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Three years ago, frustrated by the long waiting list for an allotment in north London, I decided to start growing food at home, using my nine-by-six-foot balcony, six window sills at the front of my building and a patch of concrete outside the front door.
In 2010, I challenged myself to grow ?500 worth of food at Ocado prices and grew over ?900 worth.
Crops, particularly fruiting crops such as tomatoes and courgettes, need regular feeding to give a good yield. I learnt that little and often is the secret to container gardening – checking plants every day to see if they need watering and for any signs of pest damage.
Salads, root crops (such as carrots, radishes, turnips and potatoes), peas and beans do OK on a north-west-facing (not very sunny) balcony. I experimented with many different containers but the ones I found most useful were self-watering pots. Another challenge has been sourcing and carting around large volumes of good compost – I broke two bicycle axles by overloading my panniers! An obvious benefit of growing at home is the regular supply of super-fresh, high quality food that can be picked minutes before eating.
I’m still practicing my small-scale growing skills, this time in the safety of a 10-by-10-foot plot in the suburbs of Maine. Some of the city’s hidden food-growing spaces will be open to the public in September. The second Capital Growth Edible Gardens Open Day will be an opportunity for the public to potter around at their leisure, and see all the wonderful food the community gardens grow at that time of year.
Among the growing spaces that will be opening their doors for the day are Food From the Sky, on the roof of Budgens supermarket in Crouch End (pictured), Grow Mayow in Sydenham, Cranbrook Community Food Garden in Mile End, and the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden. Cranbrook Community Food Garden is a fantastic example of the Capital Growth project and an inspiration to other growing spaces in the capital. The Dalston Eastern Curve Garden is also a thriving hub for the local community, hosting a range of interesting, fun and educational events and workshops for different age groups. Keep up the watering if dry, and remember that a good soak is far more effective than a frequent sprinkle. Lettuce seed can germinate erratically in hot weather, so try sowing in the cooler evenings or wait until later next month. Once strawberry plants have stopped fruiting, give them a decent hair cut – snipping off old leafy growth and unwanted runners.
Sow now for winter, as growth will slow right down once light and temperatures begin to drop. Bring containers of your less hardy plants indoors, to protect them from cold and poor weather.
One of the major benefits of growing your own food is that you have complete control over the end product, from soil composition to chemical exposure.
Whereas a conventionally-grown garden might include the use of chemical fertilizers and potentially toxic insecticides to protect the crop, an organic gardener will forgo the chemicals and feed the soil with natural fertilizers and insect barriers.
While you can certainly wait until the danger of spring frost has passed, and then plant your seeds directly in the soil outdoors, you can get a head start by growing seedlings and then transplanting them into your garden. Growing seedlings, which can take between four and 12 weeks to sprout, will allow you to harvest your vegetables four to six weeks earlier than had you planted the seeds directly outdoors.
Some plants (mostly root crops) do not transplant well, or they mature quickly enough that starting seedlings indoors is not necessary. Now, once your seedlings are grown and the outdoor temperature is 45 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer, the plant will require one to two weeks of "hardening off" before they can be transplanted into the ground, to prevent them from going into shock.
Gradually, over several days, increase the time you leave them outdoors, and gradually increase the amount of direct sunlight they're exposed to. In her book The Edible Balcony, Alex Mitchell details how to grow fresh produce in small spaces.
While you will obviously need to use pots if you don't have a garden plot, avoid using many small pots.
Another excellent tip for the time-pressed gardener is to install a timer to your outside tap, and have a plastic dripping tube connected to the tap. Another excellent tip is provided in Mitchell's book: An ancient technique called "3 sisters," used by the Native American Indians, involves planting specific combinations of plants together, as the plants support each other.
Besides composting, setting up a little worm farm can also help you restore soil health naturally, eliminating the need for synthetic fertilizers. While we're touching on larger-scale gardens, it may be useful to know that shrubs and trees require two-and-a-half to four times less water than a lawn. Another important aspect of growing your own food is the ability to avoid chemical exposure. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers 60 percent of herbicides, 90 percent of fungicides, and 30 percent of insecticides to be carcinogenic. Fortunately, there are safe and effective natural alternatives for virtually every pest problem you come across.
