2. Step by step – Build your own from the ground UP!
2.1 – Identify an adequate location and the different resources available
Where to start? What is already there?
What skills and resources already exist in the community that can help to organize and create the garden?
- Contact local municipal planners about possible sites, as well as horticultural and environmental organizations for information and assistance.
- Take a look at you community for people with knowledge in landscape design, gardening, farming and other experiences.
Keep in mind, in this pamphlet we focus on land-based community gardens, however, you can also think creatively, as community gardens can appear in a number of places besides a standard plot of land.
So, where are some places we can start gardening? A yard, a balcony, a roof, a south-facing window, even a basement apartment can be suitable locations to farm enough vegetables. For community gardens, choose open spaces with ample soil and sunshine. In either case, ensure that the garden gets at least 6 hours of direct light each day. The more sun, the better your garden will grow.
Rooftops, courtyards, and abandoned municipal lots are probably the most common place for Urban Community Gardens. If these larger open spaces aren’t available, consider starting smaller gardens in your home balcony or basement and establishing a community cooperative based on what each other is growing. This is a great opportunity to work with people in your community to start a group project to beautify your neighbourhood.
What do I need? The Elements of Gardening!
Earth (soil/compost), Air (aeration), Water (plant food), Fire (sunlight) are the basic essentials to keeping your plants alive and fruitful. Not mention there are some tools and techniques that will turn your gardens and gardeners in to a success!
Some gardens and plants need more or less sun than others. It’s an important to design your garden according to the area’s amount of sun exposure. Here’s are some tips on what to look for in regards to determining sunlight exposure on your garden.
• Full Sun: when an area gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight.
• Partial Sun/Partial Shade: when an area that gets 3 to 6 hours of sun. Partial sun is when be the area that gets about to 6 hours of sun; and partial shade is when an area gets closer to 3 hours of sun and is also protected from the strong afternoon sun. It could also be classified as Dappled Sun, meaning the sun is filtered through trees, bushes, or some other form of obstruction.
• Shade/Full Shade: a shaded garden receives less than 3 hours of direct sunlight each day, and the majority of direct sun appears in the early morning, late afternoon or dappled through the day. Full shade is an area that doesn’t get any direct sun exposure, but possibly receives bright, indirect light.
IMPORTANT: read the tag or label on every plant or seed package before you buy it. There you will find information about the sun exposure requirements for the plant.
Besides the soil, water is the most essential element to plants. Improper watering can cause plants to poorly produce. It’s not just drought conditions that can cause a problem. Too much water can be as harmful as too little. Too much water can squeeze air out of the soil, causing poor plant growth.
Water Theory: it’s a common misconception that watering every day is a good idea, but watering infrequently and deeply is essential. Roots will follow water deep into the dirt and these plants will be more likely to survive a drought. Frequent light waterings only moisten the top of the soil. Considering that roots follow the water the plant is more likely to suffer water stress due to the shallow roots.
When to water? There are two primary ways to determine whether plants need to be watered:
- Check the leaves: typically if the leaves are wilting then it is time to water. However, knowing the habits of individual plants is important. For example, the leaves of an eggplant will wilt in the summer heat and this doesn’t necessarily mean it need to be watered. In that case there is an alternative to determining if it’s time to water.
- Check the soil: if the plants aren’t indicating it’s time to water, the soil will. You can also stick your finger in the soil. Dig down 7 to 10 centimetres into the soil and see if it’s still dry. If so, it’s time to water.
Watering Methods: using efficient watering systems not only will be better for the plant, it can save water and money for you. Here are some common methods of watering.
- Hand water: hand watering with a hose or water can, proves to be one of the less efficient methods in watering because there is a high risk of unequal distribution of water. The most efficient way to hand water is to create a basin near each plant or row and fill it with water. Let it sink in, then move to the next basin. This is best done when plants are small.
- Sprinklers: this is easier than hand watering, but it should be done in the morning so the leaves dry before evening. Wet plants at night are an at risk of disease.
- Drip irrigation: this is the most costly, yet more efficient way of watering the garden. Drip irrigation provides a constant light flow of water near the roots of the plant. It’s costly because of the parts involved and can required maintenance from time to time.
