Consider an Urban Vegetable Garden

Every winter, my grandmother received a catalog from Burpee Seeds and Plants. My grandparents spent countless hours reading through front to back, folding down the corners of pages that contained seeds potentially destined for our vegetable garden. Occasionally, they would glance through the window watching the snow accumulate on the frozen beds. It was cozy warm in the house and tea with leftover Christmas cookies kept them nourished. Usually, NPR played on the radio.

We had several planting areas around our house, each ranging from an acre to two acres. We grew corn in the larger sections and vegetables in the smaller. My grandmother drew each garden bed on a piece of paper and then made notes about planting times and seed varieties. In her garden journal, she recorded which vegetables grow in mounds and which ones were to be staked. She calculated how many seeds she would need and projected the number of seed packs to be ordered. The analysis included crop lifecycle and rotation options. For example, once lettuce matured that row would be replaced with radishes. Only after this disciplined exercise, she place her seed order and she always bought them from Burpees.

Burpee Seeds and Plants has been selling seeds for about 140 years. Today, their website is filled with everything you need to know about gardening. They sell seeds, seedlings and gardening equipment. Every year they have new varieties of vegetables available; though my grandmother was loyal to the specimens she knew worked in our growing zone and with our soil. Today, Burpees has a page dedicated to Tips for New Gardeners. It’s a good read.

For my small urban garden, I depend upon upon a book called “The MiniFarming Bible, The Complete Guide to Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre,” by Brett L. Markham. I’ve included the Amazon link to make it easy for you. I have the hard copy and the Kindle version too. This book satisfies every curiosity I have about vegetable gardening from pests to compost.

My biggest challenge is making sure my seeds are fresh enough to germinate. Each seed pack comes with dozens of seeds, and I only use two or three per growing season. On page 122 of “The MiniFarming Bible,” Table 16 lists the plants and the number of years the seeds are viable. A big disappointment is when you go to the trouble of sowing seeds but they don’t germinate. When that happens, there is a good possibility the seeds were not viable to begin with.

You can also collect your own seeds. Seeds from open-pollinated plants can be saved. Some seeds, like tomatoes and peppers, are easy to save, others less so. Seed packs are inexpensive ($5.00 to $10.00 per pack on average) so for an urban farmer, other than the novelty of doing so, it doesn’t make financial sense to harvest and save seeds. If stored properly, you can use most seeds from seed packs for two years.

When I first started gardening, I shortcut the entire seed process and purchased seedlings from my local garden center. Seedlings cost anywhere from $2.00 to $6.00 depending upon the plant. Sometimes, not often, seedlings can come with unwanted pests so be sure to purchase from an organization you trust. If you are near New Hampshire, Stout Oak Farm is my favorite!

The feature photo for this post shows a basket of zucchini I grew in the flower bed behind my porch. In the background, you can see the plant. You don’t need a dedicated garden area to grown vegetables. Mix them in with your flowers and shrubs!