It is estimated that by 2030 AD nearly 50% of the world’s population may live in urban areas. As a consequence of this many millions of acres of productive farmland are expected to be lost to housing and other usage. Any further encroachment of natural habitat for other creatures may result in serious degradation of the eco-system. In addition to the loss of farmland, the new urban sprawl also creates urban wastelands like: roof tops brown fields and unused paved spaces.
Due to the recent terrorist attacks, food security and safety are seriously compromised. A large amount of the fruits and vegetables consumed by the US population is currently imported. There is no widespread testing of these imported produce for harmful chemicals and biological agents at the border crossings. Urban agriculture has the ability to mitigate this problem as the fruits and vegetable grown in the urban areas can be carefully monitored and safeguarded.
Migration from rural areas also brings into the urban areas many persons with very little formal education. This may result in unemployment and under employment of a sizable number of people. Idleness and frustration of the masses may result in the increase of crime and other problems. Urban agriculture may be a way to occupy the inner city youth, parolees and persons on welfare.
Urban agriculture has the potential for creating micro-enterprises that can be owned and operated by the community members without too much of initial capital. Inner city churches and community service organizations can use urban agriculture as part of their programs for the seniors, homeless persons, parolees and disabled.
History Of Urban Farming
Urban farming is not new. Ancient cities like Babylon had their hanging gardens and farms in or in the vicinity of urban areas. During World War II, it is estimated that nearly 40% of the fresh vegetables and fruits in this country were produced in the Victory Gardens. Only recently, the US has started to import much of the fruits and vegetables from other countries.
A few decades ago ECHO (Education Concerns for Hunger Organization) in Fort Myers, Florida, has introduced container garden techniques for impoverished counties like Haiti. In 1993, Dr. Job Ebenezer, former Director of Environmental Stewardship and Hunger Education at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) established a container garden on the roof of the parking garage of the ELCA offices in Chicago. The hope was that the roof top garden would serve as a role model for creative use of urban space throughout the country. Dr. Ebenezer proved the feasibility of growing vegetables in plastic wading pools, used tires and feed sacks. The demonstration garden has proved to be highly successful. Each year since 1993, urban gardeners at the ELCA offices in Chicago harvested nearly 1,000 pounds of vegetables from nearly 40 wading pools and a dozen of used tires and feed sacks.
The Effectiveness Of Urban Gardening
There are several reasons why urban gardens using containers are effective:
1. They enable us to practice “intensive” gardening method through maximum utilization of limited space.
2. It is easy to practice “intercropping” (planting a variety of plants in one container) which ensures the health of plants due to diversity.
3. It is possible to “conserve” both soil and water as containers prevent run offs of soil and excessive watering.
4. Urban gardens “make use of urban wasteland” (vacant lots, brown fields, unused parking lots, and roof tops)
5. Urban gardening provides “meaningful employment” for persons with limited skills and formal education.
6. Establishing and maintaining an urban garden are very “inexpensive”.
7. Urban gardens provide creative ways to “recycle” old tires and other containers that otherwise would be thrown into landfills.
8. Churches and social service organizations can use urban gardening to “rehabilitate, create income generation projects, and provide therapy.
Wading Pool Garden's
The plastic wading pool is the most cost-efficient container available. A 4 – 6 ft diameter pool of 12 - 15 inches deep, provide a decent size growing area and costs under $10. They are known to last for more than 6 years in harsh climate regions like Chicago. The topsoil, peat moss, and manure that fill the pool can be bought for under $20.
Wading pools can be placed in any area that could not be used for conventional gardens, such as rooftops, black tops, along fences and railroad tracks.
On contaminated surfaces, such as brown fields, vacant lots and abandoned industrial sites, wading pools can be used to isolate the growing medium from contamination.
Wading Pool Garden Preparation
Take any wading pool and carefully drill ¾ to 1 inch holes every 12 to 18 inches around the circumference of the pool 2 inches above the base of the pool. These holes will drain excess water and the space above 2 inches from the bottom of the pools will hold excess water and keep the soil moist for a longer period.
