116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
One of the biggest obstacles to growing your own fruits and veggies is having the right - and enough - space. If you have a stretch of big, open, sunny backyard, no problem. But most of us are not so blessed.
We struggle with shade, which is a problem since vegetables need lots of sun (at least six and preferably at least eight hours of direct sun a day). We also struggle with finding enough space, and creating the excellent soil that results in healthy plants and great harvests.
Consider some of the following:
' The front yard. One of the most overlooked spaces for growing edibles is the front. People feel that front yards need to be all show, no production. But as long as you keep the garden meticulously tended, it will look good all year long. Put some effort into the design. Lay out, say, a series of formal raised beds with attractive paths. And use attractive materials for supports and materials to prevent it from looking junkie.
' Go vertical. Just a one foot by one foot square of soil will yield an enormous amount when you train a plant upward. Plant some green beans in this space and you'll have enough for a family of four from later summer through frost.
Provide a trellis, or do it along an existing fence, the railing of your deck, a porch, alongside the house or garage, or even up the kids' play structure. Pole beans, cucumbers, small squash, peas, and tomatoes all are excellent for training up a pole or trellis.
' Use containers. Invest in a grouping of large (think whiskey barrel-sized) containers or build large planters and even gardeners in urban settings can grow beautiful vegetables. Put them by a back door, a front step or side entry, a balcony, out by the parking garage, or even a fire escape.
' Lettuces, herbs, sweet and hot peppers, are excellent choices. For larger plants, such as tomatoes, choose 'patio” types especially bred for growing in the confines of a pot.
' Talk to your landlord. Some are very open to you growing vegetables and other edibles around the apartment building or any outlying spot on the apartment grounds. Especially if you promise to tuck in some flowers, many landlords will be open to this idea.
Also, have an exit plan. Put it in writing that you will clear and reseed the area (assuming it's grass) when your lease expires.
' Borrow a garden. If you don't have space for a garden exactly where you live, talk to a neighbor, a friend, a significant other, or parent or other relative. Many people are happy to let you tend a plot of veggies on their land as long as you share the bounty.
' Check out community or rental gardens. These are often available for a tiny fee. Check with city offices, your county extension agent, local garden centers, or local food cooperatives. They often know where these gardens are located and how to secure a plot.
' Consider a plot by railroad tracks. Contact the county or city office and they can put you in touch with the railroad company that owns the land on either side of the tracks. Many have a rental program in place, or will just tell you to go ahead and plant as long as it's nothing permanent and nothing taller than a few feet so views aren't blocked.
' Your church, school, or other community center. Talk to administrators there about creating a community garden space that many can share in.
Think creatively and you're sure to find just the right place to grow your own food.
Veronica Lorson Fowler is co-publisher of The Iowa Gardener website at theiowagardener.com.