Knowing what to plant, and when to plant it, is only the beginning of learning urban gardening 101. After you complete all of the pre planning for your garden, you then must begin to actually plant it, and keep it alive until you are ready to eat it!
We have all had our fair share poorly maintained gardens that unfortunately led to ruined crops and inedible veggies. When my wife and I planted our first urban garden crops into a ground based garden bed in our backyard we did a poor job of maintaining and harvesting our vegetables.
We have grown several beautiful heads of cabbage in our backyard. They were beautiful. Vibrant, green, and hearty. Where we went wrong was in the maintaining and harvesting stage. Because we wanted to grow organic veggies, we did not use any pesticides. But we also didnt do any organic prevention of pests either. This was a problem because slugs love cabbage.
Every cabbage we had grown was being eaten and invaded by slugs. It wasn’t a complete failure, but when we harvested them, we had to be sure to search within the leaves good for slugs so that we did not have any extra protien with our meal.
We began to harvest them as we wanted to eat them in the fall of that year. They looked as though they were hearty and we had thought that they would be fine in the ground until we were ready to pick them.
Well, the first two or three that we harvested turned out to be delicious! But the remaining 5 were ruined. When we went to harvest them they had turned to mush- and a nasty, smelly substance oozed from the middle of the cabbage-definitely not appetizing!
For this reason, we always make sure to do our research in the preplanning stage, Urban Gardening 101, to ensure we know all of the labor that is required to grow any particular food.
Urban Gardening: Landscaping 101
After you have decided what foods you would like to plant, and you have determined when the best time to plant them is, you next need to learn how to prepare your landscaping.
In Urban Gardening 101, landscaping includes not only where to plant and how it will look aesthetically, but also how to prepare your soil by tilling and weeding, and also how to properly allow for irrigation.
After you determine what type of beds you will be using, you must properly prepare your soil. If you are unsure which bed to use, refer back to the first part of this series, Urban Gardening 101.
To prepare your soil you are going to need to till your garden. You must remove all of the grass, weeds, and anything else that you don’t want in your garden up front so that it does not appear unwelcome once you have your crops planted.
You also use the method of tilling your garden to aerate the soil and loosen it up for the roots to be able to take way and grow healthier.
The best two methods of tilling your garden are 1) By Hand, and 2) with a Rototiller. It is by far much easier to till your garden with the latter. You can rent a rototiller from your local Lowes or Home Depot for around $30, or you can buy one yourself for about $100.
To till your garden by hand it may take you a bit longer, but it is much more financially appealing. My wife and I have always tilled our garden by hand (Its a great workout, and you can get a tan too!)
We both have a basic round-point shovel that we use. I usually start by digging up the top layer of soil, and Alyssa will come behind me and get out all of the grass and weeds. As a team it really isn’t as difficult as it seems.
After our garden beds are properly tilled, we will supplement and sprinkle in higher quality soil that is rich in fertilizer and specifically made for planting veggies and fruits. This step helps fill in the garden from the dirt that was removed with the grass and also is particularly great for filling up a raised bed garden.
The next step after preparing your soil is to properly construct for irrigation. First, it is best to have your plants up higher and to have motes in the middle for the water to run through. This will ensure that you do not drown any of your crops.
To ensure this, build small mounds of soil where you will be planting a plant, say 32-3 feet apart and dig motes in parallel lines down your garden bed. The second part of irrigation is to prepare for watering your crops.
Vegetables use around one-fourth inch of water per day, depending on temperature, wind, and stage of crop development. For example, if the garden is watered every four days, apply one inch of water per irrigation.
Water use will be low in the spring when crops are small and temperature are cool and will increase as the temperatures rise and crops come into bloom.
There are four basic types of irrigation to water your plants more easily than the traditional standing and watering by hand (Which I have done before – NOT FUN!)
Traditional irrigation, or furrow irrigation is best for urban gardeners who may have irrigation water from a ditch. Furrow irrigation in the traditional row-style backyard garden layout may be most practical. Ground erosion is a huge downside of traditional furrow irrigation.
