Got a sunny patch of yard, patio or rooftop? Urban gardening has everyone looking at their surroundings differently these days, and it’s never been a better time to transform unused space into flourishing gardens full of herbs and veggies. For tips on how to get started (or improve the one you have) we consulted our newest crop of Duluth Women models who put our garden clothes to the test in Portland, Oregon for our Spring Garden catalog.
Start small and have fun – Sara, Farm Manager, Zenger Farm
Zenger Farm is a working urban farm that’s always buzzing with activity – preparing for a farmers’ market, harvesting the weekly Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares or hosting a group of kids for a summer camp. Farm Manager Sara knows a thing or two about setting realistic expectations and prioritizing her time.
- Start small so you don’t get overwhelmed in your first season trying to do too many things.
- Once you get your systems in place determine how much time you actually have to spend (and want to spend) tending your garden, then grow from there.
- No matter your skill level, make it easier on yourself and more fun… do more of what’s working and what you like to do. Scrap the other stuff!
Be picky and grow what you love – Shara, Farm Manager, Green Table Cooperative
Summer’s too short and urban garden plots are usually too small, so Green Table Cooperative Farm Manager Shara recommends thinking before you buy so you select what you want to grow by what you want to cook.
- If you don’t cook much in the way of vegetables but you want to change your habits, concentrate on what you know you’ll eat.
- Don’t forget fresh herbs. They make a big difference in cooking, and they are high value with low input.
- Take summer travel plans and activities into consideration as well. Maybe you’ll be leaving for a month in July and you should keep it very small in spring in order to concentrate on an awesome winter garden (as climate allows).
Think outside the garden bed – Courtney, Co-Owner, Noble Rot Restaurant
Gardening on a rooftop has its challenges, as Courtney, co-owner of Noble Rot can attest. The popular restaurant harvests much of the menu’s seasonal produce from its 3,000 square foot rooftop garden.
- Customize your containers to suit your needs. Elevate them if you can’t kneel down or build them on site if they won’t fit through stairwells or elevators.
- Don’t just think of raised boxes and planters, grow up and use your vertical space with trellises, poles or walls.
- Remember your water sources! If you don’t have easy access to outdoor faucets install rain barrels or self-watering systems. Consider using larger containers since they hold more water and reduce your watering duties.
And finally, if you have plans to transform a piece of unused land or urban lot Courtney stresses the need for a $20 soil test for peace of mind. The reality of urban gardening is the risk of heavy metals in the soil – whether from a past house paint prep that released lead-based paint chips into the soil around your home or whatever might have been dumped in the urban lot years ago. Search “soil testing for heavy metals” to find your local city or county lab and instructions on how to take a soil sample.