Do not fill the pool with growing medium (mixture of top soil, peat moss and compost) all the way to the rim of the pool. Leave about 2 inches space from the rims so that water may not overflow and cause soil loss. You can add more growing media as the soil starts to settle and the depth decrease over the duration of growing season.
You can use either seeds or seedlings and follow the instruction on the seed packets and seedling containers for distances between the plants. Plants need space to grow and produce good yield and therefore it is necessary to provide sufficient space between various plants.
Add compost or a reasonable amount of organic or other fertilizers known for their safety periodically.
As the wading pools are above the ground they tend to dry up quickly. Therefore water the wading pool gardens as often as you see the need. You can stop watering when you see the water dripping from the holes on the side of the pools.
Weed as you see the need for it is impossible to avoid the growth of undesired plants in the pools.
A Few Suggestions For Innovative Uses Of Urban Gardens
1. Urban gardens can be used for gowing medicinal plants for HIV/AIDS patients to increase their immunity. You can find relevant literature that suggests such medicinal plants on the Internet or in your library.
2. By using picnic or elevated platforms, you can set a convenient container garden for the disabled and senior citizens.
3. Your churches & charity groups can grow safe and quality vegetables on the churches' unused spaces and supply them to soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
Well-planned patio gardens allow gardeners to make the most of a small space while maintaining a degree of control not available to those who plant in the ground. If a plant is not getting enough sun, it can be moved. If it is not draining properly, more holes can be added. Healthy plants prevent pests, and some, such as slugs, are not even a factor. Watering is more efficient, because it must be done by hand, making a patio garden ideal in a drought situation. And at the end of the year, even inexperienced gardeners can enjoy a bounty of vegetables thanks to the built-in advantages of garden containers, which include regular drainage and nutrient-rich soil.
Herbs also make great container plants, as they survive in generally drier conditions. Pots offer the opportunity of bringing herbs inside when the weather gets colder. However, many herbs are fast-growing, so it’s best replant the container each spring.
Here are a few tips:
- Start with 4” plants, which can be found at most nurseries. With a little creativity, just about any vegetable can be planted in an above-ground container, however, the most common seem to be tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, beans, and spinach
- The size of a plant can vary depending on the variety of seedling used. Make sure containers are large enough to accommodate a full-sized plant. Most tomatoes will need at least an 18” square container. Peppers, however, are perfectly happy in smaller pots.
- Cover the holes at the bottom of the container with small rocks to improve the soil drainage.
- Part-fill the container with compost. A slow-release fertilizer can be added at this stage to distribute nutrients as the compost dries out. Fill the remaining space with a nutrient-rich planting soil.
- Water the plants and let them drain. Take them out of their pots and arrange in the container, packing in tightly. Fill in any gaps and firm all the plants in place. Keep the soil below the rim of the pot for easier watering.
- Water the container well and move it to its final position. Arrange plants according to their needs. Tomatoes prefer a south-facing porch with full sun, while spinach and lettuce are happier near the house in partial shade. Make sure the place where you want to plant gets at least six hours of direct sun every day.
- Trellises, cages or poles will be needed for tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and other vines. Patio gardeners can also take advantage of permanent features, such as fences and railings, to support their plants.
- Containers need to be watered at least once a day in summer. They also require regular fertilization. A fertilizer dilutor can be clipped on to the hose to feed plants as you water.
- With just a little time and imagination, any drab patio can become home to lush green vines, red peppers, juicy tomatoes, and succulent cucumbers. Why not start today?
- Even a standard-sized apartment balcony has room to grow a garden. This article will show you how to optimize the space and grow a nice garden. Using the principles given in this article, you can grow a vegetable or flower garden in a variety of small spaces.
