I wish I could say that the journey to sustainability is easy. I wish I could just throw a few dollars at whatever problem comes up and watch it fix itself. Well, if there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few years doing this is that nothing worthwhile comes easy. It all has a price and if it can be paid with cash, consider yourself lucky, as most everything will cost most in time, patience, and sweat.
In our first year as what I like to think of as real-life urban farmers, we’ve learned a lot. Though most has been positive and we’ll bring it with us through the rest of the journey, some of it was a little bitter to swallow and will remain a burden with us until we learn how to turn it into a positive.
The following are some of the lessons I’ve learned while growing our urban garden. I’m not about to list them all, as that would take a lifetime, but I think we have more than enough time to list a few.
- Each and every plant is unique. They all need to be cared for and loved. I know it sounds ridiculous and teetering on some sort of hippie or Buddhist mantra, but it’s true. You’re an urban farmer, not a commercial farmer. You have the time and the ability to take time to learn what each plant needs to thrive. Spend that extra couple minutes with each plant. They’re feeding you, it’s the least you can do for them
- Vertical is the answer. Yes, we have our raised beds, but for some things, and as Green Living Technologies has proven, sometimes everything, vertical and rooftop gardening is the best way to get the most out of your small urban space. When most of us look at our yards, we see nothing more than limits, but most of us are only seeing our gardens in two dimensions forgetting about the endless third, up.
- There is no excuse for bad soil. Spend the money. Even if you have limited funds, save $200 to get a 5 or 6 yards of a good topsoil/compost mix. It pays for itself before you know it.
- There are people out there who will always tell you that you’re doing it wrong. Pardon my language, but fuck them. It’s your garden, do it your way. You also have to keep in mind that there’s a difference between constructive criticism and being an asshole. I might give you a few tips to improve your garden, but I’m not going to tell you that you’re doing it wrong.
- Flowers. So, you think flowers are for the ladies, well you need to put on your man pants and understand that flowers are for the bees and all the other insects in the garden. The marigold is a great example. They draw in both aphids and the ladybugs who eat the aphids. Now, wouldn’t you rather them be eating your marigolds than your nightshades? I thought so. The right flowers also draw in pollinators.
- Honeybees are your best friends. If it wasn’t for the bees, you would end up with a garden full of nothing. Don’t use any chemicals, don’t step on them, and don’t whack them with a newspaper. They’re helping you.
- Rotation. I don’t want to hear about anyone planting tomatoes in the same place as the year before expecting the same results. It’s not going to happen. You’re only making them more susceptible to soil-born insects and fungi that you would rather not have in your food. Plant something else there. You shouldn’t plant anything in the same spot more than once every 3-4 years.
- Have fun. Are you running a sprinkler to water your plants on a hot day? Run through it with them. You only live once.