A beautiful, green wilderness just outside your door, leading down to a small stream, all enclosed with trees, boughs full of birds and dogs running and playing. The dream. Unfortunately, if you live in a city, especially a densely populated one like Manchester, London or Birmingham, you’re often lucky to have a square metre of concrete to call your own.
But don’t despair - you can still have your very own patch of sustainable paradise if you do it right. We have a few tips to help you get started, whether you’re working with a modest window box or a bigger bed. You’ll be making salads from homegrown veg in no time.
Choose a container
You want to go as big as possible as small containers may dry out quickly and need more regular watering. Vegetable roots need space to grow downwards, otherwise you’ll end up with sickly, stunted plants that don’t taste or look good, so depth is key. There are lots of different options depending on your space restrictions, so you can make sure your little urban garden suits your home or outdoor area.
Pick your spot
Different plants need different conditions. Most vegetables require at least six hours of sunlight per day. Salad greens and herbs can usually get by with less and tomatoes, peppers and beans will appreciate as much sun as they can get. Keep them sheltered from the wind as much as possible by either building a shelter or choosing a place where they will be protected. You can use larger pots to shield smaller ones or make a windbreak from fabric.
Know your soil
Although it may seem sensible, do not fill your containers with soil from a garden or bagged topsoil. You should instead fill the containers with a "soilless" potting mix that will retain moisture and resist compaction. You can then mix in some organic fertiliser and a bit of compost to create the perfect mix for your veggies. Fertiliser, in particular, is very important as it will be the source of all the nutrients in your container. Watering can also wash out the nutrients, so keep the levels of fertiliser high.
Vegetables need a consistent amount of water to become the tastiest, healthiest versions of themselves they can be. This doesn’t mean watering them all day every day, but you have to make sure the supply is regular. According to Gardeners.com, “inconsistent moisture causes lots of problems, such as blossom drop, poor root development, leaf curling, insect problems, and rot.” And no one wants that. One option for forgetful gardeners is to use a self-watering planter, that way the plants can absorb moisture as they need it.
Not all vegetables thrive in smaller areas. The following should grow well if you follow all of our previous tips for growing your urban garden:
- Butternut squash
- Asian greens
- Green beans
- 4-5": chives, lettuce, radishes, other salad greens, basil, coriander
- 6-7": garlic, kohlrabi, onions, Asian greens, peas, mint, thyme
- 8-9": green beans, carrots, chard, cucumber, aubergine, fennel, leeks, peppers, spinach, parsley, rosemary
- 10-12": beetroots, broccoli, okra, potatoes, sweetcorn, butternut squash, dill, lemongrass