In Field Guide to Urban Gardening, author Kevin Espiritu of Epic Gardening shares the basics of growing plants, offers tips on how to choose the right urban gardening method, and troubleshoots the most common problems you’ll encounter. If you think it’s impossible to grow your own food because you don’t have a large yard or you live in the city…think again. There is a plethora of urban gardening options to create beautiful, productive edible gardens no matter where you live. The key to succeeding as an urban gardener is to choose the method(s) that make sense for your unique living situation and then give your plants what they need to thrive. Kevin helps you do just that. But he doesn’t stop there. He also provides in-depth garden plans, from upcycled DIY projects and intensive hydroponic systems to beautiful and functional raised beds. Urban gardening is a real, growing, and important movement in today’s world. This fact-packed book is your roadmap to get growing today. Urban gardening techniques featured include:
- Container Gardening
- Raised Beds
- Indoor Edibles
- Balconies and Rooftops
|Publisher:||Cool Springs Press|
|Product dimensions:||7.90(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Kevin Espiritu is an urban gardener, plant lover, and the founder of Epic Gardening, a website dedicated to a goal of teaching 10,000,000 people around the world how to grow their own plants. He focuses on practical growing methods and demystifying all of the complex terminology and processes into simple, easy-to-follow guides.
Read an Excerpt
I know you're tempted to dive right into the garden plans. And if you're an experienced gardener, be my guest. But for new gardeners, or anyone in need of a brush up, check out this chapter, in which you'll learn:
How to audit your living space and select the right methods for you
How plants use light, water, air, and nutrients
Epic DIY soil mixes to fit any budget
Whether you should start seeds or buy transplants
Understanding these foundational principles will help you be a better gardener from the very beginning. So let's get started.
What Kind of Home Do You Live In?
To some degree, where you live will determine the limits of what you can grow. If you're living in a cozy apartment in the middle of the city, you have fewer growing options than if you're living in a single-family home in the suburbs. Don't be discouraged, though. You have fewer options, but you do have options.
Apartments and Condos
If you're living in a small apartment or condo, don't despair. There's plenty you can grow. The key to gardening in these spaces is making the best use of the limited space you have. Restrictions breed creativity, and I've found some of the most innovative gardening methods are ones created by apartment and condo gardeners.
balcony and patio gardening
Growing vertically using rain gutters, hanging baskets, and balcony railings are all wonderful ways to squeeze delicious harvests (and beautiful plants) out of your space. If you're adventurous, you can even set up hydroponic systems that allow you to grow just about anything you could grow outdoors in a raised bed.
Townhomes offer slightly more space, and thus, more options. A typical townhome is multilevel and connected to another unit on at least one side, so you're still not completely free when it comes to outdoor growing space.
However, most townhomes have larger front and back patios, which means you can experiment with growing methods that require a bit more space. These include container gardening and raised bed gardening.
Both of these methods allow you to grow just about anything you'd normally grow in the ground and are often easier to maintain. You'll have fewer pest and disease issues and more control over your growing environment, which means larger, healthier harvests for you.
Finally, we get to the single-family home. Houses are the big kahuna of gardening spaces for most urban dwellers and offers the most flexibility as far as space and growing methods.
All of the methods I'll cover in this book are available to you if you're living in a single-family home, but I recommend picking and choosing carefully because it's easy to be overwhelmed when starting out. Pick one or two growing methods and dive in deep instead of experimenting with all of them. You'll have better results, and you can always add more methods as you gain growing experience.
Like any budding movement, urban gardening is facing its fair share of growing pains. Because cities, homeowners' associations (HOAs), and even our neighbors are used to urban landscapes looking a certain way, it's not uncommon to run into issues when you try to start growing your own food at home.
The zoning of your property will dictate what you're allowed to do on it gardening-wise. Most of you reading this book will be within a residential zone, which is typically the most restrictive when it comes to urban agriculture.
If you're gardening in your yard for your own personal use (or even giving away produce to family and friends), you usually won't run into a zoning issue. If your garden starts to look like a commercial operation, however, zoning issues might come up.
Unfortunately, there's no cut-and-dried answer when it comes to zoning. Every city has different rules, sometimes down to the type of residential zoning. I encourage you to look up your city's General Plan or check out online resources for your city ordinances.
Even if you do this, the answer is still somewhat unclear. Local ordinances aren't very clear on what you can and cannot do on your property. While I recommend you give your local ordinances a read-through, in the end it often comes down to common sense. If you're growing food for yourself and friends and not being a nuisance while you do it, you should be good to grow.
If you live in a residence that is governed by a homeowners' association, you may be frustrated to find that the regulations ban you from using your home to grow food, even if it's for personal consumption.
