Introduction: 40+ Hacks for YOU (the Urban Gardener)
So you live in the city.
You have a busy job...
You're not home a lot...
You go out on the weekends...
You have no space to start a garden...
You don't even have a yard...
These are all urban gardening problems (and preventions from having a garden in the city), right?
Well, not anymore! Here are 40+ urban gardening life hacks that leave you with no excuses! So go start the garden you've always wanted :)
Let's get your green thumb on...
Step 1: Garbage Smoothie
Before we can begin gardening, we need a recipe for compost. Because whether you're farming inside, on the patio, or on a large plot of land, you need a good compost to energize and invigorate your soil and, thus, your plants.
But when you're working all day and living in a city, who has time or space to keep a compost pile for months or years? Can you imagine what the neighbors would say (and smell)!?
Enter: INSTANT COMPOST. Aka: the Garbage Smoothie.
This is just super easy and can be done with every breakfast you make. ;)
Supplies and Ingredients:
Coffee grinds and residue
*IMPORTANT NOTE: If you don't have a high-speed blender like a Vitamix, you may have to chop up the banana peels before putting them into your blender. One member experienced their blender burning out from the whole banana peel getting stuck in the blade. Just be aware when blending this concoction. (It may also help to put the water and other ingredients in first before the peels. Maybe this would help keep the blade lubricated while blending something tougher like a banana peel? It might also help by not having the banana peel down in the blade first.) Thank you member LaM9 for this important note.
Put all of the ingredients into your blender and blend for 1-3 minutes. You can play around with the amounts of each ingredient as you see fit, but this mix is pretty forgiving. Just throw in however much you already have of each. For the water, fill it up until it's thin enough for you to pour easily.
How to Use it:
Dump your garbage smoothie into a water can (or an alternate DIY water can from the next step) that either has bigger holes or one large hole. Or add more water to your mix to make it run easily through your normal watering can's holes. Sprinkle it across your garden, over the pots in your house or on your patio, or on any plants that need a pick-me-up.
The benefits of eggshells and coffee grinds are featured in the following steps of this 'ible. But...
Here are the benefits of banana peels for your garden:
Banana peels contain the following nutrients, which are beneficial to your garden in the following ways (from: http://themicrogardener.com/diy-fertilisers-how-to...)...
1. Potassium – helps promote general plant vigour; helps build up resistance to pest and disease; necessary in fruit development; is involved in regulating around 50 enzymes in a plant and relates to the turgor (or uprightness of stems and the thickness of cell walls) i.e. plant strength! This is extremely important for plants like staghorns which literally hang onto tree trunks in nature and vertical veggies like shallots, leeks and fruiting crops.
2. Phosphorus – strongly influences fruiting and flowering; is essential for good root and shoot growth; pollination; and is very important in seed germination and viability.
3. Calcium – the most important mineral in the soil and known as the ‘Trucker of all minerals;’ is the ‘ingredient’ of cell walls concerned with root development and growing stem points and helps ‘open up’ soil to allow more oxygen.
NOTE 1: Don't worry about the fact that you're blending this concoction in your regular household blender...It looks grosser then it really is. If you think about it, these are all natural items you use otherwise (it's not like you're grinding up bugs and worms, dirt, moldy trash, disease-infested water, etc). If it really drives you nuts, go to your local thrift store and pick up a blender that's specifically only for making your instant compost.
NOTE 2: "The mixture isn't technically compost yet, so it might not see immediate benefits. However, breaking down the raw materials in a blender will let mother nature decompose them faster, and your garden will reap the rewards without any additional work since the entire process is happening within the soil. Do this for a few weeks, and you should start noticing more earthworms and healthier plants." (From: http://lifehacker.com/5994471/blend-your-old-food-...)
Step 2: Gatorade...H20!
To fuel your garden's every need, just add water! :)
But unlike the guzzling football players in my movie reference, Water Boy, your tender plants need a regular supply of water, not a flood. Therefore, here are a few watering hacks for garden and plant success!
