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No Backyard, No Problem: 5 Tips for Growing Food Anywhere

Container GrowingDo you want to grow your own food in the city, but don’t have any green space? Not to worry containers can turn rooftops, terraces, porches, windowsills and fire escapes into fertile farmland.

The whole concept of “urban farming” seems contradictory, yet more and more people are living in cities, and more and more urbanites are growing their own food.

The benefits of homegrown produce are amazingly diverse: it’s safer and more nutritious than conventional foods, it’s more flavor-rich — it can even act as an anti-depressant. And in the face of climate change and rising energy prices, it makes better environmental sense to grow closer to home —reducing the energy and carbon costs of moving perishable food in refrigerated trucks long distances from farm to fork.

There are certain advantages to urban container gardening over conventional food gardens. For one thing, self-watering containers are fantastic, easy, and keep your plants perfectly moisturized. Also, you tend to deal with fewer weeds and pests. Veggies can be more densely planted in containers than in conventional gardens, assuming they get the moisture, fertilizer, and sunlight they need.

Overall, most of the rules of container gardening are consistent with the rules of in-ground gardening — you need plenty of sun and water, rich soil, and good fertilizer. But there are some key subtle differences, which we’ve outlined below. If you want a comprehensive guidebook to container gardening, get Ed Smith’s amazing Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible . But you can also wing it, and with the following brief rules, you should do just fine:

  • What to Grow 1 of 5
    What to Grow

    You can grow just about any vegetable in a container. If you're doing leafy veggies like herbs, lettuce, spinach or kale, smaller pots or shallower containers with 6 inches of soil will work well. But if you're doing bigger plants like peppers, tomatoes, eggplant or cukes you'll need deeper pots and up to 12 inches of soil. Edible flowers are also a great addition to any growing container — nasturtiums are especially pretty because as they grow, they drape down the side.

  • Picking the Container 2 of 5
    Container

    Self-watering containers have a bottom reservoir of water that's in constant contact with the soil and keeps it moist, essentially watering the plants on demand. Gardeners.com has great self-watering planters, window boxes and containers. Jeanne likes the Organic EarthBox Kit at Earthbox.com. You can also make your own self—watering container from 5 gallon buckets.

  • Soil 3 of 5
    Soil

    Potting soil has compost in it, but it also contains peat moss or coir (from coconut husks) and vermiculite (a lightweight natural mineral), which hold moisture and act as "lighteners" to prevent the compost from getting too dense (a key concern, as overly compacted soil prohibits roots from traveling freely to get the nutrients they need).

    MiracleGro has an organic potting soil that's decent but Jeanne prefers Fox Farms' Happy Frog potting mix which has better nutrients including bat guano. 

  • Fertilizer and Pesticides 4 of 5
    Balcony Garden

    Container-grown plants love fertilizer as much as in-ground plants. Sprinkle Happy Frog granulated organic fertilizer around the base of your plants once a month. Every other week, you can also spray the leaves of your plants with Neptune's Harvest — a liquid organic fish emulsion and seaweed spray.

    Pests in densely developed cityscapes tend to be more limited than in green spaces; there's usually no need for fencing, and limited need for pesticides. If you are getting bugs, follow the organic pesticide guidelines in our Rookie Guide To Growing

  • Sun 5 of 5

    Whether you are growing outside or on a windowsill, you need plenty of sun — 5-8 or more hours of sun a day — for succulent fruits and veggies. 

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