Plants grow the best in loose, well-drained soil. To avoid contaminated soils so frequently found in urban areas, it’s best to build either a raised bed or container garden.
- Recommended height: 12 to 16 inches.
- Materials: Retaining wall blocks and concrete blocks, which can be found at any hardware store or recycled from a construction site.
- Measurements: Measure your site and draw a site plan. Plan the sizes and shapes of your garden beds based on the width, length and accessibility.
- Rectangle beds are typical, but not required.
- Don’t make beds more than 4 feet in width so gardeners can reach the middle.
- Provide breaks between beds for circulation.
- Provide a minimum of 3 feet between each bed so you can maneuver a wheel barrow between the aisles.
- Fencing is important to keep out both animal and human intruders. Consider a locked gate, establish hours of operation and provide keys to association members. Integrate the fence into the design rather than enclosing the entire perimeter.
- Signage: Display the name of the garden, contact information and garden rules.
- Storage: Provide a safe space to store tools and equipment. Consider stocking it with hand pruners, hoes, garden trowels, watering cans, etc.
If your community doesn’t have space for a traditional in-ground garden, use large containers.
- Drainage: Use large, sturdy containers that have drainage holes.
- Depth: Soil should be a minimum of 12 inches deep.
- Materials: Clay, wood, plastic and metal are suitable.
- Soil: Use lightweight potting mix, which you can buy at local garden centers.
- Care: Place containers in an area with direct sunlight and easy access to water. Water twice daily. Apply water until it runs out the drainage holes. Move containers around as needed during different growing seasons.
Once your garden is in place, it’s time to get planting. Start with a mix of crops that are easy to grow and are low maintenance to build the confidence of the community members. Refer back to the hardiness zone map and talk with a local master gardener about when to plant certain crops.
|Basil||Basil is easy to grow and can be harvested throughout the growing season.|
|Lettuce||Lettuce can grow in full sun to partial shade. It will grow best in spring and fall. Loose-leaf lettuce varieties grow in about three weeks.|
|Peas||Peas grow in about 50 to 60 days in mid-spring. Provide a medium-height trellis for the peas to climb.|
|Radishes||Radishes are fast-growing and are ready for harvest in about 30 days.|
|Spinach||Spinach grows in full sun to partial shade and can be planted in early spring.|
|Strawberries||Strawberries can be planted in small places and are very low maintenance.|
|Tomatoes||Tomatoes require little water and should be grown in full sun. Make sure to have some vertical support or a tomato cage.|
|Zucchini||Zucchini grows rapidly and can be harvested in about 70 days. Just be careful they don’t take over the entire garden.|
Most vegetable and herb varieties grow well in containers. Look for dwarf or bush varieties that grow well in smaller areas. Pole beans and cucumbers also do well in this type of garden, but they do require more space because of their vining growth habit.
|Vegetable||Light Requirements||Minimum Container Size|
|Bush Beans||Full Sun||2 gallons (16 to 18 inches deep)|
|Beets||Full to Partial Sun||1 gallon (9 to 12 inches deep)|
|Cucumbers||Full Sun||5 gallons (16 to 18 inches deep)|
|Eggplant||Full Sun||5 gallons (14 to 16 inches deep)|
|Kale||Full to Partial Sun||5 gallons (9 to 12 inches deep)|
|Leaf Lettuce||Partial Sun||1 gallon (9 to 12 inches deep)|
|Green Onions||Full to Partial Sun||1 gallon (8 to 10 inches deep)|
|Bell Peppers||Full Sun||2 gallons (14 to 16 inches deep)|
|Summer Squash||Full Sun||5 gallons (16 to 18 inches deep)|
|Cherry Tomatoes||Full Sun||1 gallon (14 to 16 inches deep)|
Larger containers are best to encourage root growth. Don’t crowd plants and follow spacing instructions on seed packets or plant tags.
Flowers can also make an attractive addition to community gardens. When choosing flowers, it’s important to choose those that need little water and will flower at different times throughout the year. Many plants grown for their flowers are also valuable companion plants in the vegetable garden that help to improve soil quality and keep pests away.
Lavender is a great flowering herb to use in gardens. It will reseed itself annually and can be dried to use in bouquets. Sweet Alyssum is a ground cover that can be used with potatoes, broccoli, beans and corn. Mint is a quick-growing herb that can be used in a number of recipes. It can spread quickly and should be kept in a container to contain its growth. Mint grows well beside tomatoes and cabbage. Scented Marigold can be used in clusters around the garden. They’ll grow well with all types of crops and add color. Additionally, these plants will help attract beneficial pollinators that will promote growth of plants.
Benefits of Seeds
Using seeds cuts back on some of the up front costs to starting a garden, as they are less expensive than buying plants at a nursery. Non-profit organizations like America the Beautiful Fund and the American Community Gardens Association often provide seeds free of charge. You can start seeds in containers, cold frames or directly in beds depending upon your location.
- Using pots and containers inside will protect seedlings from early frost. Paper cups, peat pots or plastic trays can all be used. Keep the seeds in a warm area near direct sunlight until seedlings mature and the weather permits transferring the plants outdoors.
- A cold frame allows seedlings to be started outside before the growing season. Frames can be purchased or constructed out of wood and plastic sheeting. Positioning the cold frame in a southerly direction will maximize the warmth generated by the sun.
- Pots and containers can also be used to start seeds. Peat pots or biodegradable paper cups can be planted once the soil is ready.
- If you live in a location with a warm spring you can start seeds directly in the ground. Some type of water or irrigation system will be needed once the seeds are sown.
Although synthetic fertilizers create rapid growth in plants, there’s evidence that plants grown organically have different nutrient levels. A good alternative to synthetic fertilizers is compost. Learn more about sustainable green gardening practices.