next generation gardeners

Growing Vegetables Without a Back Yard

Solutions for space-strapped gardeners

Next generation gardeners face a struggle in vegetable gardening: space – we don’t have much of it. However, space should never discourage you from growing what you want to grow. There are several solutions for space-strapped gardeners, each one suited to the constraints of next-generation gardeners.

The first solution is also the most popular option – container gardening. Start in a tiny window box, or cover your entire balcony in containers, and you’ll be able to grow something delicious to eat. Container garden conditions can be carefully controlled and solve many of the unknowns of planting in the ground, like drainage, pests and diseases, as well as soil quality. If you provide the best environment for your plants, they’ll provide you with their best fruit. It’s also incredibly easy to get started: a container, some potting mix and a packet of seeds.

You may be one of the lucky few with some backyard space, but still can’t plant in it due to bad soil, renting policies or paving. With the extra space, you can maximise your growing potential with a different kind of container garden – raised beds. You’ve likely seen raised beds across the Internet, especially in vegetable gardening. These large boxes provide plenty of space for your plants to grow, replicating the size of a traditional backyard even if you don’t have one. They don’t have to be permanent (great for renters), but they still allow for the organisation and uniformity of a permanent garden.

Beware of raised beds on paving

Raised beds are typically placed on top of open soil. When planting over paving, you’ll need to add a mesh and fabric bottom to the bed and raise it off the ground to prevent any damage to the surface and allow for adequate drainage.

Next-generation gardeners with a bit of cash to spare, and a penchant for chemistry, can opt for a high-tech indoor solution – hydroponics. Hydroponics is about growing plants without soil and providing their nutrients directly through the water. The first evidence of hydroponic cultivation dates back over two thousand years, and it has advanced by leaps and bounds through scientific research in the last century. NASA has even investigated hydroponics as a potential food source for astronauts on Mars. From Greek, it translates to ‘working water’; hydro meaning ‘water’ and ponos meaning ‘labour’. Instead of growing in soil, hydroponic systems use a combination of growing mediums, water and added nutrients. Hydroponic growers make use of indoor spaces or greenhouses with grow lights to allow for maximum control of the surrounding environment. Hydroponics skips the role of mother nature in growing plants and transfers all the power to you. It’s a great indoor solution, but has many technicalities (hydroponic systems, macro- and micro-nutrients, artificial grow lights) so be prepared for extra learning – and spending – before you get started. Without this high-tech solution, you can grow a few edibles as indoor plants, but not many.

Edible plants usually have high light requirements and most indoor spaces don’t meet that criteria. You may be safe with some leafy vegetables or herbs, or a window with direct sunlight, but most edibles will be far happier outdoors. The final space solution (dependent on where you live) is a community garden. Also called allotments, these pieces of land are separated into parcels that are rented or assigned to members of the community. They provide the space needed to grow plenty of veggies when you don’t have that option at home.

Allotment history is connected to the World Wars: communities were encouraged to grow vegetables to combat food shortages. Now, the bonuses of saving money on food, eating healthier and being out in nature have drawn many next-generation gardeners to their local plots. Allotments are also favoured for their sense of community, swopping produce with the gardener next door or meeting up with a friend to harvest over the weekend. There are many ways to get around location constraints: containers, raised beds, hydroponics, or a community garden if you’ve got one. If you put the plants’ needs first, they will grow well in any kind of garden.

The Gardener