A powerhouse of nutrition, sprouts can contain up to 30 times the nutrition of organic vegetables grown in your own garden, and allow your body to extract more vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fats from the foods you eat. Sunflower seed and pea sprouts tend to top the list of all the seeds that you can sprout and are typically each about 30 times more nutritious than organic vegetables.
I am in the process of compiling more specific detailed videos for future articles but I thought I would whet your appetite and give you a preview with the photos below. I have been sprouting them now for a few months and they have radically improved the nutrition of my primary meal, which is a comprehensive salad at lunch.



With benefits ranging from fresher, uncontaminated food and cutting your grocery bill, to beautifying your community and educating the next generation, there's really nothing holding anyone back from creating an edible garden—even if all you have is a couple of window sills or a small balcony.
Sprouts is one of my favorite tight-space crops, simply because you get so much for so little time, money and effort. Finding ways to coax a worthwhile harvest from such a small space (with no soil to be seen), has been a challenging experience but also an immensely satisfying one, with plenty of unexpected rewards along the way. The balcony and window sills supplied all of our salad (and we eat a lot of salad) and herbs for nine months of the year as well as many of our vegetables (I estimate 70 per cent of all our fruit and veg from May to October).
I would have needed to plant my fruit trees a year or two earlier to give them time to mature and bear fruit.
I found New Horizon peat-free compost and municipal compost from north London both performed well. I bought a wormery to convert our food waste into a free and top-notch fertiliser – and mixed this into used compost to rejuvenate it. Luckily, I find that wandering round the balcony and observing plants in this way is a lovely thing to do at the end of a busy day in London! Tomatoes and chillies, on the other hand, need more sun so I moved these crops to the south-facing windowsills. A less obvious advantage is the way in which the flavour of home-grown fruit and vegetables can make even the simplest dish taste like good restaurant food. The crops in front of my building have aroused the curiosity of neighbours and passers-by and offered the perfect excuse to strike up a conversation. They are pallet gardens, with continuous water cycling, airlift pump in a bucket and flip flop irrigation. If you have a large plot, you can get away with having less-fertile soil by planting more and spacing out your crops. There will also be walking and bike tours for visitors who want to see as many spaces as possible. The garden, which is in its third year, has 17 raised beds, a composting area, wormeries for fertiliser, a greenhouse and a tool shed, and all this on what was previously disused land. One recent workshop on planting and using herbs included using them in herbal drinks and designing a herb garden in a fruit crate.
Order or swap seed such as winter purslane, hardy lettuces, curly parsley, leaf radish, chervil, landcress, mustards, coriander and rocket. Hanging baskets are ideal for a wide variety of foods, such as strawberries, leafy greens, runner beans, pea shoots, tomatoes, and a variety of herbs. I am convinced that growing sprouts is more practical and useful for most people and takes less space and time but it will be a bit longer before I am able to provide a comprehensive article on how to do that.
While a traditional gardener may apply synthetic herbicides to control weeds, an organic gardener, just like an organic farmer, will use hand weeding and cover crops with mulches to control weeds. This is done by placing them outdoors for just a few hours at a time in a semi-shaded location. Transplant your seedlings into your garden in the late afternoon, as the weather starts to cool down (or choose a cloudy day), and water the plants thoroughly. Filled with beautiful color photographs throughout, the book helps you determine what might work best for you, depending on your space and location, and guides you through the design basics of a bountiful small-space garden. This is because the nutrition your plants require is derived from beneficial microorganisms in the soil. In addition to helping create a valuable compost to help plants grow, worms have also been singled out for their ability to break down toxins like cadmium, lead and other heavy metals, helping to detoxify soil.
Amazingly, a typical suburban lawn uses an estimated 10,000 gallons of water each season, above what's provided by rainfall. American homeowners apply an estimated 78 million pounds of insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides per year to their homes, lawns, and gardens.6 The problem is that these toxic chemicals are toxic not just to the weeds or critters they're designed to kill.
For instance, for a homemade garden spray that will discourage most pests, use some mashed garlic paste combined with a little cayenne pepper or horseradish. In addition to their superior nutritional profile, sprouts are really easy to grow if you're an apartment dweller, as they don't require an outdoor garden.
During sprouting, minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, bind to protein, making them more bioavailable. I am strongly convinced that actually growing them in soil is far easier and produces far more nutritious and abundant food.
