25 Apr 2011

U is for Urban Gardening.

My parents had - well, have - a large vegetable garden. I am pretty sure that to this day, they've never had to buy a single vegetable in a store, ever.

They grow their own potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, cucumbers, onions, garlic, leeks, carrots, chicory, spinach, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, green beans, peas, celery, pumpkins, cabbage, and much more. Not to mention lots of fruit and herbs, all organic.

As a child, I hated having a garden. It meant we had to help out with tedious tasks like weeding, picking green beans or podding buckets of peas.

It also meant we ate vegetables in cycles. During tomato season, we'd eat tomatoes until I had nightmares about them. We had to eat soups that contained so many different, fresh veggies, they always tasted more or less the same.

It's taken me a long time - and many years of city life - to understand how fortunate we were.

Ever since I moved out of my parents' house, I've grown herbs, even when I only had the balcony of my flat at my disposal. When I moved here, the herb patch was the first part of the garden to be finished.

The past few years, I've taken an interest in low-maintenance urban farming. I'm not the kind of person to spend hours a day (or week) digging and weeding. Believe me, I've tried.

After the herb garden, we moved on to fruit trees: apples, cherries and plums. They're easy. You plant them. Water them for a while. Done.

That went well, so last year, we planted berry bushes and got 2 lemon trees for the patio. If all goes well, they'll provide a lot of fruit this year.

And about a month ago, I started growing strawberries and different types of lettuce, in containers. The plants are doing great, and we've harvested our first lettuce leaves last week. They're delicious, but I might be a little biased here.

The container garden on the patio, April 2011.

More vegetables on the fence, April 2011.

Our harvest for yesterday's lunch ...

... transformed, with a little help from non-home-grown ingredients.

It takes little to no effort, you can't get veggies any fresher than that, and they taste even better because you've seen them grow!

So, if you want to give it a try, here are a few websites with great ideas for city and balcony gardens:

I also wanted to share this video, of a Canadian woman, Carol Bowlby, who feeds her family of 5 with gorgeous organic vegetables, grown in a small back garden in the city. She's inspiring and gives a lot of practical tips.

My Urban Garden by Polly Bennell, National Film Board of Canada

Do you have a green thumb?
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  1. My thumb is not green, more like black, but the sight of your container gardening is most inspiring.

  2. Best of all: it's so easy. I just need to remember to water them in dry weather.

  3. I manage a few tomatoes and peppers in pots. The soil in our yard is all clay. It's way too frustrating to work in, so I just do a few plants here and there. Fortunately we have a farmer's market nearby. AND they just finished paving the bike path that will take me from my house to the park (about 10k roundtrip). I get my exercise and my veggies all in one during the summer.

    Good luck with the strawberries.

  4. I live in a village so I guess you could say it is not an urban environment. We don't grow vegetables at all I'm ashamed to say. Pity really.

  5. @L.G.: clay soil *shiver* - it's apparently really good, but I wouldn't want to start digging. If I remember correctly from my herbalism days, it's great for growing roses.
    Combination of exercise and getting veggies sounds good too. :-)

    @Bob: I suspect part of why I enjoy growing them, is the fact that I live in a city. :-)

  6. Mm your gardening produce looks delish! My parents used to have a garden, also. I remember having to pick asparagus and being frustrated because I wasn't going to eat it, anyway! But now I eat green vegetables, and have been thinking about a garden. Maybe I'll start small, with herbs, and make sure I don't kill them all...

    - allison writes

  7. Hi allison :-) Fortunately, many herbs are hard to kill. Depending on where you live and the kind of soil you have, if you pick a few that like those conditions, you should be fine.

    Mint, lemonbalm, garlic, chives, fennel: those will grow almost anywhere, and they're all wonderful in salads, with fish, to make herbal butter, etc.!

  8. I couldn't imagine not having some type of garden. Nothing tastes better than fresh vegetables. And, no, you're not prejudiced, it's a simple fact.

