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Urban Gardening

Urban Gardening : How to start?

Urban Gardening : How to start?

In the following article, I will teach you that growing your own organic seasonal food, even if you have a tiny balcony or terrace, is fully possible. It will also demystify some past bad gardening experiences to reassure you that we all have a green thumb! I will also share the amazing benefits of urban gardening and some easy tips to start growing.

I often hear people around me saying “No, gardening is not for me” or “All my plants are dying, I don’t have a green thumb”. What if I would tell you that I was thinking exactly the same? I was visiting a gardening center to get some flowers for my balcony, like most people do in spring time. At the entrance of the shop, I saw this huge shelf full of radishes, lettuce, tomato and eggplant seeds. I stopped and looked at it for a while. “I would love to grow these, but come on Patrick, you know how this will end right?” But I had this shopping impulse buying act (probably the best one I ever had!) and I got myself some seeds, pots, soil and went back home. I was already thinking about failure, because I had some bad gardening experiences in the past. I managed to kill my aunt’s cactus in only three weeks, many of my indoor plants did not make it for long and I also remembered this basil plant from the grocery store which surely died after a few days. But I was watering it? I even tried to repot it in one of my window planters outside and here the basil plant died again.

Why your past growing attempts failed

Let’s put aside these traumatic experiences. I will explain why in the following lines. Let’s take the example of basil. Firstly, Basil is an annual plant: It lives and dies in the same year, simply because of it’s natural cycle. It has nothing to do with your gardening skills. Secondly, the potted basil from your grocery store is not designed to grow further, it’s simply made to be eaten. Thirdly, yes you probably tried to repot it outside in the soil of your window planter, not knowing that new soil contains in average only six weeks of nutrients, after this time your soil needs to be fertilized. And believe me, the few late night party wine glasses or cigarettes which ended in there, thanks to your tipsy friend, did not fertilize your soil.

In our modern society, we have given away the responsibility of growing food to the food industry with the purpose to feed ourselves. We abandoned this right, simply because we did not have any grow your own class at school, whereas this should be part of the most basic education, don’t you think? The great news is that it’s never too late! I did wait 36 years to start planting my first seed and in just a few months I could acquire all the sufficient knowledge. We all have a green thumb, we just have to put it into practice and learn very accessible and basic gardening knowledge.

Why we should all start growing our own food

Urban Gardening has become a true passion that I love to share & grow as it may bring you amazing benefits in your daily life that you won’t regret.
  • Knowing where your food comes from : Indeed, your organic lettuce or radishes will directly come from your balcony. No need for hundreds kilometers of transportation, just some small steps!
  • Rediscovering the true taste of vegetables & fruits : Forget about the flat taste of the tomatoes from the supermarket. By gardening, you will have the opportunity to grow organic & explore ancient heirloom varieties, all unique in terms of textures, flavours & nuances. By just taking the example of tomatoes, there are 12.000 varieties around the world. Embrace our biodiversity!
  • Green your life : The Green colour has a huge impact on our brain. The sight of Green provides us with a feeling of well-being, senerinity and concentration. Creating your own green jungle will give you these necessary feelings, gardening is an amazing way to reconnect with Nature, relieve from stress and have your own meditation moment.
  • Discovering how our vegetables & fruits are actually growing : Before starting gardening, I didn't even know that most of our fruits are actually being born from a flower! I also did not know how a courgette or a cucumber was growing. Gardening will give you this opportunity to learn & discover the wonders of Nature. We just need to respect, observe & adapt to her flow.
  • Reconnecting with seasons : Gardening will truly awaken your consciousness about seasons. We are unfortunately used to having all kinds of varieties at any time in our grocery stores, but let’s acknowledge that this is not normal and natural. All varieties have their seasons and by gardening you will rediscover these cycles but you will also eat more diversely. Let’s forget about tomatoes in winter, let’s explore turnips, spinach, lamb’s lettuce, kale. Gardening is a great opportunity to eat seasonal and more diverse food.
  • A rewarding experience : Growing your own food is a wonderful adventure, ending with tasty & organic harvests. What a pride to harvest an organic lettuce from the balcony and share it with your loved ones.
These few points are non-exhaustive and you would surely add many others ones during your gardening journey. It will come! 
Now that you are aware of all these benefits, I bet that you can’t wait to start growing. There is a lot of different information available on gardening, but it’s sometimes hard to know where & how to start. The following lines will share with you some very helpful tips to get you starting in the best way possible. You will learn more on how to optimize your space but also what are the right pot sizes or growing tables for which variety.

