By Sommer Cartier.
As far as living in San Diego goes, renting is always going to be a reality - whether it’s due to high cost of living, being a transplant, or an increasingly densifying city.
Where gardening is concerned, many of us conjure up images of home ownership, horizontal gardening plots, and weekend home improvement projects. This makes it easy to understand why many of us don’t pursue edible gardening as urban renters. We think we don’t have the space, the yard, and we simply don’t want to invest in property we don’t own. But perhaps our biggest misconception about growing our own food is not recognizing that it can grow in small, unconventional spaces.
No matter how temporal your living situation or tiny your home, I encourage you to re-envision your space, challenge this paradigm, and “Bloom where you are planted!”
Container gardens that are portable, compact, and vertical offer a solution for renters wanting to grow their own food. There are some nuances to consider when container gardening. However, with a few helpful tips, a bountiful garden is within reach.
Common challenges encountered in container gardening:
• Container was not the right size for the plant
• Soil dried out
• Plant received too few nutrients
• Space wasn’t used to its full potential
To make the most of your limited space, get creative. If you’re without a deck or patio, plant a vertical garden on your wall or overhang. Pallet gardens1 and wooly pockets2 are great ways to utilize a wall. If you’re frugal, a shoe organizer3 is a cheap vertical alternative. Hanging baskets filled with leafy greens or herbs are great for overhangs on a front porch. And if an outdoor garden is not an option, consider planting a garden in your window.
Finding the right size container for your plant is critical to a bountiful garden. Plant varieties that are suitable for small spaces. Renee’s Garden has a fantastic line of seeds for container gardens.
Here are some spatial guidelines to follow when choosing a container: For one-gallon containers plant lettuce, Swiss chard, spinach, kale, and herbs. For two-gallon containers consider beets, peppers, eggplants, broccoli, or beans. For cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes you will need, at minimum, a five-gallon container.
Keep in mind that a portable garden requires some work. Because container plants have limited soil volume, proper watering is critical. If time is limited, select self-watering4 containers or wicking containers5. Consider using repurposed plastic water bottles6 for DIY drip irrigation. Ollas7 work well, too. Home Depot carries simple to assemble patio irritations kits that connect to a timer.
Because of the small nature of a container, your garden will require more frequent feedings than in the ground plants. Give your portable garden a boost of nutrients by feeding it compost, worm castings or fertilizer. Whichever of these methods you use, be sure to follow the directions on the package for plants in containers.
Finally, be sure to harvest your garden regularly. Removing mature leaves and fruit will direct energy toward producing new growth and new fruit. In eating from your garden regularly, you will enjoy a larger bounty over the course of the season. Just remember, a healthy garden is a harvested garden!
Sommer Cartier is a certified Master Gardener with an MA in International Development and Social Change. Her specialty is working with local food systems and using gardens as a tool for community engagement. In her current position as a Branch Manager for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater San Diego, she is developing a garden program, Youth Grow, which aims to encourage children to make healthy food choices and connect them to their natural environment.