Urban Gardening: Maximizing Use of Small Spaces

(Lydia Hastings is working at FLOC’s Outdoor Education Center as the Marketing AmeriCorps VISTA. She originally joined the OEC staff over the summer as the Kitchen Coordinator.)

With harsh winter winds and blustery cold conditions outside, it’s nice to bask near a warm, sunlit window. Spring is on its way, and right now is the perfect time to use that warm sunlight to start sprouting seedlings for your garden.

While most people are not thinking of their springtime planting with old man winter pounding on their door, the last months of winter are the perfect time to plan out your garden and start germinating seedlings. Whether your plants are destined for an outdoor plot or you are just trying to spruce up your home, now is the time to be thinking about getting plants ready for the spring soil.

Indoor planting can be tricky and growing an actual garden inside may seem overwhelming, but urban gardening is completely feasible with the right knowledge! The first thing to think about is location. Generally, plants tend to do best when they are able to get outside and be in direct sunlight. If your home has a balcony or small porch that could hold plots or boxes, these locations would be perfect for a garden set-up during the warmer months. During these colder months, however, a sunlit window or choosing plants that thrive in shaded areas is preferable. Finding a good location in your home will allow your plant to flourish and provide a friendly atmosphere.

The next step is choosing your plants. This means planning out your garden space. Just like when you design a room, you should try to design your garden. Are you looking for plants to add color to your house or do you want your garden to be more practical, with herbs for your cooking? Do you want to snack on the fruits of your labor, with plants such as strawberries and peppers, or are you looking to brighten up a room with greenery and flower displays? Try searching your local greenhouses and garden shops to get help with types of plants that may be best suited for your end objective. Also, look into seed catalogs, such as Seed Savers Exchange or Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, to help you get a larger scope of plants and seeds that are available to you.

Along with designing the plant variety is the planning of the containers. If the ultimate goal for your seedlings is transplanting them into an outdoor plot, then small germinating containers may be all you are looking for (discarded yogurt containers work great for this.) If your plant needs a more permanent, durable structure, then there are several options to consider. Whether it is boxes or pots, hanging baskets or antique heirlooms, make sure it blends aesthetics with functionality. The last thing you want to do is kill your plants by placing them in too small of a container–or in something that will not allow for proper water runoff. If the container does not have a hole in the bottom to release excess water, try putting two inches of gravel on the bottom of container so the root systems are not drowned in excess water.

Don’t be afraid to experiment! Many plants thrive in symbiotic relationships — this means plants deposit or use certain nutrients in the soil while another plant benefits from those contributions. Some examples of symbiotic relationships are the combination of growing parsley and tomatoes in the same soil or strawberries and spinach. Roses with garlic are a great symbiotic pair and so are beans with most herbs. By doing a little investigating you will find many plants thrive with the interaction of another species. This concept is called Companion Planting and it allows for plants to work together to increase the yield and growth within their lifespan.

Bring a little of the outdoors and springtime inside your home during these cold winter months. Have fun with your garden and be sure to look into local venders to see what grows best indoors. For more information or inquiries about the Outdoor Education Center’s garden projects, contact Lydia Hastings at lhastings@floc.org.

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