Guerrilla Gardening

Posted on: January 7, 2015

Yes, it is only January and, for most of us at least, actual gardening is still a ways off. But, as the snow flies and temperatures dip, this can be the best time to sit down and plan out your gardens for the coming season.

Many of my readers live in an area that, for one reason or another, isn’t great for planting gardens. If you’re in a condo or apartment, there’s just not enough space. If you’re in a neighborhood governed by a homeowners association, the rules might not allow it. Fortunately, there are still some options available to you, if you’re willing to get creative a bit.

Guerrilla gardening is basically growing food under the radar, so to speak. Rather than having actual plots of land where you carefully sow your seeds in neat little patches, you’re using a variety of techniques to keep things at least reasonably hidden from plain sight.

Historically, guerrilla gardening referred to using vacant city lots, highway medians, and other such unused areas for planting food crops. The idea was to put to use these abandoned areas, not only providing food but also improving the aesthetics. This is certainly one option you might consider, should you have a vacant lot in your immediate area. However, I would caution you that if you don’t own the land yourself, you could be opening up a large can of worms. If the owners decide they want to build an apartment building on that lot, there is typically nothing you will be able to do to prevent them from destroying the gardens, as many such gardeners have found over the years.

That said, if you have what seems to be a suitable vacant lot in mind, you might consider tracking down the owner. Contact them and see if you can get permission to plant a garden on the lot, with the understanding being that if the lot is ever sold or the owners decide to build on it, it is up to you to either move the garden or let it be razed as needed. It can’t hurt to ask, right?

Container gardening is a viable option for most apartment and condo dwellers. While you certainly won’t be able to grow a ton of food in this way, some is better than none. Basically, container gardening is where you use planters and such on your patio or driveway to grow your plants. Using a cold frame would fall into this category as well, I think.

For most plants suited to container gardening, you’ll want pots or planters around 16″-18″ deep. While pretty much any plant can conceivably be grown in a container, provided the container is large enough, some that work particularly well are pole beans, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. Potatoes can be done as well, but you need a fairly large container to end up with a decent crop. One method that works well for taters is to use a container about two feet deep. Plant the potatoes at the bottom and as the plants grow, add more soil and compost to cover the tubers. Keep repeating this process all season long. Toward fall, when the plants die off, dump out all the potatoes.

Dwarf or miniature fruit trees are something to consider for those living in a tight space. As the name implies, these are smaller versions of the standard plants. Be sure to do your homework, though, as many varieties require two or more of them in close proximity for pollination.

Edible landscaping is another option, particularly for those living in HOA communities. Basically, this involves using food-bearing plants to decorate your yard. For example, rather than planting hedges along the border, try using blueberry or blackberry bushes. If you have landscape beds in your front or back yard, consider scattering some food plants in with the decorative shrubs. Just be sure they will get plenty of light throughout the day. Some good choices for these beds would be broccoli, lettuce, and kale. Strawberries make for an attractive ground cover, too.

Whenever possible, be sure to purchase or otherwise obtain heirloom seeds. This means the seeds obtained from the fruit or vegetable grown can be planted and will grow true. Most of the seeds found in big box retailers are not heirloom but are hybrids. Trying to grow viable plants from hybrid seeds is usually a fruitless endeavor.

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