You'll know if you're allowed to grow food on your property by reading through the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs). The CC&Rs outline what you can and cannot do with your property, along with the punishments for breaking the rules.
Here are a few common situations to look for in the covenants and rules that may prohibit front-yard urban gardening:
restricts business activities
prohibits agricultural use of your yard
sets appearance standards for a yard, such as requiring a lawn
If you see one of these types of rules in your CC&Rs, don't despair. There are a few ways you can get around it. For instance, in California, homeowners' associations are prohibited from making rules that prevent a homeowner from planting plants with low water requirements. Although most veggies wouldn't be classified as low-water plants, there are certainly some that are, such as:
On top of that, courts often don't enforce rules and covenants put in place by homeowners' associations if they conflict with public policy. As of right now, it's unclear whether "growing food" is a right or a matter of public policy, which is a shame. Let's hope this changes in the future.
In the end, if you're living in a property that's governed by an HOA, make sure you read the CC&Rs carefully and weigh the risk of growing in a way that might violate the rules.
Protecting Your Garden
It's a sad reality, but gardens can often be the target of passersby looking for some free produce. Most of my neighbors admire my garden and take the time to point it out as they walk past, but every so often I catch someone stealing a tomato or pepper that I've put months of effort into growing. It's frustrating, to say the least, so here are some of my strategies for preventing theft from two-legged garden predators.
Light Up Your Garden
Most theft or vandalism takes place under cover of darkness. Pick up some outdoor solar lights and install a few of them throughout your garden to illuminate it at night. I've found simply being visible discourages many would-be thieves.
It may seem extreme, but if your garden is accessible from the sidewalk without a physical barrier, erecting one will drastically reduce theft and vandalism. Get creative with your fencing. Here are a few ideas for you:
Bamboo fencing is inexpensive and attractive.
Old logs lining your garden discourage foot traffic.
Cages and trellises act as support for your plants and a passive barrier to passersby.
Put Up a Sign
Sometimes all it takes is a little human touch to discourage theft or vandalism. Putting up a simple sign that politely asks passersby to "Look, but not touch" is all you need. Nongardeners are often unaware of the time and love that goes into caring for plants and they may not realize the damage they're causing by messing with your garden.
Green Thumb Basics
Before I get into the nitty-gritty details of urban gardening methods, it's important to understand some of the basics of growing plants. If you're already an experienced gardener, feel free to skip this section, although a refresher course never hurts. If you're new to growing plants or are a self-proclaimed "brown thumb," read this section carefully.
Instead of only giving you step-by-step information, I want you to "see behind the curtain" and truly understand how plants grow. If you understand the why, it'll be easier for you to come up with the how as you grow as a gardener.
How to Know What to Plant ... and When to Plant It
The question I've been asked the most often over the years is, "What should I plant, and when should I plant it?"
Those are great questions. Without knowing the answers, you can't even begin to grow anything. You'll end up planting plants that aren't suited for your region or for the season, and your results will be disappointing.
As you might imagine, not all climates are created equal. In San Diego, where I live, the climate is sunny and temperate for most of the year. Sounds great, right? In theory, yes, but there are also some downsides. During unusually hot winters, I'll have a hard time growing veggies that are classic winter crops, such as broccoli and cauliflower. The temperatures are simply too high for those plants to form a tight, compact head.
While I may have a year-round growing season in my area, it comes at the cost of not being able to grow certain crops that actually prefer a cold season.
The takeaway here is that where you live in large part dictates what you can grow. In the United States, geographic regions are broken down into USDA Plant Hardiness Zones. Zones are split up by 10ºF differences in their average annual minimum temperature. Lower numbers have lower minimum temperatures, and higher numbers have higher minimum temperatures.
The system gets a bit more complex with the addition of "a" and "b" subsections in each zone, representing 5°F differences in average annual minimum temperatures. For example, Zone 5a has an average annual minimum temperature of -20ºF to -15ºF, while Zone 10b (my zone) has an average annual minimum temperature of 35ºF to 40ºF.
To further complicate the matter, each hardiness zone has "first and last frost dates." These dates refer to the first and last days that you'll have killing frosts, on average, in your region. The terminology is a bit confusing, however.
The first day you can plant in the ground is equal to your last frost date.
The last day you can harvest your crops is equal to your first frost date.
To start with, look up your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone (planthardiness.ars.usda.gov) online to get a sense of your growing season. For example, if you live in Zone 6, your last frost is usually March 16 to 30 and your first frost is usually November 1 to 15, giving you an eight-month growing season.