Fill a wine bottle with water--empty it first ;)--and then quickly flip it upside-down, pushing the open end of the bottle into the dirt next to your plant (potted or otherwise). This will allow the water to trickle out over a period of time as it slowly empties into the soil, thus saving you from having to water your plants for several days (or until the wine bottle is depleted of water).
In a clean and empty milk jug or water jug (WITH cap), fill it up with water. Poke several holes into the top of the cap and screw it onto the jug. Use like you would a normal watering can.
Gone for a long weekend? Long days and/or nights at work? This hack keeps your plants hydrated even when you're away. As long as you make time to do the hack in the first place, lol ;)
Roll a piece of paper towel tightly, lying one end across your plant's soil and put the other end into a glass of water. Slowly, your plant will drink up the water overtime, as the paper towel acts like a type of straw. Refill the cup whenever it gets empty (every couple days) and there you go!
2 LITER BOTTLE:
If you have sown plants in the ground, simply poke holes in a 2 liter plastic water or pop bottle (that's been cleaned). Bury this in the ground between sets of two plants (making sure to keep the bottle neck above the soil. Fill the bottle with water (by the neck) and it will slowly drain into the soil, keeping your plants well watered. Refill as necessary.
OK, this isn't specific to just watering your plants, but it has to do with water hahaha :D First wash your picked produce in a hamper basket or spaghetti strainer over a bin or large bowl, catching the leftover water. Then use the water in the bin/bowl to pour back over your garden!
Step 3: Start Some Seedlings...
The key to getting started with your urban garden is to start some seedlings that you will either transplant to one of the following DIY planters (in the next step) or to your in-ground garden in the tiny piece of grass behind your apartment/condo/house.
Why sprout a seed first?
- Sprouting seeds, in general, gives you a huge head start for your garden because you can start growing them well before the last frost has come. So when it's done with, you're immediately ready for planting!
- "Pre-sprouting can be a way to save money. It often results in a higher rate of germination since few seeds are lost to environmental factors. [When you plant the seeds directly into the garden], it is generally recommended that at least 2 seeds be placed in each [hole], in case one of the seeds does not germinate. With pre-sprouting, you already know that the seeds you are planting are viable. Therefore, you can space them precisely where you want them." http://learningandyearning.com/give-your-plants-a-...
- "Seeds often germinate more quickly indoors than outdoors since moisture and temperature can be more easily controlled." http://learningandyearning.com/give-your-plants-a-...
- "Sprouting seeds before planting cuts down on the germination process drastically. It can take 7-20 days to sprout in soil, whereas pre-sprouting takes 2-4 days." http://learningandyearning.com/give-your-plants-a-...
- The seeds of most plants that are started indoors germinate sooner and produce healthier roots when the potting mix is warm, and bottom heat can help to prevent "damping off" (which is the death of tiny seedlings due to pathogens at the surface of the potting mix). http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/fl...
- If a seedling fails to germinate, you can easily remove and cull them (unlike if you had directly planted the seed in the garden right away without sprouting indoors).
- Also, “The process of germination not only produces vitamin C, but also changes the composition of grains and seeds in numerous beneficial ways. Sprouting increases vitamin B content, especially B2, B5, and B6. Carotene increases dramatically-sometimes even eightfold.” Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions, pg 112.
EASY SEEDLING SPROUTING HACKS:
Here are a few different ways to sprout your seeds.
IN EGG SHELLS:
A well-known hack for starting your little seedlings is to put them inside eggshells.
Here's a run-down on how...
WHAT YOU'LL NEED:
Empty egg carton
Awl, Needle, or Thumbtack
Pot and Stove
Natural Soil-Safe Crayons or Finger Paints (optional)
Spray Bottle (optional)
WHAT TO DO:
1. Prick a pinhole in the bottom, center of each shell with your awl, needle, or thumbtack. This will be your drainage hole. Make it big enough that it won't get clogged by soil or roots.
