Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A newbie's guide to planning an urban vegetable garden

Posted by Amanda Villaruel | |
Interested in a vegetable garden, but don't know where to start? :-)

Check out my tips on how to plan your urban garden outdoors!
A newbie's guide to planning an urban vegetable garden
Planning an urban vegetable garden

Which vegetables, fruit and herbs should you choose? 

The question is: What do you eat regularly?

This is the brainstorming process. Start with vegetables, fruits and herbs you already have a relationship to. If salad, kale or beets are regular ingredients in the fridge, why not try to grow your own? :-)

Write a list of vegetables, fruits and herbs you would like to grow.

The next step will be to prune down the list because what you can grow depends on several factors like how much space you have available, climate etc.
Urban vegetable garden: This year's vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers
Urban vegetable garden: This year's vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers

Ask yourself these questions:

1. How experienced are you? Do you need a soft start or are you ready to go all in? 

If you want to take it slow, I would recommend trying vegetables and herbs that are considered easy. 

Read: Easiest fruits and vegetables to grow from seed indoors - includes radishes and carrots.

2. Where do you live? 

In typical cold and dry climates like my home country Norway, various types of potatoes, carrots, cabbages, onions, zucchinis, beans, beets, radishes and much more usually grow well. 

Countries with a hotter climate can grow vegetables and fruits like tomatoes, eggplants, capsicums and Asian varieties of cabbages and cucumber. If you have a greenhouse or can grow indoors the dependency on the climate becomes less important. 

As a newbie, you probably don't want to think about greenhouses just yet or anything that seems too complicated. Do it simple and grow vegetables that are comfortable in the climate of where you live.

Article continues below the picture.
Planning a vegetable garden in the city
Planning a vegetable garden in the city

3. How much space do you have? Where are you going to plant the veggies?

You can grow vegetables on the kitchen bench, balcony/terrace, community garden, a family member's or a friend's garden - anywhere with enough sunlight. If you do have your own garden, then you're lucky! :-)

If you don't have space outside, salads, tomatoes, carrots, radishes with more can be grown indoors.

12 nifty ideas for the small apartment balcony garden.

4. If you have a balcony; in which direction does it face? 

East-facing balconies get sun in the mornings, while west-facing balconies get sun in the afternoon/evening. This is important in terms of where you should place the vegetables, and also how many hours of sunlight they can possibly get.

How much sunlight is needed?

Most fruit and root vegetables require at least 6-8 hours of sunlight. In other words, if you were planning on growing your own tomatoes, but your kitchen/balcony faces the east and don't get much sunlight, you should probably reconsider the location.

5. How much time do you have?

All plants require attention and care, some less than others. When I say care, I mean that the plants need water, enough nutrition and light. Since you're new, you probably don't have much knowledge yet about taking care of the plants. You'll probably want to spend some time researching and maybe posting questions on forums :-)

So, be honest with yourself: How dedicated are you, and how much time do you have? This also boils down to: How much energy is left? 

If you're a single household and in a job that requires lots of travel, how are you going to take care of the vegetables? How does the vegetable gardening fit in the schedule with kids' activities?

Despite that I have some spare time and pretty dedicated, I've noticed that gardening requires time. Not in a bad way, but I have to make time.

In the morning I check the plants and maybe water them. When I get back home from work, I check the plants again and also the weather update for the next day. Sometimes I sit down and observe. How is the weather affecting the plants today? How does the plants look? Are they pale, yellowish or 'perfectly' green? What kind of insects are around? 

The last two months we have spent time placing the herbs in the kitchen where they get direct sunlight in the morning. And then my boyfriend move them to the balcony when the sun hits at around 3 pm. That's a lot of moving around ;-)

When to plant vegetables, fruits and herbs

The timing depends on the weather and type of vegetable. On the seed package, you'll typically find information on when to plant the seed, growing time, preferred temperature and more.

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Urban vegetable garden: Radishes - harvested in 2015
Urban vegetable garden: Radishes - harvested in 2015

To give you an example: this is my list for the upcoming season;

February: strawberries, basil, thyme, sage, earth almonds and yellow sun balls.

March: kale, borlotti beans, broad beans, shallot onion, red salad onion, arugula, chives.