WHAT TO DO ONCE YOU KNOW YOUR HARDINESS ZONE
The most important thing to know about your zone is this: It's just a general guideline. Zones don't take into account your local conditions. All they do is help you figure out the "bookends" of when you can and cannot garden in your region.
Later on, I'll discuss microclimates and crop protection in order to extend your growing season and grow crops that you "shouldn't" be able to grow in your zone.
GROWING OUTSIDE OF THE USA?
The important takeaway from this hardiness zone section is that your climate will determine if you can grow a plant in your region — and when you can grow it. But what if you're living outside of the United States? My number one tip would be to consult local resources to see if there's an equivalent of the USDA system in your country. However, if you're up for a little online searching, you may be able to find this information yourself – the USDA system has been mapped to most countries on Earth.
Here are a few additional resources for you:
Australia: Australia lies in zones 7 through 12, according to the USDA system, although the Australian National Botanic Gardens have created their own adaptation which you can view online.
Canada: The government of Canada has put together a similar system called the Plant Hardiness Zones of Canada, which you can look at online.
United Kingdom: The Royal Horticultural Society has a system ranging from H1a (Zone 13 equivalent) to H7 (Zone 5 equivalent). Most of the United Kingdom is within Zones 8 to 10 on the USDA scale. Getting Started
What Plants Need to Survive
Plants are similar to us in terms of what they require to live, such as:
Over millions of years, certain plants have adapted to specific geographic or environmental areas, meaning they require different amounts of each of these fundamental ingredients. Many beginning gardeners go wrong by giving all of their plants exactly the same growing conditions.
As a gardener, you must remember that you're growing plants outside of their natural environment. You have to give your plants the growing conditions they're used to if you want them to thrive.
Do you remember learning about photosynthesis in school (but maybe not making too much sense of it)? It's probably due to the fact that it looked like this:
That's a lot of numbers and letters if you ask me. Here's a simpler explanation:
Plants use light, water, and carbon dioxide to make sugar, which is converted into ATP (the stuff that fuels all living things) during cellular respiration.
As long as you give your plants light, they'll grow just fine, right? Not quite. The quality, quantity, and duration of light your plants receive drastically affects their growth rate.
One glance at a gorgeous rainbow and it's clear that "white" light is composed of different colors. What if I told you that your precious plants have an appetite for specific colors of light more than others?
When we talk about light as gardeners, we are most interested in the range of light known as photosynthetically active radiation. This is the range between 400 to 735 nanometers, encompassing the full spectrum of visible light.
Plants love light in the purple/ blue (400 to 490 nanometers) range early in their life, when they're putting out lots of branches and leaves. As they move toward flowering and fruiting, they require more yellow, orange, and red light (580 to 735 nanometers) range.
If you're growing outdoors, this progression happens naturally over the course of a season, so you don't need to worry about it too much. However, if space is limited and you're growing indoors under lights, you'll need to adjust the color temperature of the lights under which you're growing. I'll get deeper into this in the hydroponics chapter.
Now that we know the spectrum of light plants prefer, we need to look at how much of that light they want. Whether you're growing outdoors under the sun or indoors under grow lights, there are two acronyms to understand:
PPF (Photosynthetic Photon Flux): How much light is emitted per second by a light source
PPFD (Photosynthetic Photon Flux Density): How many photons are delivered per second over a meter squared, at a specific distance
I know this sounds intense, but it's very important to understand as far as how plants use light. Think of light as billions of little raindrops hitting the surface of your plant's leaves. When talking about the quantity of light, this is what we mean. How densely packed are the photons that the plant is using during the process of photosynthesis?
Growing outdoors has its challenges. Shade, overcast days, or a neighbor's tree blocking your property can all get in the way of providing enough light to your plants. Many gardeners opt to grow indoors because they can more finely control the amount of light they give their plants.
If you're planning to start your gardening adventure outdoors, don't fear. In later chapters, I'll get into where you should locate your garden to take full advantage of the sun.
Some plants like a bit more light than others. Some have crucial processes that can only take place when it's dark. Others still can be run under twenty-four-hour grow lights and grow vigorously. The most important thing to know about your plants and light is how much they want in a given day. Usually this is given in a number of hours per day, but if you want to get nerdy, what we're really talking about is the daily light integral.
The daily light integral is the amount of light that a particular plant can accumulate in a twenty-four-hour period. The DLI, which I'll refer to in colloquial terms as a number of hours of light per day, will depend on both where the plant naturally evolved, as well as the developmental stage that plant is in. For example, spinach can get away with about four to five hours of light per day while tomatoes suck up at least eight hours.