2. Remove the top 1/3 of the shell using a small knife to gently pick away at the shell. Don't damage the bottom of the egg. (Tip: You can try lightly tapping on the egg and then picking your way down. Or using a sharp serrated knife.)
3. Eat up! Empty the raw egg into a bowl and use it to make a meal. No waste here :)
4. Wash and boil your eggshells. Carefully wash them out, then boil them over medium heat for 3 minutes to kill any bacteria. Inspect them for leftover debris, then let them dry.
5. Place each eggshell into the egg carton for support.
6. Fill 2/3 of each eggshell with potting soil.
7. Add a seed into the soil following the recommended seeding depth on your seed package. Also note the germination time required for whatever you're planting.
8. Place these eggshell starters in a warm and sunny location, keeping the soil moist but not soaked. (Water regularly.)
9. Optional: Decorate the eggshells with natural crayons or finger paints.Label the outside of each eggshell with what type of plant you seeded.
10. Once your sprouts have sprung and the last frost has come and gone, plant your eggshell seedling pots into some freshly tilled soil in your garden. Make sure to gently crush the eggshell so the seedling roots will find the soil with ease.
WHY IT WORKS & BENEFITS:
The entire eggshell starter pot is biodegradable and costs you nothing if you're eating the eggs.
Eggshells are hearty in calcium which your soil will LOVE! <3
Eggshell seedling pots are pet and kid friendly.
What kid doesn't like to watch the little seeds sprout (and feel totally accomplished for something succeeding that they've done)!? It's a great project that your kids can learn from!
IN TOILET PAPER ROLLS:
Cut four strips out of one open end of the roll (or you can cut every 1/4" to have a tighter seal). Fold the strips so they overlap each other to make a closed base. Add your potting soil to about 1/2" from the top, and add your seeds (one per roll).
Once the seedling has sprouted and grown, plant the entire toilet paper roll into the ground or large pot (if you don't have a yard). The cardboard is biodegradable and will leave just your plant's roots behind.
Mark on the outsides of the rolls what each seedling is (preferably with natural and safe-for-the-soil paint or marker...at the very least use a non-toxic marker).
IN ICE CREAM CONES:
Follow the same method as the toilet paper rolls (but without the cutting strips part, lol).
IN CITRUS FRUIT RINDS:
Follow the same procedure as the previous two. Note: This method can produce mold or attract bugs if you have a humid home atmosphere. So be sure to put a little dehumidifier by your plants if you live in a humid area. :)
IN "OLD ORCHARD" JUICE CONTAINERS:
Ditto to the "how to" above, making sure to add drainage holes in the bottoms. The biggest difference is you have to transplant the seedlings from these containers to larger pots or into the ground (as the plastic isn't biodegradable).
You can also do this same approach with the bottom of a plastic water bottle, or anything of any kind that you would normally recycle or throw away.
Step 4: Pick Your Planter
This is the fun part: picking a great planter for your future garden. When you have limited space (even just a counter top or a windowsill), you've got to get creative...so here are some hacks for keeping your plants alive (and thriving! lol) in your tiny space or patio garden:
NOTE: The smaller your planter, the more often you need to water. So keep that in mind when choosing your planter :) Why is this? "Large containers have larger soil volume so the plants won't need to be watered as often. More soil also means your plants can grow a bigger root system. Plants with lots of roots tend to be healthy, happy plants." https://www.provenwinners.com/learn/bigger-really-...
You know you have some of these lying around (unless you live above the Arctic Circle..in that case, try putting the mugs in the toe of your snowshoes), now put them to use!
Take flip flops (or snowshoes) and a few coffee mugs. Fill the mugs with your potting soil and seedlings (or pre-blooming plants). Add a little bit of your garbage smoothie on top to give your plants delicious nutrients. Rest the mugs into your flip flops (or snowshoe toes) and hang the flip flops (or snowshoes) on a wall as decor (and a vertical garden)!