April: carrots, salads, parsley, cilantro, dill, spinach, wasabi arugula, marigold, radishes, Indian cress.

May: beets, chard, potatoes (can be planted outside in April if the soil is warm enough).

July: Chinese radishes.

You have probably noticed that the big seed planting month is April. But just because it says April on the package, doesn't mean that you should automatically start planting outdoors. If it's a particular cold April, you should probably wait or plant the seeds indoors.

When the temperature is right, you can move them outdoors.

Read: Urban farming project in Oslo - a newbie's journey.

Companion planting 

Companion planting is an integral part in organic vegetable gardening, because:

A) It keeps certain pest insects away (keeping certain vegetables close to each other can help repel insects).

B) Many plants grow better with the 'good neighbors', chemically speaking.

In our plans for the allotment garden and balcony, we've noticed that the bean is the star! :-) So, we're going to place the beans in the middle and surround it with vegetables that thrive with beans, for instance potatoes, carrots and chard.

Edit - March 29, 2016: Ai, ai, ai. I just got reminded that it is important to distinguish between different types of beans. I'm growing broad beans which are neither bush bean or pole bean. When it comes to companion planting, it seems the broad beans are closer to pole beans. 

Although the bush and pole beans share most of the same good neighbors, there are some crucial differences. While bush beans can be planted near beets, the pole beans should stay away. The same seems to apply for broad beans that should not be planted near beets.
Urban vegetable garden plan for the allotment
Urban vegetable garden plan for the allotment

Edit May 7, 2016: We had to make some adjustments in our plan for the allotment. We re-arranged things and found out that we can utilize the space much better if we place potatoes and beans on one side, and carrots, swiss chards, beets, radishes, lettuce, kohlrabi and onions at the other end.

The onion is a good neighbor to beets and kale. But the onion shouldn't be placed together with bush and pole beans. That's why we're placing the onion 'far' from the beans.

It's a puzzle, but a fun one :-)

Check out this companion table.

A tip is to sprinkle marigold between the rows. Marigold is supposed to be the good neighbor of all vegetables. As an example, the marigold repels the cabbage worm (a nasty one!) that attacks the plants in the cabbage family.1 It does not only deter insects, but also conceals the scent of the vegetables.

Another plant that can be useful against pest insects is the hyssop (a herb). It is supposed to repel cabbage butterflies and cabbage moth larvae. We're planning on planting hyssop next to the kale. Have in mind though that the hyssop shouldn't be near radishes.

Read: Using companion plants to control pests.

On our balcony, companion planting probably won't matter that much since we're planting the vegetables in separate pots, buckets and flower cases. But we will be placing tagetes plants close to the vegetables, to be on the safe side. Maybe the scent will repel the unwanted bugs.

Edit May 7, 2016: I've placed garlic here and there with the carrots, kale and lettuce to deter white flies and other pests. I hope that this will help.
Urban vegetable garden plan for the balcony
Urban vegetable garden plan for the balcony

We'll be covering them with garden fabric to avoid the worst pest insects like the cabbage worms and carrot flies. The cabbage worm does not only find the cabbage family tasty, but also radishes I'm afraid. To repel carrot flies, you should place chives or onions with the carrots.

Read: 10 ways to avoid carrot root fly.

What do you need? 

For seed planting:
  1. (Certified organic) seeds - can be bought at garden centers or online. Scandinavian readers: you can find organic vegetable seeds at solhatt.no and impecta.se. 
  2. Old milk cartons, old newspapers, plastic boxes, egg boxes
  3. (Certified organic) seed starting mix - stimulates seed germination
  4. A small spade
  5. Gloves (not necessary if you like to get your hands dirty ;)
  6. A pen
  7. A glass of water
  8. Garden labels
For repotting: 
  1. (Certified organic) potting soil 
  2. Pots or containers for herbs and salads. You can also plant salads in flower cases.
  3. Buckets (at least 10 liters) for planting radishes.
  4. Garden fabric (to avoid pest insects, to protect the plant from cold and harsh wind, and to prevent overheating)
  5. Watering can 

Keep track of what your plants need with sticky labels :-) Click here to find out more.

Continue to read:
Urban sustainability - what can consumers do?

The Harvest - urban farming project in Oslo.


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