- Mulch: though not a watering system per se, mulch is critical to conserving soil moisture and keeping the water hungry weeds away. One can easily make their own organic mulches from materials like straw, pine straw, bark mulch and untreated grass clippings. Mulch reduce the amount of watering and weeding necessary.
• Potting soil: for those who primarily use containers to grow in their urban or community garden, one option is to use potting soil. Potting soil consists of peat moss, pine bark, and either perlite or vermiculite (to provide air space). Especially if you are unsure of your native soil quality, buying or making your own potting soil can be a good option. Potting soil also tends to be quite lighter than native soil, therefore making it easier to carry around the garden. Potting soil not only is lighter, but also more aerated leading to less risk of root rot in potted plants.
• Native Soil: especially with larger gardens, buying potting soil may be a bit too expensive and making your own may be too time consuming of labour intensive and native soil may be the best choice. Plus it’s always preferable to use what is already there if possible.
Soil Check! Before using native soil one should to check the soil quality. It is important to check certain aspects of the spoil before beginning your garden, such as the nutrients which are present or need to be enriched, the pH levels, and also levels of contamination (particularly in urban gardens). There are various methods to approach these issues, however, in many municipalities urban and community garden projects can actually apply to receive professional help on testing the soil quality. Also, other techniques such as building a ‘raised bed’, growing in boxes, bottles, buckets or pots are ways to have better control over the quality of soil in your garden.
- Composting: composting requires making a pile of moist organic matter known as green waste (leaves, food waste) and then waiting for the materials to break down after some weeks or months.
Mixing compost with your soil is an easy and natural way to enrich your soil. And it’s a nice solution for your household organic waste.
On can easily construct a compost bin out of household items and keep it in or outdoors all year long depending on your local weather. Just be careful what you put in the compost. Typically animal products, waste, or other rotten foods should not go in your compost bin.
Selecting Seeds and Crops:
- When choosing seeds, choose organic if possible.
- Do your research and make sure you choose crops appropriate for your climate and environment.
- Much is possible, even in small space so don’t get discouraged if you want to grow lots of healthy food, but don’t have much space! In small urban gardens, consider growing an assortment herbs in a pot together. Actually, most any vegetable will grow in a container. Leafy greens are usually the most nutritious crops you can grow just about anywhere.
- If you are concerned about contaminated soil, fruiting trees and plants are usually the best choice, whereas, root vegetable like potatoes and carrots are not appropriate for potentially contaminated soil.
- Pruning Shears
- Gardening knife
- Garden rake
- Watering can
- Plant Markers
BE SUSTAINABLE! Choose quality tools. Keep them sharp, clean and in good repair so they last a long time.
2.2 – Engage your community
- Begin by bringing people and different organizations together to learn which issues are important for the community.
- Discuss how a community garden – whether it is a communal space, individual plots, or some other type of community cooperative – can satisfy the needs of the local community.
- If you decide that a community garden will benefit the community, collaborate on ideas and goals through regular community meetings.
- Develop a plan of action.
- Get people energized and organized.
- Implement the plan and enjoy the fruits of your labour.
Importance of the discourse and consultation of all the participants and interests in the project
To enhance a collective dynamic, pedagogical and fostering envy project, a sense of creative agency must be upheld for all the contributors. To get the support from the responsible people in the community and be assured that the garden will meet the needs of the people, some or all of the following steps below are necessary:
- Develop a plan of the project. Before engaging the community, you should make a plan first. Give your contributors something to work with right away.
- Consultation with officials of the community. Talk to the municipal officials in the community with the plan of the community garden. Get the approval from the responsible people and ask for suggestions of the location of the garden.
- Consultation of the people in the community. Make a date to meet with all the people in the community. Talk about the project with them and ask for suggestions of the project like which kind of garden they want to start ,what kind of plants, and how to get people energized and organized in the community garden.
2.3 – Design your garden
Decide what you want to grow
It’s better to grow vegetables that continue to produce after first harvest. Here are 8 vegetables we can grow easily and just about anywhere.