This will work in any kind of toy or container such as this. Put some potting soil in a Tonka dump truck, then add your succulents. Cover with a little of your garbage smoothie and enjoy!
HANGING STRAWBERRIES HACK:
Using baskets lined with plastic, rain gutters, or wooden boxes built over your patio like a gazebo top, hang strawberry plants overhead. This way when they are ready to be harvested, they are super easy to pick (no more crouching down and digging through plant leaves to find them).
55 GALLON DRUM:
So you want a lot of plants in a little space. Get yourself a 55 gallon drum from Home Depot or Lowes (or your local home hardware store) and cut holes in it in a spiraling pattern with about four slots per vertical column. Fill the gallon to the top with soil. Now plant your seedlings in each hole (works best for herbs and smaller plants like this). Cover each hole's soil with some garbage smoothie and watch them grow! Make sure to water regularly over the top of the entire thing.
You can place this drum on the floor by your back door, on your patio, in the front of your apartment if it isn't inside a hallway, basically anywhere there's light (with outside somewhere being the best). Rotate it every 3 days to once a week so each side of the barrel gets adequate sunlight. If it's placed outside somewhere, make sure to first cut a hole in the bottom to drain excess water off.
You can also easily grow potatoes in it! Simply keep burying spuds in the soil. Then as they grow, cover with more soil until they reach the top. Here's a great video on the exact procedure from YouTube:
You know that hanging, fabric shoe organizer you bought thinking it was such a "clever" solution to your massive shoe population? And then you just realized that you were kidding yourself, and ended up with the shoe organizer in a closet somewhere and your shoe population still all over your floor? Yeah...now you can finally put that shoe organizer to good use!
Simply fill each plastic pocket with potting soil. Add your seedlings (like herbs or small plants) and cover with some of your garbage smoothie. Hang this in a sunny spot (inside or out), and water regularly. Voila! A vertical garden!
HANGING BATH ORGANIZER:
Yup, we're talking about those wire bathroom organizers that you hang on your shower head! Fill each section with a plastic potting liner (the hard plastic ones). Or, if you don't have one, fill each section with a plastic bag.
For either approach, add multiple holes in the bottom (small enough that the soil won't fall out, but big enough that it won't get clogged when draining).
Hang this on an outside wall (or you can buy a standing clothes rack to hang multiples on, or if you're renting). Or hang them inside in like manner with a bin underneath to catch and redistribute the water.
Use for succulents or herbs!
OLD BIKE TIRES:
Make a standing trellis (for your vine plants to climb) out of old bike tires, a threaded metal rod (with matching nuts), and wiring or gardening string.
Put one bike tire on the ground, add the "axle"-like threaded rod and nut, then top with your remaining bike tire and nut. Add strong wire or gardening string to the spokes.
Place this over a circle of potted vine or climbing plants (such as peas) in your house near a sunny window, or on the ground (if you have a small yard) with the plants sown in the grown around it. Make sure to rotate this trellis and the potted plants if you are attempting this inside (so everything gets plenty of light).
Teach the plants to climb the trellis by using bread twist ties or gardening tape to hold the first vines to the wires/gardening string while it grows.
NOTE: In addition to saving space, trellising improves air circulation and helps prevent disease.
Here are more ideas from http://www.bobvila.com/articles/diy-trellis/#.Vw50... Take it away, Bob...
Step 5: Tag...You're It!
So what about when you get already started plants that come with those care instructions tags? You know, those tags we always remove and throw away or lose? Well, here's a hack to keeping those handy (and necessary) instructions readily available...
Hole punch your plant tags and store them on a key ring (I suggest hole punching through the pictures so none of the instructions are distorted).
This will keep them conveniently in one spot (for when you forget which plant needs full light and which enjoys shade).
