By: ROXANNA COLDIRON
Edited by: KELSEY CRUZ
Fresh vegetables make my mouth water. I love the taste of homegrown tomatoes and green peppers, but I live in the city and have never gardened before. What’s a girl to do? Well, luckily for Get Fit Get Life readers, I found a few experts to help us out!
First and foremost, the size of your garden is going to depend on your available space and how many vegetables you want to grow. You also need to consider what your vegetables will need in order to grow—soil, sun, and water—and how you can provide it in your living space. From small, balcony-gardens to full-fledged campus efforts, organic vegetables you’ve homegrown can find their way onto your dinner plate.
The Apartment Garden
You’re a city girl and don’t even have a backyard. Fern Richardson, blogger of Life on the Balcony and author of Small-Space Container Gardens, knows what it’s like living in the city on limited resources. Her blog and accompanying book provide tips and how-to’s for the city-dweller, teaching her how to grow organic vegetables and herbs right where she lives.
“Before you get started, check your balcony and figure out your sunlight situation,” Richardson advises. “Most plants require six hours of direct sunlight; however, there are some vegetables and herbs that can grow in less sunlight.”
Fern Richardson’s Top 5 Tips
- Size matters. “Be sure to pick the right size of container,” she says. “For example, tomatoes, egg plant, and zucchini need a bigger pot.” Your vegetables will need enough room to grow.
- Know what you want. Richardson suggests choosing vegetables that you’re most likely to eat. You don’t have to choose tomatoes for your garden—unless, of course, you want to.
- Use potting soil. “Make sure you’re using potting soil,” Richardson stresses. Potting soil has the right texture and nutrient content required for growing healthy container plants.
- Water, just enough. Richardson says that the most common mistake that beginners make is watering their plants too much or not enough. How can you tell? “Test your soil by sticking in a finger up to two inches deep,” she advises. “If your finger comes up dry, your plant needs water.”
- Stay positive. “Don’t be discouraged if things go wrong,” she says. “Things will grow wrong. There’s no such thing as a ‘green thumb’. Just stick with it, observe your plants, and do your research.”
More information: Life on the Balcony blog and Small-Space Container Gardens by Fern Richardson. The book was published by Timber Press (2012) and is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and independent bookstores.
The Backyard Garden
Rebecca Ison, a nursing student at Malone University, and her husband Joshua (who also graduated from Malone) grow tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, watermelon, garlic, and herbs in their backyard. If your living space also includes a yard, you can start growing your own vegetables and saving money on grocery bills.
The Isons’ Top 5 Tips
- Watch your spacing. “Plants that are too close together won’t grow properly, or at all,” Rebecca cautions. She learned that the hard way. Now, however, her garden is lush with food because she plants the seeds appropriate distances apart.
- It’s all about the soil. “Most ground that hasn’t been used for gardening before is not going to have the right nutrients for growing,” Joshua says. “Prepare your soil with fertilizer or composting.”
- Sprout about. If seeds are intimidating, Joshua suggests planting sprouts from the garden center “until you get the hang of it.”
- Water, water everywhere. “Water your garden at dusk, after the sun goes down,” Joshua says. “Sun [during the height of day] heats up the water and leaves on the plant.” The sun will also evaporate the water before your plants’ roots can drink it.
- Experiment with herbs before planting vegetables. The Isons suggest basil. “It responds quickly to care so you will know what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and how to fix it,” they said.
More information: The Isons don’t have a blog or book, but you can find out more about backyard gardening by visiting your local gardening center or finding books at your local library. I found a great vegetable gardening guide from North Carolina State University here.
The Community Farm
Yale University revolutionized its campus with a community effort to grow vegetables right on campus. Named the Yale Sustainable Food Project, Yale students work together in order to produce food that is environmentally-conscious and educate the public on sustainable farming methods.
Zan Romanoff, the program coordinator for the Yale Sustainable Food Project, says that the program helps students understand where their food comes from.
“It’s a break from the rigors of campus life, and students learn to find value in physical work,” Romanoff says. “It’s important to care about our health and the environment.”
And although the Yale Sustainable Food Project sells and prepares its food at a local farmer’s market instead of on campus, you can talk to your administration and see if you can start a campus farm. By establishing a farm and working with your dining hall, you can include fresh, homegrown vegetables on the school menu.
Zan Romanoff’s Top 5 Tips
- Network with administration. After you’ve determined whether your campus farm will either be a profit-making or educational venture, Romanoff advises getting in touch “with an administrator who is sympathetic and can back you up.” Your farming project will need the university’s approval and good wishes.
- Get people excited about the campus farm. “Have an event,” Romanoff suggests. Sell the idea to the student body and advocate the benefits of fresh food and community effort.
- Know where to take root. “Work with grounds maintenance to find a good site,” Romanoff says. You’ll also need to get the soil tested and review the site for shade, sun, and water drainage before making a decision to plow and plant.
- See the big picture. How are you going to use the food? Farmer’s market? Campus grocery store or dining hall? Romanoff says that in order to keep people interested, knowing what you’ll do before and after the harvest is key.
- Branch out. “Step beyond the university and get the community as engaged as you can,” Romanoff advises. Community involvement will educate the public and possibly strengthen the business side of your farm.
More information: The Yale Sustainable Food Project provides PDF guides and contact information for help getting started on your campus farm. Check out its web site here.