Like us, plants are mostly water. In fact, the aptly named watermelon is 92 percent water. For reference, you and I are only around 60 percent water.
Water is used in nearly every process a plant undergoes, from photosynthesis to remaining stiff and upright. For now, all you need to know about water is that having too much or too little of it is the number-one problem most new gardeners face.
A good rule of thumb is to check the soil daily when first starting out. Put a finger a few inches into the soil and check for moisture. Generally speaking, plants need water when the soil is dry about 2 to 3 inches deep. Over time you'll develop a sense for watering, but at the beginning it's better to overcheck than undercheck.
If you think of photosynthesis as a manufacturing process, one of the raw inputs is carbon dioxide. And where is carbon dioxide found in abundance, especially in modern times? In the air. Plants take in carbon dioxide via their stomata and use it in many life processes.
There's another part of a plant that loves air, which is a plant's root system. Roots love oxygen, as it allows them to collect both water and nutrients from the soil. You might be surprised to know that a plant can actually drown if the roots aren't given enough oxygen. I'll get more into how to avoid that in the soil section.
What about wind? Wind can either be a great benefit or a bane to your plants. Wind helps cool plants down, reduces the occurrences of fungal diseases, and strengthens a plant's structure. At the same time, too much wind can dry a plant out too much, throw weed seeds everywhere, or even break stems.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Field Guide to Urban Gardening"
Copyright © 2019 Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc..
Excerpted by permission of The Quarto Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Why Urban Gardening? 7
My Story 9
About This Book 10
Urban Garden Gallery 13
1 Getting Started
What Kind of Home Do You Live In? 22
Urban Gardening Regulations 24
Protecting Your Garden 26
Green Thumb Basics 28
2 Container Gardening
Container Materials 60
Filling Your Containers with Soil 67
Where to Place Your Containers 68
Which Plants Do Well in Containers? 69
Keeping Your Containers Well Watered 70
Fertilizing Your Container Plants 73
Caring for Your Container Garden 74
Sub-Irrigated Two-Liter Bottle Gardens 77
Self-Watering 5-Gallon Bucket 78
Upcycled Container Garden 81
3 Raised Bed Gardening
The Many Advantages of Raised Beds 84
Raised Bed Materials 86
Constructing the Bed 88
Planting Your Beds 90
Protecting Your Precious Plants 92
How to Harvest Week After Week 94
Maintaining Your Beds Year After Year 96
Dead-Simple Raised Bed 98
Masonry Raised Bed 101
Classic Raised Bed 102
4 Vertical Gardening
Where to Build Your Vertical Garden 106
How Plants Climb 107
The Many Ways to Grow Vertically 110
Heavy-Duty Modular Trellis 113
Repurposed Hanging Shoe Rack 114
Rain Gutter Garden 116
5 Indoor Edibles
Audit Your Growing Space 120
Kitchen Herbs: Bring Some Spice to Your Home 122
Mason Jar Herb Garden 123
Microgreens: Nature's Little Secret 124
Growing Microgreens from Start to Finish 126
How to Solve Common Microgreen Problems 130
Which Microgreens Should I Grow? 132
6 Balconies and Rooftops
Balcony Gardening 136
Rooftop Gardening 144
History of Hydroponics 152
Why Grow in a Hydroponic System? 152
Fundamental Hydroponic Principles 153
Hydroponic Nutrients 156
Hydroponic Growing Media 159
Growing Under Artificial Lighting 162
Building Successful Hydroponic Systems 168
Deep Water Culture Herb Tote 171
Compact Ebb and Flow Table 178
Sit-on-Top NFT Channel System 185
Aeroponic Bucket System 190
8 Growing Problems
Metric Conversions 219
About the Author 221
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
There’s a lot of good information and tidbits stuffed into one tidy book. No matter how small the space, food or flowers can be grown there. Kevin Espiritu shows us how to leverage small spaces and choose the right methods and gardening tools for success. I am pleased I picked up this book. There are a lot of great photos, great designs and great ideas for the urban gardener.
This book has some great tips and how-tos for everyone who may be pressed for space with their garden. I'm looking forward to implementing some of what I learned in my garden soon.
I LOVED everything about this book! Beautiful photographs, written simply, gives enough informations and visual support for anyone to feel prepared to venture into the world of gardening! I have been gardening since I was a kid, yet, it was something that was passed down from generation to generation without much science to it. This book gives me enough science to boost my gardening skills by a lot without feeling overwhelmed. I will still very likely not immediately jump into hydroponics, but I am glad to know it is a possibility! I appreciate the review of a variety of containers commonly used for gardening - what is safe vs what should be avoided. I would highly recommend this book!