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Samantha Daly

How to Build an Urban Garden

How to Build an Urban Garden

If SHTF, self-reliance is key. You want to have all the tools necessary to survive right at your fingertips – one of those being food. Of course, growing your own food is easy if you have the land to do so, but what if you live in an urban environment where green space is hard to come by? 

The solution to urban gardening is optimization of space. Your garden will not look like the traditional garden of rows upon rows of different foods, but it will grow you enough vegetables to stay healthy, and perhaps trade for other things you need, as fresh foods will be hard to find.

Identify Your Space. First, you need to identify how much space you have and what kind of sunlight it receives. Do you have a patio, balcony, flat roof, veranda, or even a large windowsill? Does this area get sunlight all day long, or is it relatively shady? The level of sunlight will determine the kind of plant that will survive in your garden.

Choose the Style of Garden. Depending on how much space you have, you can either build a square foot garden or a potted plant garden. Square foot gardens are ideal if you have one relatively large space. Measure how many feet long and wide the garden can be and divide it into 1’ x 1’ squares, each at least 6” deep and a few inches off the ground to drain. You can make this kind of garden from wood, PVC pipe, or concrete. Alternatively, if you have more, smaller spaces scattered in various locations, you can make small, potted plant gardens by clustering a few potted plants in each area.

Pick the Proper Plants. No matter how nicely you build your garden, if you choose the wrong plants, you will not be successful. 

First identify how much sun your garden receives.

  • Full sunlight vegetables: tomatoes, peas, beans, squash 
  • Partial shade vegetables: leafy greens (spinach, bok choy, lettuce), root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, potatoes)

Then, determine if the plant needs to be grown alone (i.e. in its own square or individual pot).

  • Needs to be grown alone: peppers, chilies, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, zucchini


  • Do not cram the pots or squares with a lot of plants. Vegetables need room to grow roots.
  • Do not choose plants that send runners, as they will be challenging to contain, especially in a square foot garden.
  • Fertilize plants regularly with organic fertilizer or potting soil that contains nutrients to encourage growth.
  • Put vertical supports in containers if you want to grow beans, peas, or small gourds.
  • Avoid over-watering that creates a runoff.

Not only does a garden brighten your home and provide fresh, homegrown vegetables on a consistent basis, but it can be a huge asset in a post-disaster society. If SHTF, the food supply is going to be interrupted and fresh foods will be the first thing to go missing from your local grocery store’s shelves. Having a garden allows you to continue getting nutrients from vegetables, even after they are no longer available in stores. If your garden is large enough, you can even use the vegetables you grow as trading items to sell in exchange for medicines or other survival materials.

Do you have an urban garden? Share your creative ways of utilizing small spaces to cultivate fresh produce with us on Facebook. 


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