an EarthBox planter.

Plants that are edible, like lettuce and spinach, are called nutrient-rich plants. A plant can also produce edible fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, and melons.

You need to choose a container that matches the mature size of the plant you want to grow. You can’t grow a tomato plant in a coffee can, for instance. It will get too big, and the roots need much more room. (Yes, you could grow a tomato plant in a coffee can, but the plant will hate you. And you won’t get any tomatoes.) But you could grow lettuce in a coffee can.

How can plants grow healthy?

It’s not rocket science to grow edible plants. To produce edible leaves and fruits, plants need the right growing conditions.

Veggies and herbs require six or more hours of sunlight a day. One key to success is to place your pots and containers in a warm and sunny spot. Watering cans and/or hoses are required to water plants.

Plants need fertile soil or potting mix to grow. Fertilize your garden plants for maximum results. Organic fertilizer is preferred, but chemical fertilizer is also available. Hardware stores, garden centers, and home centers sell these products.

What is the most efficient container?

Traditionally, plants are grown in flower pots. A drainage hole is in the bottom of the terracotta (clay) bowl. They look like this:

a variety of herb plants growing in terracotta pots
A variety of herb plants growing in terracotta pots

A ceramic pot is a more durable and attractive alternative to the traditional clay pot. Sizes range from tiny to enormous. Make sure the pot fits your space, is large enough for the mature plant (or plants), and has a drainage hole on the bottom.

By allowing excess water to drain, the roots of the plants will not become waterlogged. Place a plant saucer under each pot to catch the excess water, so it does not run all over the deck, patio, or balcony.

Because small pots dry out faster, water them more frequently. Tiny pots are a beginner’s mistake.

A sub-irrigated container is what?

Sub-irrigated containers are the newest kind of container. There is a water reservoir at the bottom of a box-shaped device. This is the ultimate high-tech growing container.

“Sub-irrigated containers are my favorite,” said Schultz. “After adding water to the reservoir, the water is naturally drawn into the potting soil to hydrate the roots. Plants stay hydrated this way. By using the water reservoir, you don’t have to water the plant as often.”

Cutaway of the BioGreen City Jungle self-watering container
The City Jungle self-watering planter from BioGreen keeps roots hydrated for healthy plants.

Not having to water plants frequently is also a big deal. The most common mistake beginners make when starting a container garden is forgetting to water the plants. Most of the dead plants in container gardens are caused by under-watering.

Sub-irrigated containers are the most effective

Sub-irrigated planters (also known as self-watering containers) can accommodate large plants. The planters can hold two full-sized tomato plants or several smaller ones.

A self-watering container is a smart idea if you are serious about harvesting food from your container garden. I’ve listed three of my favorites below. If you’d like to buy any of these products now, I have included links directly to each product on Amazon. I earn a commission from qualifying purchases on Amazon.com as an Amazon Associate.

A City Jungle with Trellis

City Jungle planters are self-watering containers engineered in Germany. In a slate gray color, it offers a sleek, modern design that is suitable for any urban setting. Two mature tomato plants can be grown on two square feet. You can grow peppers, squash, salad greens, herbs, and virtually any plant with it.

City Jungle planter with Trellis
City Jungle with Trellis

Designed for growing tomatoes, cucumbers, or any vine plant, the City Jungle trellis fits right onto the container. In most climates, you won’t have to water your plants for days after filling up the 4.5-gallon reservoir. It costs about $100. Get it here.

Planter for urban gardens

The sleek design of the Glowpear Self-Watering Urban Garden Planter fits into any modern room. A clip-on water drip tray makes this planter suitable for patios and even indoors.

Glowpear Self-Watering Urban Garden Planter
Glowpear Self-Watering Urban Garden Planter

Since the planter does not have a trellis, it is not ideal for tomato plants or large vegetables. Yet it provides a designer-inspired environment for growing salad greens, herbs, and other small plants. The Glowpear Urban Garden Planter costs about $170. Click here to purchase.

Organic EarthBox Kit

A sub-irrigated growing container, the EarthBox has been developed over the years to provide fool-proof vegetable gardening. It was designed by commercial farmers and has been adopted by gardeners of all levels.

The EarthBox is a great choice for container gardening for beginners
EarthBox Organic Kit

EarthBox Organic Garden Kit includes an EarthBox planter, four caster wheels for easy moving, two reversible mulch covers, organic fertilizer, and an organic dolomite fertilizer supplement. Green plants look gorgeous anywhere in this kit. Click here for the price.

Which plants should I grow?

Randy Schultz of HomeGardenandHomestead.com suggests growing what you like to eat. “Growing broccoli makes no sense if you hate it.”

Beginners should grow easy-to-grow edible plants, according to Schultz. In this way, you will be able to benefit from your efforts.

basil herb plant
Basil is a delightful herb to grow in a container

The most suitable herbs and vegetables for beginner gardeners are the ones that are robust and basically foolproof. It is easy to grow herbs such as basil, sage, parsley, and thyme. Additionally, they are easy to grow in containers because they do not require much space. Buy starter plants instead of seeds to grow these herbs. Garden centers and plant nurseries carry herb plants.

spinach leaves ready to harvest
These spinach leaves are ready to pick.

Greens such as lettuce, spinach, and arugula make excellent choices for beginning gardeners. They are easy to grow from seeds. Simply follow the seed packet’s instructions. As seeds sprout and small plants emerge, keep the soil moist. Pick off the oldest leaves from these plants, so that the plants can keep growing and producing. Lettuce starter plants are also available. Although they are more expensive than seeds, you will soon harvest edible lettuce from these plants.

For a real treat, grow tomatoes!

red ripe tomatoes ready to be picked from the plant
There is nothing quite as delicious as a vine-ripened tomato.

Tomatoes are the most popular edible plant due to their productivity and ease of cultivation. My favorite part is the taste of homegrown tomatoes. The City Jungle with Trellis or an EarthBox is a large container perfect for growing tomatoes.

Beginning gardeners should buy tomato starter plants because tomatoes require a long growing season. Don’t buy tomato seeds; they’re for experts. Give your tomato starter plants plenty of space, because indeterminate tomato plants keep growing larger and keep producing tomatoes throughout the growing season.

a yellow bell pepper, ready to be picked and eaten

A yellow bell pepper.

Beginners can also cultivate peppers, squash, green beans, Swiss chard, cucumbers, and Swiss chard. You can find a lot of information and advice for growing specific types of edible plants online. For more information and links to YouTube videos, you can also do a Google search for “How to raise kale” or “How to grow tomatoes.” 

One final thought about container gardening for beginners

“Don’t be afraid of gardening,” said Randy Schultz. The logical place to start is in a container. Growing vegetables has never been easier. You’ll realize that growing edibles is a skill that will reward you for the rest of your life once you pick your first ripe tomato or eat your first homegrown lettuce.”

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