You can also alphabetize them for ease of access and designate a hook to hold your key ring so you never lose it. Or, you can add them to your regular key chain--then you'll, definitely, never lose them (because no one ever loses their keys, right? LOL.) Maybe with big tags on your keys, they'll be easier to spot. ;)
Step 6: Tool Hacks
Here are a couple of tool hacks that are of great use in any backyard garden:
TOOL MEASURING ROD:
Using a measuring tape or ruler, add feet and inches in permanent marker to the long handle of your tool (ie: rake, shovel).
Now you have a convenient, always-on-hand measuring rod for determining garden bed and pathway widths and lengths.
SELF-CLEANING, SELF-SHARPENING TOOL HOLDER:
1. Using a large bucket, pour a bag of sand into it and add 20-30 ounces of mineral oil (or until your fingers get oily when you pinch a bit of sand between them). Stir them together with a trowel or rod or stick until the oil is evenly distributed through the sand. TIP: If you can't find mineral oil, you can use baby oil since it's just mineral oil with fragrance added.
2. Cover the terra-cotta pot's hole in the bottom with duct tape, then fill it with the sand/oil mix. Lightly pack it down.
3. Put all of your hand tools head down into this pot. The oil keeps your shears lubricated, and the sand keeps everything nice and sharp.
NOTE: It can be messy. When you pull your tools out of the mix, they obviously will be covered in sand and oil. Not to fear, simply wipe it off and start working :)
Step 7: Five Flowers for Pest Control
(Pictures Courtesy of Wikipedia)
If you are able to have a backyard garden, be sure to plant one or a few of these different flowers to naturally keep the pests off your garden edibles.
1. Borage: Borage deters hornworms and cabbage worms and can help all plants increase their disease resistance.
2. Chrysanthemums: These flowers (aka: mums) contain the chemical pyrthin that's toxic to insects but safe for human and animal consumption. You can also make a tea from the flowers and use it on root nematodes and to repel Japanese beetles.
3. Clover: Clovers ward of pests completely when used as ground cover in garden beds. Plant it around cabbage to prevent caggabe worm and aphids from taking over.
4. Lavender: Not only does it smell delicious, is used in cooking, and has medicinal benefits, but lavender also repels insects (specifically fleas, moths, and mosquitoes). I'm going to plant it and keep it in pots on or around the tables for my summer night backyard parties to keep the mosquitoes away! ;)
5. Marigolds: These (especially the French Marigold variety) keep pests and whiteflies away from plants and tomatoes. They also protect the health of the soil under the plants.
As noted by member Kate Russell: "Adding borage, lavender and clover, in particular, will also attract more pollinators, increasing food production in the garden. And honeybees can use all the help they can get these days." Thanks for the tip, Kate!
Step 8: Melon Slings
If you are growing some melons on a vertically climbing trellis (because you're an adventurous, green-thumbed, urban-farming pro), you may notice that when they get heavier, gravity takes over and they want to fall off the vine prematurely. To counteract this, make a sling for resting your melons in.
This can be made of cheesecloth, nylon stockings, or old T-shirts. If the sling completely covers the fruit (like with a cheesecloth or nylon stockings sling), it will also provide protection from insects. BONUS!
Step 9: Little Extra Tidbits
And for the Grand Finale, here are some more fun and creative hacks that help improve your urban gardening experience...
PENNY PEST CONTROL:
Glue pennies around the lip of your planter or on a garden bed wall (if you have a yard) to keep snails off your veggies. Make sure you glue the pennies down in a line where the pennies are actually touching.
DRY HERBS IN YOUR CAR:
Put your freshly grown herbs on a piece of newspaper on your dashboard (or on a tray lined with newspaper). Keep all the windows and doors closed to create a nice and toasty "dryer" for your herbs. This hack will dry your herbs faster then other drying approaches and it will make your vehicle smell great!
CINNAMON FOR FUNGUS PREVENTION:
If you decide to replant your cuttings from one garden to another, but don't want the hassle of getting fungus from cross-contamination, simply dip the roots in cinnamon. Cinnamon acts as a rooting hormone and keeps the fungus away.