Analyzing your space

Having a full south and sunny balcony or garden is indeed ideal. With this sun exposition, you’ll be able to grow many different varieties such as tomatoes, eggplants, zucchinis, cucumbers and peppers. But if your balcony (or small garden) doesn’t have much sun, there is still hope! The good news is that certain varieties are thriving much better in half shade or shade exposition. This is for example the case of lettuce, radishes, kale or carrots, which prefer these shady spots during summer. Simply map your space, this will allow you to determine the future spots for sunny crops and for the ones who prefer more shade.

FULL SUN (MINIMUM OF 6 HOURS OF SUN): Veggies, fruits and herbs such as tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, peppers, basil, coriander, thyme, dill, fennel or sage.

HALF SUN/HALF SHADE (3 TO 6 HOURS OF SUN): Veggies, fruits and herbs such as cherry tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, kale, carrots, peas, spinach, potatoes, chives, coriander, parsley, rosemary and mint.

Optimizing your space

A 4 sqm balcony can be turned into a very efficient space on which you can grow a lot of different varieties. We all have limited floor space but have a look at your vertical space. By vertical space, I’m meaning here the height of your balcony. You might have balcony railings on which you can place two or three window planters, you also might have a wall, just imagine the number of pots you could place in there. You might also have a ceiling? Great, you can simply attach some hanging pots. Using this vertical space will give you many options!

Combining several types of pots and containers

Every product has its own specificities so you can optimize your space perfectly. To grow lots of different varieties, I combine three types of elho containers: the growtable xxl, different sizes of growpots and windowplanters. Growing tables are my best partner in veggie crime: They contain a great amount of soil, they free space on the floor to put some other pots and they also come with plastic covers (growhouses) which protest your plants from cold weather and pests. I use them to grow all my lettuce, radishes, kale, turnips, spinach and bok choy.    
Regular growing pots such as the ones from the elho grow your own collection are ideal to grow plants such as tomatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers and peppers. But one key advise, give room to nature, only put one plant per pot so they have enough space to develop healthy. It’s better to have one healthy plant versus two who won’t give you healthy harvests.
Planters such as the corsica balcony planter are great to optimize your vertical space. You can use them to grow many different kitchen herbs, but also lettuce or radishes. Indeed, they are also great for flowers which will help to attract our beloved pollinators.

Sizes matters.. At least in gardening!

The volume of soil is highly linked to the variety you’re growing. Here are the types of pots and volume adapted to varieties.

Growing Tables (Capacity of 50L) : You can successfully grow in there around 10 lettuce, 3 bunch of radishes, 4 kale, 8 turnips.

Pots (Capacity of 19L) : These 19L pots are ideal for Courgettes, Aubergines, Cucumbers or high caliber Tomatoes.

Pots (Capacity of 12L) : These pots are perfectly adapted for growing Cherry Tomatoes or medium caliber tomatoes. You can also have a look at the tomato tower pot (Link) which has the right capacity, a water reservoir but which comes also with the right structure to maintain your plant along its growth.

Pots (Capacity of 8,7L) : Optimal for Strawberries or Raspberries, also adapted for two Pak Choi or 2 lettuce.

Pots (Capacity of 6,5L) : These ones are ideal for kitchen herbs such as Dill, Chives, Basil, Parsley, Coriander, Rosemary.

The importance of having great soil

Forget about cheap universal potting soil, but go for an organic potting soil designed for growing vegetables. The quality of the soil is crucial to grow healthy vegetables, so do not undermine this choice! You can start your first year of gardening by getting yourself an organic fertilized and prepared potting soil. In your second year, it is really worth to try out and make your own potting mix with different manures and substrates.

Home composting

Composting at home is easy and it will make you discover the perfect and balanced food cycle. Everything is connected: There is no waste, just a smarter use of it. The vegetables that we eat are nourishing and give us necessary nutrients, vitamins, minerals and calories. There are however parts which we don’t eat, such as orange peelings, an apple core or foliage from radishes. These organic food scraps should definitely not be thrown to the trash, because they can be the base of a great organic and homemade fertilizer, also known as compost.
With a bokashi box, compost becomes extremely easy and space efficient for small balconies or terraces. In the box, you can place all your organic food scraps. It will decompose in the box with the help of an organic spray or powder, designed to speed up the decomposition process. Every week, you’ll obtain a rich compost juice with is a great fertilizer for your plants. My advice is to mix 1 liter of compost juice in 10 liter of water. Every month and a half, you can open your box and take the lower decomposed layers to bury directly in your soil. It will give healthy organic nutrients to your soil to enhance its richness!
I sincerely hope that these tips will set you up for a growing success. To be very transparent, I wish I had read this article before I started urban gardening. It would have saved me a lot of time, so I hope this will be extremely useful for you!
I wish you a happy growing & and amazing gardening journey!
Green love,
The Frenchie Gardener

Pictures made by The Frenchie Gardener & Sabine Gudath.

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