Always I am coming to terms with the fact that most people think they can’t grow food because of their living situation. If you, beloved reader, are one of those people, I am here today to provide hope and solace this once, to explain exactly how little it takes to make space to grow food. Unfortunately, you may be right about your situation and if so, I am also here today to destroy all your aspirations and dreams of growing food at home. It depends on the place where you live; but even more, it depends on you, hopeful gardener, because you need not limit yourself to home alone.
So! Let us start with that destruction of aspirations and dreams. If you have no adequate source of sunlight, you cannot grow food. Sorry, you’re going to have to tap into the infinite all elsewhere. There are exceptions to the rule, but almost all the stuff we like to eat needs “full sun” in order to live any meaningful sort of life, which means six to eight hours of direct sunlight. Really, six hours isn’t so much in the grand scheme of our long spring and summer daylight hours. To supplement, you could buy grow lights. It’s surely not financially sustainable by any means unless your scale is huge or you’re growing drugs, but growing indoors with artificial light is of course a possibility. If you’re looking for a local space to help you hunt down that white whale, try Laughing Buddha Nursery or Grow Wiser Supply. If you’re looking to the internet, follow the marijuana; those folks have been ahead of food growers for decades.
If you are seeking that space in your house or yard that gets enough sun to adequately grow things, look south. It is the south side of your space that receives the most sun as it travels from east to west. If you have big windows, you’ll want to use those that face south for your potted plants. If you have a yard, it’s best to grow on the south side of your space. If not, it’s probably OK, but that’s where the sun will linger longest.
Oh, you don’t have a yard? That’s too bad, because everything grows better when it’s living a life in the real world, interacting with the infinite miracles the ecosystem bestows on our plants, occurring always in a place far beyond our puny human mind’s minute periphery. But it’s not that bad, you can totally still grow your plants in pots anywhere enough light hits them. In fact, part of the majesty of pots is that you can move them as the seasons change and the shadows get longer. Also, of course, if you don’t have a yard to speak of but do have outdoor space, just put your pots out there. When it gets too cold, move them on in, and you just might end up with plants that live far longer than nature ever intended.
The more prevalent your garden is in your physical space, the more often you will consider it in the infinite space of your mind.
Stoops, driveways, balconies, sidewalks, and rooftops: you’ve probably got at least one of those to put pots on. There is a catch with this whole pot thing, though: size matters. If your pot hasn’t got at least eight inches of diameter, your plants don’t want none, hon. As always, there are exceptions, but any plant at all will be happier the more space you offer it, so sticking to an eight inch minimum will ensure you do nobody wrong. In the case of greens, herbs, and root vegetables, feel free to stick two or three plants in an eight inch pot, but don’t expect monstrous results. For fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers, eight is definitely the lower limit of what they will endure. Four or five pots are enough to produce food for salads here and there, as well as all the kitchen herbs you may desire. But if you’ve got room for ten or more pots, you’re already growing as much (if not more) than most people with a small, proper raised-bed garden.
Speaking of raised beds, I will forever attest that they are by far the best way to grow food if you are growing on a personal garden scale. They are hard to ignore, easy to manage by means of compartmentalization, and sure to be just autonomous enough from the larger world around them that they will not fall to the chaotic whims of nature before you’ve had a chance to revel in their bounty. The right space for a raised bed is literally any space you can find that gets light: atop grass, dirt, gravel or concrete, they will do the same magnificent job. Around these parts, worrying about level ground is not really a consideration. Granted, you don’t want to grow food in a puddle, but that’s one of the reasons a raised bed is so ideal.
If you have the luxury of plentiful yard space, look first for a space with adequate sun, and next for a place that you already frequently pass through or by, or at least frequently can see. The more prevalent your garden is in your physical space, the more often you will consider it in the infinite space of your mind.
The size of your beds are up to you, of course, but making a bed more than three feet wide is risky business unless you have very long arms. A single 3×3 bed is nothing to scoff at in terms of production for the kitchen—that’s like 13 eight inch pots. And if you’re just getting started, smaller is probably better.
If you have literally no way to grow anything inside or outside of your house, this city is still teeming with opportunities for you to grow food. I know for a fact that as of this writing, many of the community gardens around town have plots available. It can take a little bit of luck and elbow-rubbing to find yourself a space to grow, but I promise they are out there and they can be yours. Parkway Partners (parkwaypartnersnola.org) has something of a benevolent monopoly on community garden spaces, but reaching out to them directly probably won’t get you a plot, though it does have a very handy map of all their affiliated plots. Showing up at a space in your neighborhood and chatting with whoever’s around is probably your best bet. Remember, although getting a community garden plot can be daunting, plant people are usually more scared of you than you are of them. That’s why they hang out with plants. If you aren’t ready for a plot of your own, there are also myriad urban farms of all sorts and sizes across this great flat land, and most of them love volunteers, especially volunteers who show up more than twice. They probably can’t pay you money, but they’ll certainly pay you in produce, and they’ll help you gain the knowledge and confidence you crave to someday become a plant person with a space of your own.