COFFEE FILTER HACK:
When re-potting plants, keep the soil in its place by using a coffee filter as the bottom lining over the drain hole. This keeps it from clogging up while draining, and it keeps the soil from draining out with the water. Because coffee filters are highly absorbent, you can skip a watering here and there (late nights at work?) and not kill your plant.
EPSOM SALT FOR TOMATOES, PEPPERS, & ROSES:
Epsom salt is comprised of magnesium and sulfur. These two ingredients are also two of the six macronutrients plants need. If your soil is depleted of these usually naturally-occurring ingredients, simply add in a little epsom salt to bring it back to a healthy state for your plants.
RE-GROW CUT ROSES IN POTATOES:
Cut healthy stems off roses and place them in large potatoes. Bury this whole thing into healthy soil (peet moss and top soil mix) about 3-4 inches deep. Watch your roses grow again!
WHY IT WORKS: The potatoes keep the stems moist and help develop their root systems. Plus this is cheap (BONUS!).
MILK JUG GREENHOUSES:
Need to keep a newly-planted plant alive through that seventh "last" frost that "shouldn't" have occurred?
Simple rinse an empty milk jug and discard the lid. Cut off the bottom with a serrated knife or with sharp kitchen scissors. Place this little "greenhouse" over the plant and pile up dirt generously around the jugs to keep them from falling over or blowing away.
Water the plant through the open hole at the top (where the lid used to be) or use a watering can over it like usual (the water will drip down the sides of the jug into the soil).
Keep these greenhouses on until the "last frost" has truly passed ;)
SOAP IT UP FOR CLEAN NAILS:
Every time you need to work your hands into some soil and dirt, simply slide your nails across a bar of soap first. When you go to wash your hands after you're done, the dirt and grime will just rinse right off with no hassle! No more multi-manicures every time you garden!
BED FRAME FOR GARDEN BED:
If you have the yard space, consider using a wooden bed frame for garden bed walls.
PLASTIC FORKS FOR PEST CONTROL:
"Plant" plastic forks in the garden in-between each plant in every row (with the prongs standing straight up). This will deter rabbits, squirrels, cats, and raccoons from eating all of your crop.
COFFEE GRINDS AND TEA:
Add unused dried tea herbs or coffee for acid-loving plants. Or add used coffee grinds to your soil for nutrient benefits (the nitrogen-rich grinds lose their acidity once they've been used, so they add nutrients to your soil).
BAKING SODA FOR TOMATOES:
Sprinkle a small amount of baking soda (less than 1/4 cup per plant) on the soil around your tomato plants (whether in the ground or in a planter). MAKE SURE not to get the baking soda on the plant itself.
OR: You can add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to a gallon of water and water your plants with it.
Either way, this works because: the baking soda lowers the acidity levels in your soil as it absorbs. This gives your tomatoes a sweeter (versus tart) flavor.
TIP: Sprinkle it on the soil when the tomatoes are 1" in diameter and then again when they are half grown.
ALTERNATIVE USES FOR BAKING SODA:
1. Add a little to canned tomatoes (that you canned yourself) when making sauce. This will make it sweeter without sugar or added calories.
2. Combine 1 gallon of water with 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 2 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Mix, then pour this into a spray bottle. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of castile soap. (Castile soap is fine, hard white or mottled soap made with olive oil and sodium hydroxide.) Spray this solution on the foliage of tomato plants to get rid of fungal disease.
NOTE: Test the baking soda on one tomato plant first before trying it on all of them, and be careful when using it on young tomato plants. If your soil is already well balanced and alkaline, you could ruin it by adding too much baking soda, so check your soil balance before using baking soda to see if you need it (or use less baking soda if it's already well alkalized).
Step 10: Resources
Here are the resources I used for this Instructable (besides my own brain and knowledge):
Runner Up in the
Urban Farming Contest