Back to Basics: Beginner tips for starting an urban garden

I'm new to this organic/sustainable gardening thing and I'm still finding my own way but I thought it would be nice to post about a few basic and cheap things that anyone can do to start their own garden.

1. Start Composting!
    Compost is a super cheap and healthy alternative to commercial potting soil mixes. While at the advanced levels some farmers and gardeners prefer to add special nutrients to their soil, it really isn't necessary if you are just starting out. Some of the benefits of composting on your own includes always having a supply of potting soil for planting, reducing your impact on the planet by recycling organic waste and lastly, a cheap supply of good soil that you can use to repair your yard. Here are some instructions for starting a basic vermicomposting (composting using worms) bin of your own:

     1. Get a large plastic bucket, the kind used for storing kid's toys. It should be about 2' wide by 3' long and 2' high, with a lid. You will also need a pan or send lid to put beneath the bucket for the brown water the worms excrete. This water is a super fertilizer and can be added at a ratio of about 1/2 cup to a gallon of water to make a nice treat for your plants. Cut or drill small holes into the bottom of the bucket.
     2.  Fill the bucket with a layer of damp cardboard (slightly wet but not soaking). Then mix together some organic waste and potting soil that does not have weird chemicals in it. A third of the way full should be enough for your worms to live in and leave space for more soil. Acceptable organic waste can include yard clippings (avoid weeds and pest plants, which can end up seeding your lovely soil with nasty weeds), egg shells and plants waste. The plant waste can be cooked or not but do not use anything that has had contact with oils or animal fat, which can make the compost stink. Do not put meat, fat or excrement in your compost bucket. Excrement can be used in an outdoor compost heap, but it tends to smell in a small vermicomposting bucket.
     3.  Get your worms. Many people simply give them away, particularly on sites like Freecycle. Just ensure that they are they right kind of worms: Red Wriggles. These worms are also available to buy from fishing stores and online. However, I personally wouldn't waste the $25-40 people are charging to mail the worms. I'm not an animal rights freak but I also feel that it is cruel to the worms, so I suggest you only mail order worms if you can not find them else where.
     4.  Park your compost bin next to your regular trash to remind you to use it regularly and take a moment to move the earth around every time you add more waste. You should also keep in mind that this is just an intro to vermicomposting and you should research more on how to keep your worms healthy, happy and producing.

2.  Use What You Got!
     I know, every time you open one of those delicious gardening books or magazines you see dozens of beautiful pictures of plants in cute planters. But do you really need them? You can easily use 2lt soda jugs, gallon milk jugs or juice containers to make a hanging gardening. Basically all you need to do is cut the bottom off of your jugs and slip a small plant into the jug from the bottom. Cut holes into the sides to hang it from strings and fill the jug the rest of the way up with soil, then hang it in an appropriate corner.
     Another easy project is to use left over PVC pipes to make a hydroponic garden for plants like herbs and lettuce. You can find projects like these and more at (personally one of my favorite websites EVER) for free.

3.   Plant What You'll Use!
     I know how tempting it is to plant those beautiful radishes just because they are easy and look so great in a basket but resist the temptation if you know you aren't going to eat it or give it away! There are hundreds of amazing and gorgeous plants that are also tasty and easy to grow. Don't grow something just because you think you should. The only reason you should break this rule is because you know someone who will eat it or make something from it. For example, a friend of mine hates tomatoes but her mine loves them. On top of that, she loves spaghetti sauce. We've decided to grow small cherry tomatoes to give to her family and make into all kinds of delicious sauces.

Check out some of the following products to help make your first garden more easily:


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