Urban Farming

What you might ask is Urban Farming?

It seems there is a growing trend, no pun intended, for homeowners, apartment and condo dwellers, and others in the urban setting to cultivate and grow a part of their own food supply. It is not necessary to have acres of land to provide a surprising amount of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and edible flowers. The majority of the growers use containers, which take up little physical space and a small amount of soil and allows growing on shelves, decks,

and in window boxes as well as mixed into any existing landscaping or barren areas.

The use of containers allows one to move the vegetable, herb, or other plant around the property to take advantage of changing sunlight from season to season and to start new crops all year long in additional containers. Pests are easier to control when using containers and feeding the plants likewise become more efficient as nutrients aren’t washed away into the ground. In some areas, progressive in their zoning, cities allow a few chickens to be raised if properly housed.

My wife and I have two small properties, one cottage in the city of St. Petersburg, Florida, a lot that is 50’ by 50’ with a two story house, and another in Madeira Beach, Florida, that is 110’ deep by 45’ wide. Since ground room at either is limited and as we love to cook and enjoy fresh whole foods such as seasonal vegetables we have adopted the container plus landscape methods. We have also tried to incorporate a passive water supply for our

gardening efforts by harnessing runoff water from our roofs via a guttering system which saves money and the quality of the rain water is superior in that it does not contain chemicals needed for drinking water safety. At the beach cottage we were able to plumb the gutters into feeder pipes to fill one large pond and two smaller ones that provide all the water we need for our agrarian efforts.

There are many useful “drip” systems that are easy to hook up and use on balconies, for window boxes, and other applications which allows the system to be hooked to a timer and water for you when at work or away. Most garden centers have these systems and also pumps that may be used to move water from ponds, etc., into the drip or irrigation system.

Composting is also an important part of gardening which allows you to collect your food or vegetable remnants, peels, rinds, eggshells, coffee grounds, etc., and mix them with soil in containers which over time breaks down the organic materials into a nutrient rich potting mix. I never cook without a scrap bowl for unusable veggie parts

or other non meat food scraps created while preparing food or left from certain cooking processes that can be sealed and set aside to work into the compost bin(s).

Containers do not have to be expensive or of any particular material, although we’ve found clay pots keep the plant roots at a much more even temperature range than say a thin black plastic container. We do however employ both and they are abundant and may be picked up as people discard them after landscaping. People toss out containers all the time. Landscapers dump them into landfills but they’ll give them to you, many times, if you just ask. Old five gallon buckets that may have contained kitty litter or other non toxic liquids are viable containers for growing.

In Florida we can grow all year long and depending on the seasonal temperatures, humidity, and light availability grow quite an astonishing amount and variety of vegetables, edible flowers, herbs, root crops, and fruits. The pictures in this article represent only a small portion of the plants we have enjoyed growing and eating. The following is a sort of “laundry list” of food crops we’ve grown in containers or the landscaping; tomatoes, radishes, a variety of lettuce greens, edible flowers for salads, beets, onions, leeks, chard, kale, carrots, celery, chives, parsley, scallions, corn, squash, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, red potatoes, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, culantro dill, peas, beans, avocados, and a wide variety of Chile peppers.

Our goal here is not to explain how to garden in containers or any other tips, there are plenty of nurseries and online sources for "growing in container" tips, but to try and get more individuals to take advantage of the ability to provide some fresh whole foods for them and their family, and to cook more. There is nothing that produces a better taste and texture result than pulling fresh vegetables from your containers, preparing them and eating them within minutes or hours. It is an entirely different cooking and eating experience and superior to working with days or even weeks old vegetables that have been stored, shipped, chemically treated, and picked, usually too early,

that are available in chain groceries. A farmers market is a better choice although you cannot count on all things in all farmers markets to be fresh, locally grown, organic and in many cases are simply the same produce you get from a chain, so you have to ask questions. I recommend locally grown, organic vegetables if they are available in

your area, especially if you can get them from the farmer directly.

Many of our friends belong to “food clubs” that order locally, grass fed beef, free range organically fed chickens, vegetables, and more. This is a great way, and a growing trend, to get enough volume for the farmer to consolidate and deliver the foods to a central location and then the individual members pick up their shares. However, we have found that with a little effort to set up a growing area, that one can produce many of the vegetable products in your own yard and enjoy fresh, whole foods and accomplish this in a surprisingly small amount of available space.

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