Sprinkler irrigation is regarded as being more effective in water distribution in comparison with traditional irrigation. Sprinkler irrigation is not recommended on vegetables susceptible to disease problems such as tomatoes, peppers, and also potatoes.
The splashing water supply propagates disease organisms and water on the leaves results in advantageous conditions for disease development. Because it wets the whole entire soil surface area, weed seed germination may be excessive.
Drip irrigation is well suited for square foot gardens as well as raised bed garden layouts. A downside of a drip system is that they require somewhat dirt free water. Systems readily plug with dirt, algae, or salts in the water.
A number of different forms of drip systems can be had such as:
In-line drip tubing – Emitters are found in the tubing every six, 12, or twenty four inches; 12 inches is most common in the home garden trade.
Soaker hoses as well as soaker tubing– Releases water along the total duration of the hose. Bubblers and drippers – Emitter or drippers are placed to water individual plants.
Soaker Hose Irrigation
The soaker yard hose and soaker tubing type of flow technique enables water to seep out the whole distance of the hose. You can easily use in traditional row layout or even raised-bed gardens. Because the soaker tubing carries a higher flow rate, it can not be placed on the same area as other in-line drip hoses, button emitters, or bubblers.
Urban Gardening: Maintenance 101
After your garden is planted, (we skipped that step for this article) you must maintain it so that you don’t encounter the same fate that my wife and I did. Every plant that you grow will be slightly different in the maintenance requirements that it needs, but the basic rules to keep in mind are: watering, staking/supporting, weeding, fertilizing and pest control, and pruning.
Your urban garden will need regular watering. As mentioned above in the irrigation section, you can use one of the many methods mentioned to automate the watering process and make it easier on yourself.
Some plants, such as bell peppers or tomatoes will need support once they grow to a certain size. You can use garden stakes, trellises and cages and even yarn or string to support your crops. You will want to be sure to keep a watchful eye and support them as needed so that they can continue to thrive.
Weeds are bad for your garden. Not only are they ugly but also they steal the nutrients and and water from your crops for their own survival. The most effective way to remove a weed is to pull it out from the roots. It is nearly impossible to prohibit all weeds from coming up so you can expect to have to weed your garden regularly.
I like to fertilize my crops regularly throughout the season. I like to use a miracle grow mixture to supplement while watering. I also like to spread on a high fertilizing mulch periodically on the top of my soil. Mulching is also good as prevention for weeds.
Pest Control 101
Like weeds, pests are another inevitable part of growing your own food. Pests can destroy your crops and steal your food. They’re are all sorts of pests including bugs, insects, and also animals such as rabbits and moles. The best way to prevent animal pests are to get some hair from your hair-dresser and sprinkle it around the exterior of your garden bed. This human smell will scare animals from coming to steal your crops. A great method of deterring insect pests is to supplement your soil with parasitic nematodes!
Last but not least, as you notice dead leaves and even ripe produce, you will need to prune them so that the plant does not expend its energy to trying to keep the dead parts alive. And we can’t forget the harvest!
Harvest and Enjoy!
After all of that hard work that you put in to planting and maintaining your urban garden, the last step in the process is what makes it all worth it. Harvesting and enjoying the fruits of your labor!
Every crop that you plant in your urban garden will have slightly different methods of harvesting; however, they will all be equally as enjoyable. Most fruits and veggies you will be able to tell when to harvest them. Others, such as spaghetti squash are a little more difficult to tell.
A good rule of thumb is if you are unsure just do a quick google search. We hope to eventually have a full list here at Urban Gardening HQ for you so be sure to stay tuned!
Also be certain to properly wash your harvests once your bring them inside and again before you eat them -just to be safe.
Now that you have a good idea on Urban Gardening 101: How to Maintain and Harvest Food Growing In Your Own Backyard, it’s your turn to go out there and start your own urban farm!
If you know someone who is considering starting their own urban farm, then please share this post with them and invite them to join our Urban Farming Community!
image credit: Jon Roberts