- Decide what you want to grow. An east-facing balcony can grow beautiful flowers, herbs, and smaller vegetables such as radishes. Cool-weather crops such as lettuce also do well with an eastern exposure that gets most of its direct sun in the morning, since leafy vegetables tend to go to seed rather than maturing if they're grown in a desert climate or with hot afternoon sun on them. A southern exposure to sun will grow almost anything, but stay away from bushy or tall crops like corn if you have limited space. Root vegetables, such as long carrots and most potatoes, require soil depths that you really can't get in a container-based garden.
- Line up all of your containers according to size. See Step 4 for instructions on using the buckets for certain crops. Figure out which herbs or vegetables are good matches to which containers, then write the container size in a notebook with the veggie name. For example, radishes or herbs will grow nicely in a long flower box that is only a few inches deep. Bell peppers need slightly more depth and plenty of horizontal space to spread out, so you might use regular flower pots for those. Plan a crop for each container, then take your notebook to the nursery. Read labels or ask the nursery worker to determine how many plants you should start with in each container for each type of vegetable. To get maximum yield from each container you'll want to plant more starter plants than the container can actually grow, because you'll undoubtedly want to weed out the slower growing and sickly looking ones along the way.
- Let the starter plants sit for 24 hours in their nursery containers to allow them to recover from the handling they've endured. During that time, fill your growing containers half to two-thirds full of a mixture of potting soil and dirt. I've found that mixing dirt and potting soil together is a good way to get a rich mixture for vegetables. Flowers are usually happy to be plopped directly into potting soil. After the 24 hour rest period, plant starter plants according to package or nursery guidelines, expecting to thin the smaller ones out when you can see which ones are more robust.
- The buckets you've set aside will be used for some "inverse gardening" of plants like tomatoes and cucumbers that are often avoided in small gardens because they are bushy. If you have a covering on your balcony where sturdy hanging hooks can be mounted, you can grow these bushy crops quite easily. Simply cut a hole in the bottom of the bucket that is very slightly larger than the root ball of your tomato or cucumber plant. You'll need someone to assist with the rest of the operation so you won't break the plant after it's inserted into the bucket. Carefully push the root ball through the opening so the plant emerges from the bottom of the bucket, then line the bottom of the bucket with part of a feed sack or other discarded fabric. The fabric should form a loose shield between the top of the root ball and the hole in the bucket to secure the plant and soil until the root ball grows larger. Fill the bucket with soil as you normally would. The plant should be hanging out the bottom of the bucket. Now hang the bucket in the upside-down position from the upper rail or near the edge of the balcony ceiling. You may be able to use the bucket's own handle as a hanger. Leave enough room around the hanging planter for the plant to spread out, water regularly and watch the plant mature. Plants grown this way require less water and often grow larger produce because gravity allows water to flow more easily to where it's needed.
- Place your smaller planters on railings, hang plants in flower boxes over the railings, and get creative about where to put all of the other pots. Rotate the locations of plants occasionally and rotate individual pots often to get the best exposure to the sun. You'll be amazed at how much produce you'll enjoy this summer from such a small space!
- If you do not have a yard to grow a garden in, or if your gardening space is limited, you might want to consider growing a rooftop garden. Both flowers and vegetables can be grown well in containers. If you have a roof that is strong enough and flat enough to support a garden, that is a wonderful place for growing a container garden.
- Select an area of the roof that gets the most sun for a garden.
- Lay down plastic sheeting on the roof where you are going to put the garden containers.
- Collect pots or garden boxes for growing your plants in. Another great container to use for a rooftop garden is a small child's wading pool.
- Place containers on the plastic sheets, fill them with soil and plant vegetable or flower plants in them. Planting in containers is done the same way as planting in the ground.
- Mulch the top of the containers around the plants with an organic mulch such as grass clippings, leaves or tree bark. A 2- to 3-inch thick layer of mulch will help the soil retain moisture and not dry out as quickly.
- Water the rooftop garden every day unless it rains. Container gardens dry out very quickly and will require frequent watering.
- Fertilize plants as needed. It is best to follow the instructions for fertilizing that come with the plants or seeds when you purchase them. Be careful not to over-fertilize because too much fertilizer can cause the plants to burn.