There are tons of creative solutions that will allow you to make the most of even the tiniest space. Sadly though, it’s now time to say our goodbyes to the balcony as the whole family is moving north, to Newcastle, for my wife’s work.
I should have also stuck to sowing salads all year round (I got a bit lazy in the summer) and not taken three weeks’ holiday in August, the most productive month of the year! Chicken manure pellets worked well for leafy crops – I added a handful each time I replanted.
By going vertical you can cram more into a small space: shelves on walls, ladders and hanging baskets are all fairly simple DIY projects. I’ve met more of my neighbours in the last year than I did in the previous seventeen.
But if I had the choice of an allotment or a balcony, I’d now choose a balcony every time. Whether your garden consists of a window box in the city or an acre in the country, you can still benefit from applying the techniques of small-space gardening.


The organic produce grown here is shared amongst the volunteers that take part, whose ages range from nine to 94. For example, those who live in a high-rise apartment will undoubtedly have to content with more wind than those who live on the bottom floor. And instead of flowers, window boxes can hold herbs, greens, radishes, scallions, bush beans, strawberries, chard, and chiles, for example. Then all you have to do is set the timer to water your plants twice a day for five or ten minutes. These organisms take the mineral material that's in your soil and convert it into a plant-available form.
So planting an edible garden can kill several birds with one stone; not only can you reduce your food bill while eating the freshest food imaginable, your garden can also reduce your outdoor water usage.
They're also toxic to beneficial insects, birds, wild animals, pets, young children, and anyone who eats foods to which these toxins have been applied.
Add a small amount to a gallon jug of water and let it sit for a day or two, shaking it occasionally.
Furthermore, both the quality of the protein and the fiber content of beans, nuts, seeds and grains improves when sprouted. Sprouted sunflower seeds also contain plenty of iron and chlorophyll, the latter of which will help detoxify your blood and liver. My current salad consists of about half a pound of sunflower sprouts, four ounces of fermented vegetables, half a large red pepper, several tablespoon of raw organic butter, some red onion, a whole avocado and about three ounces of salmon or chicken. Heirloom seeds are seeds that have been carefully cultivated to produce the best plants possible; they're hardy and bountiful. Individual articles are based upon the opinions of the respective author, who retains copyright as marked.
This was more than in the same period in 2010 but significantly less than I needed to hit the ?1,000 target. Climbing plants, such as runner beans, vine tomatoes and ‘Tromboncino’ squash are another good way to make the most of a small space. They’re not cheap but they’re well designed for vegetable growing, and should last many years, so they’re a good investment for the serious container grower.
It has changed how we use them completely – we often now include three or four different herbs in one meal. There’s simply such a joy and convenience in having all this, quite literally on your doorstep. There are solutions for virtually every problem, and in this case, wind-tolerant plants can be used, or you could construct some sort of protective screening. You may also want to consider self-watering pots, which will reduce the time you have to spend watering. Ingham3 is chief research scientist at Rodale Institute, and is an internationally recognized expert on the benefits of sustainable soil science. Worms also can even break down cardboard waste fibers, making them a potential recycling tool. Just spray a small amount onto a few leaves first to make sure it's not so strong that it will burn them. The content of vitamins and essential fatty acids also increase dramatically during the sprouting process. Of the seeds, sunflower seeds are among the best in terms of overall nutritional value, and sprouting them will augment their nutrient content by as much as 300 to 1,200 percent! You can find packages containing 26 of the popular heirloom seeds in my Heirloom Variety Seed Collection, available in my online store. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. I used a potassium-rich fertiliser such as comfrey juice or a commercial organic tomato feed.
For smaller containers, mix in a handful of water-retaining crystals or gel, as these will help retain moisture. Her book explains the mechanisms behind how the beneficial microorganisms in the soil benefit your plants, and how to create compost that support your chosen crops.
In the late afternoon, I typically only have macadamia nuts and coconut candy in addition to drinking 16-32 ounces of green vegetable juice. Before you know it, large portions of your meals could come straight from your own edible garden. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr.
Mitchell's book contains creative solutions to take advantage of every nook and cranny, and recycle common household items for your garden.
I am now consuming one whole tray you see below every 2-3 days and to produce that much food with Ball jars I would need dozens of jars.
Mercola encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional. If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your health care professional before using products based on this content.



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