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Growing in an urban setting

24 July 2018

Finding space in a city to grow your own vegetables can be tricky – it’s not surprising that allotment waiting lists are on the rise. But even the smallest balcony or window box can become a productive space in which to grow. We’ll show you how to make tiny urban spaces yield delicious food for your table.

Choose what to grow

tomatoes with a sign that says 'grown local'
When space is limited, stick to your favourites.
Image source: Arina P Habich

If you don’t have a lot of space, be realistic about what you can achieve. You may not grow enough vegetables to be self-sufficient, but you can certainly grow herbs, salads, and some key vegetables.

Start with one or two of the things you use most. Experiment with what works and take it from there.

Benefits of home growing

Growing veg on a balcony
Transform your balcony into a vegetable patch.
Image source: Franz Peter Rudolf

Growing your own food has many advantages. Not only is it a great hobby, but the end product is satisfyingly delicious in a way shop-bought food could never be. You’ll know exactly where your food has come from, what's fertilised it, and what's been used to control the pests.

Commit a corner of your balcony or courtyard to fruit and vegetables and you’ll have fresh and delicious produce throughout the year. There’s nothing quite like the taste of a vegetable that's been picked within hours of eating. And think of all the air miles you’ll save by not buying food from further afield.

Where should your urban garden be?

Growing herbs on a balcony
Make sure your urban garden will get plenty of sunshine.
Image source: Franz Peter Rudolf

Choosing the right spot for your urban garden is very important. You’ll need plenty of natural light –most vegetables need an average of six hours sunlight a day – and easy access to water. Raised beds, vegetable trugs or containers work well in small gardens or courtyards as long as they get enough sun throughout the day.

Balconies, window sills and window boxes are also good places to grow-your-own. When it comes to balcony or window box growing, be sure to fix your containers securely. Nobody wants to be blind-sided by a rogue tomato falling from ten storeys up!

Container growing

Recycle household containers being used to grow vegetables
Recycle household containers for growing vegetables.
Image source: Trong Nguyen

Urban gardens often have very little soil, so vegetable planters, containers, hanging baskets, grow bags and trugs are ideal. Fill your containers with good quality soil and compost, and use fertiliser to help your plants get all the nutrients they need throughout the growing season.

Choose your container with care and make sure it’s deep enough for the type of plant you want to grow. Crops like carrots and potatoes need deep soil to grow successfully, although short-rooted carrot varieties do exist.

Your pots also need adequate drainage. Try upcycling household containers, but be sure to drill drainage holes and sit them on trays. If your pots are on a balcony, you don’t want to dribble water onto your neighbour’s clean washing beneath!

Which plants should you start with?

Person harvesting herbs grown in containers
Herbs can be used to season hundreds of different dishes.
Image source: MartiaPunts

If you’re not sure where to start, try growing herbs. They’re attractive, easy to look after and don’t take up much space. They’ll also be invaluable in your kitchen.

Place your herbs in a sunny location, away from draughts. Grow them together in a large pot, or group individual containers together. Make sure you water regularly, and check how to prune correctly to keep them at their best.

Choosing vegetables for your urban garden

Growing onions in containers
Grow fresh onions on your window sill.
Image source: Igor Chus

Lots of fruit and vegetables thrive when grown in containers. Tomatoes are a great example - they can be grown in pots, hanging baskets or straight from a shop-bought grow-bag. If you’re a salad fan, cut and come again salad leaves will keep you in lettuce all year round and radish is very happy to be grown in pots.

Beetroot is ideal for growing in containers along with potatoes, carrots, broad beans and runner beans. And for added flavour, try spring onions and chillies to liven things up.

Planters and raised beds

Grow Trug from Waltons
A grow trug is ideal for courtyards and balconies.
Feature Image: Grow Trug - Large Wooden Planter by Waltons

For urban gardeners with a little more outdoor space, building a raised bed from bricks or sleepers is the perfect option. Be sure to put it in a bright and sunny spot and fill with good quality soil and compost. You’d be amazed by just how much you can grow in a patch of just one square metre, especially if you plan a succession of crops to make the space even more productive.

For a less permanent solution, planters and grow trugs are a great way to save your back while tending your crop. Fully portable, they’re a good choice for renters who want to take their garden with them when they move.

And if you like to grow from seed, a small portable greenhouse, that can be packed away when not in use is a great idea. Not only does growing from seed keep costs down, you’ll be able to try some of the more unusual varieties that aren’t sold as plugs or plants.

Hanging Baskets

Growing tomatoes in hanging baskets
For growing plants like tomatoes, hanging baskets save space.
Image source: Tamara Kulikova

Ideal for urban gardening, hanging baskets can be used for herbs, tomatoes, and strawberries. As they don’t hold a lot of soil, they can dry out easily so don’t hang them too high and be sure to water regularly. For heavier produce, make sure your baskets (and their fixings) are able to take the weight.

Providing there’s enough sunlight, your walls are a good place to grow things. For instance, an attractive lightweight plant stand can be mounted on a wall and makes a striking feature. If you have a sunny vertical surface, put it to good use with baskets, shelves, wire racks and wall-mounted containers to make every inch of productive space count.

If you have an urban garden and want to share space-saving tips or crop ideas, we’d love to hear from you! Drop us a line over on our Facebook page.

Lead image: Shutterstock

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