    For all you folks with clay soils, check out Lasagna gardening. No digging involved and perfect loamy soil within six weeks. It's all I've done for the past 15 years and couldn't find a shovel if my life depended on it. Get crackin'

    Hello, fellow A-Z Challenger! Here's my latest entry. Come visit either of my blogs when you can and leave some comment love:

    T is for Troubador http://bit.ly/erG2AF

    http://www.rockinchairreflections.com (A-Z)
    Twitter: @SolarChief

  9. That was a great film! I watched the whole thing - I don't know this woman - wonder where she has gone? I live in a suburb of Halifax and the film was made in 84 but it is totally current in all the right ways...
    I have a garden - not as nice as hers and I already have garden guilt as I don't have the seedlings in yet...we did have a nice one last year with tomatoes and strawberries, beans and lettuce among other stuff! Have to have it fenced off because of chickens...
    Jan Morrison

  10. @Sharlene: I just had a look at lasagna gardening, and I'm intrigued. I think I'm going to give that a try this fall. There's a corner of the herb garden I'm not too happy about, so that might be the perfect spot to start. Thanks! :-)

    @Jan: I loved that film. I had no idea it was taht old, but like you say: it's totally current.
    'Garden guilt' made me laugh. I used to have it (and still do, sometimes) because I'm not the digging - weeding - maintaining type, but I'm starting to accept I have other talents. (I'm sure I'll find them one day! ;-) )

  11. Unfortunately,I have a black thumb. Sigh!

  12. So well written. I'm glad you saw how lucky you were to grow up eating home grown vegetables. Gardening has always been one of my hobbies, too.

  13. Lovely!

    I had a black thumb, but am now beginning to keep things alive. I can only do containers in my tiny apartment however, so most plants are just nice looking, with no nutritional value :)

    I'm trying basil and mint on one of my windows though, and so far they're alive and well.

  14. I'm also trying my hand at urban gardening... first with herbs! I love reading Life on a Balcony and Urban Organic Gardener too :) Such great inspiration and it really IS that easy! Part of my earth day promise was to try my hand at another veg (I'm hoping for some tomatoes!) and to help my son apply for a Seed Fund grant for his school (so important for kids to learn about where their food comes from imo)

  15. @Karen: if you'd want to, you could start with a few kitchen herbs. They're usually hard to kill. :-)

    @Manzanita: thanks! :-) It took me a few years, but yes, I can appreciate it now. :-)

    @damyanti: you'd be surprised how many vegetables do well in containers. A few of the websites I mentioned have great suggestions. But it's great to have other plants as well. Even if you can't eat them, it's just as valuable that they're nice to look at. :-)

    @Charisse: herbs are a great way to start. Good luck with your tomatoes! My patio collection has just been expanded with tomatoes and bell peppers. Let's hope they'll do well. :-)

  16. Love these ideas! It looks like you can start out small and work your way up, if you'd like. I'm going to have to give it a try. That salad looks amazing.

  17. @Shelli: totally! It's more or less like writing: you learn as you go along, get better and take on bigger challenges. :-)

  18. Peppers! WHAT A GREAT IDEA... thanks for the encouragement KC! :)

  19. You're welcome :-) With the peppers, lettuce(s), tomatoes, onions, garlic & herbs, I'll have all the ingredients for a complete salad growing right here. No more impromptu shopping excursions before dinner! :-)

  20. I will definitely be referring back to this post! I have a green thumb and a huge back yard, but I'm not a big fan of gardening (we had a huge garden when I was a kid). I was thinking about doing some container gardening this year - green beans and tomatoes, maybe a few herbs. You've inpsired me to get on it!

  21. @C R: I'm so glad! :-) It's what those websites have done for me, with their brilliant suggestions, easy how-tos and wonderful photographs :-)

  22. Thats what I love most about my lil garden.. no more impromptu shop trips! :)

  23. Wowee ... your container, urban garden is just beautiful ... and the produce you are already getting is impressive (it's making me jealous). :-) Thank you for all the great links and that video ... there really is no reason for anyone not to have a garden, unless they simply don't want to.

    This post will be listed in our Honor Society tomorrow (Wed the 25th). Thanks for participating in Change The World Wednesday!!

  24. love the fence idea for easy pickin' of the lettuce. i used to hate working in the garden as well but it's what made me a total fiend now, haha ;)

  25. @Charisse: yes, that's definitely the best. And eating vegetables as fresh as they can be must have health benefits as a bonus. :-)

    @Cyndi: thanks! :-) We're up to ears in lettuce at the moment, but I'm not complaining. The strawberries are starting to ripen. I'll post an update soon. :-)

    @EcoGrrl: so far not too many slugs have made it into the fence beds. :-) I love your website, BTW!


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