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Urban Farming: A Poor Man’s Tricks to Reap the Rewards

Now that Mother’s Day has passed, it’s time to get those hands dirty. The green thumb is not something passed down genetically, it’s something earned by getting those paws into soil. You can’t buy your way out of experience. We all know that producing something with our own hands distills a feeling of accomplishment. No 9 to 5 cubicle labor can reproduce this sense. The concept of urban gardening can leave city-dwellers feeling limited in their ability – and budget – to produce their own produce.

So what if you don’t have acres upon acres to plant or hundreds of dollars to spend on hydroponic systems? There are many ways to harvest delicious fruits and vegetables with limited space and budgets. From the affordable indoor automated systems like Click & Grow, to simple hanging pots, “urban farming” is something anyone can accomplish and feels quite fulfilling to boot. Even if you have zero space, join up with an urban farming community in your city – they have plenty of need for help tending their plots.

Finding The Right Space

window planter tomatoes, limited space gardening
My lovely tomatoes in a window box…be sure to provide ample growing room.

As any city dweller knows, urban space is limited. We’re stacked on top of one another, sardines marinating in a cultural-infused soup of canning water, each square foot accounted for. Three flat, four flat, five…has the makings of a Dr. Seuss story, but finding the right space and sunlight exposure can be challenging.

A general rule of thumb should be to find a space that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight a day, with easy access to water. As I mentioned earlier, there are automated systems that limit maintenance and starter stress, but they are really only good for herbs and starting vegetables. Once you get into actual vegetable growth, those systems often require you to transplant to soil. This is where stand alone pots and window boxes come into play.

To Seed or Not to Seed – That is the Starter Question

seed germination, building a garden
This is what germinated seeds look like when they start to sprout.

Whether tis nobler in the minds of man…O.k. you get the point (apologies, but I had to put my Comp. Lit degree to some use for once). Being a newbie to the world of farming, I chose not to go the seed germination route. That takes excessive time and monitoring of seeds in racks before being transplanted into permanent locations. I bought half my plants from places like Lowe’s or Home Depot, already solidified in starter setups. The other half you ask? Well, I bartered for them through service – like mounting a T.V. for friends or assisting in the dreaded assembling of IKEA furniture. Friends are much more open to the idea of purchasing a plant in exchange for services, rather just giving you cash. It makes them feel like they are contributing.

Bonnie Plants makes an amazing decomposable container that you plant in the soil, limiting waste for the environmental friendly types.

streetwear

The Act of Urban Farming

gardening tips, poor mans technique
Mmmm. Power lines casting shadows over my rows and rows of veggies.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a small backyard, take advantage of it. If not, follow the same rules with your pot or window box.

Section off an area, where the sunlight will keep for at least 6 hours. Buy a bag of planting soil, specific to fruits and vegetables, and dig some holes – approximately 6 to 8 inches deep. Stack out your rows, leaving approximately 18 to 24 inches of growth room, for each plant. Fill the holes with the purchased soil and gently rest the plant in the hole. Top it off with a mixture of the soil and some of the city dirt you dug out. Gently tap down, so that the plant’s base is above the soil line and give it a good soak in water. Simple as that.

I was concerned with the lead in urban soil, so I took to the Internets to find out what dangers associated with planting in city soil. Turns out my fears were unwarranted. Several studies have been done, and unless you’re planting rice, the lead/contaminants in the soil is either negated by compositing (i.e. the store bought soil) or raising the soil beds. Yet even if there is lead in the soil, the contaminants stay in the roots of the plant – not affecting the fruits (i.e. what you eat). Hence why you will find no root vegetables in my urban garden, but that’s just me being paranoid. Just be sure to wash your hands diligently after handling urban soil as well as the vegetables once you harvest them. Ingestion of the soil can be harmful if it has contaminants.

Maintaining A Garden – Don’t Over Hydrate

overwatering plants, urban gardening
Be one with the soil before you squeeze that spigot.

Most newbies, myself included, are our own worst enemies when it comes to watering. We overwater and do so with pride. Somehow, we get it in our minds that we are the controllers of the universe, and plants need excessive amounts of water, the one thing we can control – shout out to the Roman Aqueducts! This is not the case when it comes to plants. You can actually drown them if you’re not careful. Take tomatoes, for example, if you overwater, their leaves will start to turn yellow – signaling it’s time to lighten up on the spigot.

A great way to monitor whether plants need water is to stick your index finger in the soil. If you reach past your second knuckle, and the soil starts to feel dry– go ahead and water. Otherwise, leave it be. In my opinion, the best time to water is in the afternoon, ensuring that the remaining sunlight will dry any beads of water forming on the leaves and preventing mold from forming.

Finally, be sure to “feed” your plants with either liquid or dry plant food every 4 to 6 weeks. Feed then water, ensuring the nutrients will absorb into the soil.

Final Thoughts

growing beans, makeshift trellis
Beans grow like madmen. Make sure you build a makeshift trellis.

The physical bounty you will receive from gardening, a.k.a. fruits and veggies will only be outdone by the boost in self-esteem. I get enormous satisfaction watching my garden blossom each day, knowing I DID THAT with my own two hands. Aside from the pride, it can be an excellent coping mechanism for PTSD or other social disorders.

So get out there and get dirty. Bask in the sunlight. It costs peanuts to start up and you will reap the rewards, both with fruit and mental wellbeing. Even if you just plant one vegetable, when it bears fruit it will taste a thousand times better than anything you can buy in a store. Green thumbs unite!

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The Author

Travis Mandell

Travis Mandell

Former South Florida Police Officer and Detective. Certified in criminal investigations, narcotics, tactical response and firearms. Now that he is in the private sector, he enjoys his constitutional freedom of speech once more. He's always down for some fishing, motorcycle adventures, or camping in the great outdoors.