Urban Gardening: You- Yes, YOU- Can Grow Food ANYwhere!

The whos, whats, whens, wheres, whys and hows of urban gardening…  with picture proof that you can do it!

Who?

YOU!  Your family, neighbors and friends.

What?

  • Growing your own food, herbs, spices and medicine
  • Supporting bee populations by planting flowers they can collect pollen from, and trees they can build hives in (Bee populations are collapsing, and without them plants can’t cross-pollinate)
  • Mulching and Composting to create fertile soil to use in garden beds or potted plants

When?

Why not now?

Where?

Any place you can find or put dirt.

  • If you have a yard, you’re already good to go.
  • If you live in an apartment or condo, you should be able to ask the property owner for permission to use a plot for growing.
  • If all else fails, buy some pots or make them out of used buckets or bottles.  You could also buy a large bin from a local home supply store.
  • Make the garden in your house, or on your porch or patio!

Why?

  • To eat better food- the radishes we grew last year were so much more sweeter and tangier than the ones I bought yesterday.
  • To avoid pesticides and GMO:  If you don’t put them, no one else will. Growing your own food gives you knowledge and control over what you and your loved ones put in and on their bodies
  • To save money- You can’t believe how many tomatoes a tomato patch can yield.  When we harvested, we HAD to give some away, eat some, then freeze the rest for later.
  • A new, healthy hobby- Gardening is VERY fulfilling, and hard work = good exercise!  Remember how fun it was play in the mud as a kid?  It still is!
  • Learn about nature and connect with the earth
  • Have food supplies in times of crisis- You never know!
  • Extra income- Sell your surplus at a farmer’s market!
  • Interior decorating- Beautify your living/work space with flowers, and remember that indoor plants naturally purify the air and increase oxygen!

How?

  • Tools you’ll need:  shovel, hoe, rake
  • Pots:  Buy some, or use any used buckets or bottles (a great way to recycle by the way)
  • Study the local climate to learn when is the best time to plant what, and how to plant it.  Ask a neighbor, elderly family member or anyone with experience farming or gardening for advice (a great way to make friends).  Buy the appropriate seeds and plant them!
  • To create the right soil, you could mulch or compost.  This basically means letting organic waste decompose in dirt, and then using that dirt, which will be very rich in nutrients, to plant in.  You can start by collecting all your organic waste- eggshells, food that has gone bad, coffee grounds, tea leaves, plant rinds, etc.- and burying it at the end of the day.  This should be done AWAY from your house, because it will attract bugs.  Make sure you cover each deposit well, so it will actually decompose, and not smell.

Our Experience with Urban Gardening

I live in an apartment complex in Saudi Arabia- not exactly the place you’d expect to be able to plant crops.  But you’d be surprised what you can grow here:

Beautiful flower bush in full bloom
Beautiful flower bush in full bloom
Henna tree (Where the body paint comes from)
Henna tree (Where the body paint comes from)
Ladybug in a berry patch in Jeddah, on the Red Sea coast across the peninsula from where I live near the Persian Gulf
Ladybug in a berry patch in Jeddah, on the Red Sea coast across the peninsula from where I live near the Persian Gulf

We’ve successfully planted and grown orange trees, lemon trees, garlic, potatoes, eggplant, chili peppers, radish, onions, tomatoes, coriander, aloe vera, basil, and various flowers.

A year ago this month I had two major setbacks:  tearing my achilles (unable to do work for 5 months) and was moved by my university from a house on the compound that had a yard, to an apartment complex.  At the same time, my wife was also pregnant with our 4th child, and summer was coming.  It wasn’t looking good for our garden…

2 1/2 months in a cast...
2 1/2 months in a cast…

But we found a few solutions.

1) Potted plants

When we tried to move our lemon and orange trees from the ground to pots, they died.  But we bought new ones, and they’re coming along:

Citrus sapling
Citrus sapling

We also have flowers and aloe vera in pots inside our house and on our patios:

Stairwell
Stairwell- Basil
Front patio
Front patio- Basil, Aloe Vera, etc.
Front Patio
Front Patio
20150214_163803
Staircase

 

Aloe vera, by the way, is a very effective medicine.  We use its juice for cuts, sunburn, rashes, and aftershave (no more razor bumps!)  It’s a hardy plant that just needs water, so I recommend it to everyone.

2) Find potential garden beds and use them

There are a lot of empty plots in the concrete around our house that weren’t being used.  The one right below our apartment is now growing flowers, coriander (which we just harvested), and eggplant.

20150214_125828

 

Another one nearby has chili peppers, garlic, onion, coriander, peppermint, and tomatoes.

20150214_125853

In the highest terrace, we just put two trees of a local species that bees like to use for hives.  We hope that they’ll also provide shade in the extremely hot Arabian summers when they mature.

They don’t look like they’re doing too well, but that usually happens when you re-pot plants.  As long as they bounce back before summertime, they should be fine.  If they don’t, we’ll try again.  You win some, you lose some, especially starting off.  It takes patience…

3) DIY Compost Heap

I just dug a compost bed this morning.  It was a sand bed full of rocks, concrete, glass, and some scary-looking red beetles!  My girls and I dumped out all the rocks and glass.

Little Gardeners in Training
Little Gardeners in Training

I had to take a hammer to the concrete (dumped there by local workers) and before shoveling it all out.  Then I dug up half of it, dumping the sand on the other side.

To compost, I’ll just take our day’s- or meal’s- organic leftovers or garbage, dump it on the sand, then bury it, like so:

1. Dig
1. Dig
20150214_134034
2. Dump

 

3.  Cover
3. Cover

By this fall- which is planting season here due to the extreme heat of summer- the waste should be decomposed.  We may or may not have to add dirt to it before using.  We’ll see.

4) Hire a gardener

OK, I cheated.

With me in crutches and then a cane, my wife in late pregnancy and then postpartum, we really couldn’t do anything.  Luckily, for us, we met a very man with an honorable disposition named Muhi adDeen who works as a groundskeeper on campus.  His expertise and willingness to help have been essential, and we hope he will continue to share his expertise with us and our children.

Me & Muhi-adDeen
Me & Muhi-adDeen

5) Use House Plants

These are usually very low maintenance- just flowers or vines that you have to water a few times a week.  If you travel, make sure you have a reliable neighbor take over while you’re gone.

Hanging Gardens of Dhahran
Hanging Gardens of Dhahran

20150214_164029

6) Harvest!

Look at the peppers my wife picked this afternoon (an essential ingredient in her native Punjabi cuisine):20150214_134316 20150214_134310It’s already paying off!

We’re open to suggestions.  Send yours in the comments and I’ll put them into the article.  Let’s learn and grow together!

 

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