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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 plants for 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, or urban farming, 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. So, find your green thumb and let's get started city dwellers!

Identify Your Space. First, you need to identify how much growing space you have and what kind of sunlight it receives. Odds are you do not have outdoor space for a mini greenhouse, so get creative with your garden design! Do you have a patio, balcony, flat roof, veranda, vertical space, or even a large windowsill in your living space? Does this area get sunlight all day long, or is it in relatively shady areas? The level of sunlight will determine the kind of plant that will survive when you're urban gardening. You can plot on the ground, but using hanging baskets or window boxes can utilize your small space constructively. Do you have access to your rooftop? A rooftop garden can create a sense of building community, as well as the food source. Just ensure you have proper drainage in the limited space, or you could run the risk of root rot.

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 urban 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. You can even create a container garden or grow upward with a vertical garden. Alternatively, if you have a small space 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 urban 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 with enough room to grow).

  • 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 urban gardening 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 an urban 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.

Are you an urban gardener? Share your gardening tips and creative ways of utilizing small spaces to cultivate fresh produce through urban gardening with us on Facebook. 

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