You can regrow scallions by leaving an inch attached to the roots and place them in a small glass with a little water in a well-lit room.
When garlic begins to sprout, you can put them in a glass with a little water and grow garlic sprouts. The sprouts have a mild flavor then garlic and can be added to salads, pasta and other dishes.
Bok Choy can be regrown by placing the root end in water in a well-lit area. In 1-2 weeks, you can transplant it to a pot with soil and grow a full new head.
Put carrot tops in a dish with a little water. Set the dish in a well-lit room or a window sill. You’ll have carrot tops to use in salads. Better yet, if you don’t cut back the new growth you’ll end up with flowers which turn to seeds from which you can grow a new crop and then repeat again and again.
Put clippings from basil with 3 to 4-inch stems in a glass of water and place it in direct sunlight. When the roots are about 2 inches long, plant them in pots to and in time it will grow a full basil plant.
Cut off the base of the celery and place it in a saucer or shallow bowl of warm water in the sun. Leaves will begin to thicken and grow in the middle of the base, then transfer the celery to soil.
Put romaine lettuce stumps in a 1/2 inch of water. Re-water to keep water level at 1/2 inch. After a few days, roots and new leaves will appear and you can transplant it into soil.
The stems of cilantro will grow when placed in a glass of water. Once the roots are long enough, plant them in a pot in a well-lit room. You will have a full plant in a few months.
Select the containers or the open space for potting or planting
How to plant depends on what you decide to plant. Most plants can be grown in plastic bottles, flower pots, old shoes, used cups or even some cans. But if u want to grow more, you can pick some bigger containers.
For community gardens, an empty wall facing to the sun, an open plot of dirt or even just an open area with pallets are all good options
Useful materials for potting and planting
- potting soil
- standard gardening pots
- plastic bottles
old shoes, cups or umbrellas
- Wooden pallets
The possibilities with pallets: fences, sheds, vertical and horizontal beds.
When designing your garden, wooden pallets can become one of your most useful building materials. Wooden pallets are an easily accessible, cheap, and, in many cases, a free material which is perfect for building garden fences, sheds and other vertical/ horizontal garden bed structures. The easiest way to get a hold of pallets is by asking local store owners if you can take their pallets leftover form large deliveries. Usually, it costs the store money to dispose of the pallets anyways so in many cases they are happy to give them away instead. Now use your imagination and put to good use the power of the pallet!
A practical example: square foot gardening
Square foot gardening is the practice of partitioning a growing area into small, typically 12’x12’ (30x30cm) square sections (12’ equaling one foot, hence the name). The aim is to help in the creation of a small but efficient vegetable garden. The result is a simple and orderly garden. Sound appealing? You can use a 30 x 30cm square with a grid that divided it into 9 squares with equal lengths of 4 feet on each side.
To encourage a variety of different crops over time, each square would be used for a different kind of plant, the number of plants per square depending on an individual plant’s size. For example, a single tomato plant might take a full square, as might herbs such as oregano, basil or mint, while most strawberry plants could be planted four per square, and up to sixteen per square of plants such as radishes. Tall or climbing plants such as maize or pole or beans might be planted in a northern row (south in the southern hemisphere) so as not to shade other plants, and supported with lattice or netting.
How To build a Square Foot Garden? It’s Simple!!!
- Step 1: Build a ‘raised bed’ out of cement bricks, pallets, or whatever else you can find that seems appropriate.
- Step 2: Create a grid that divides you garden into ‘square foot’ sections. 4 x 4 or less is best! Nobody has arms long enough to reach further than that!
- Step 3: Fill with soil
- Step 4: Start planting! Plant an appropriate number of seeds in in each square and remember to research your seeds needs in regards to space, watering, sunlight, depth…etc.
Basic guidelines to seed spacing in a Square foot Garden for plants that typically require…
- 12 inches of spacing = 1 per Square
- 6 inch spacing = 4 per Square
- 4 inch spacing = 9 per square
- 3 inch spacing = 16 per square
Hopefully you are now with the a basic understanding of what it takes to create an Urban Community Garden and you are excited to enact the power of plants. Read on! Here you can discover real life examples of different community garden projects from around the world!