In the middle of a spring snowstorm, I built a garden box for my balcony. This morning my right hand is still twitching, my left palm is bruised. This is what happens when you don’t charge your drill batteries and have to drive in sixteen 1 1/2 screws by hand. For the first time in months, my apartment smells like something other than my neighbors and air freshener. It smells like cut lumber; it smells warm and sweet.
As spring comes, in her predictably glacial pace, to Edmonton, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about urban agriculture. Living on the third floor of a walk-up, smack dab in the centre of downtown, poses some unique challenges. And while I can daydream endlessly of owning a tiny house whose backyard is filled with a lush garden, the gentle clucking of backyard hens, and the hum of a small hive of honey bees tucked in a safe space. That’s not my reality – at least, not this season.
Which means I’m trying to sort out how to make my tiny balcony as productive as it can be. I don’t want the average apartment garden, i.e. a handful of toasted tomato plants in dried out plant pots, whose only kind-of-growing friends are equally sun-fried tidal wave petunias. I want a lush box full of herbs, lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, tomatoes, beans and strawberries. And thanks to an adorable gardener named Mel – it might be a possibility.
Enter square foot gardening (SFG).
The basic premise is that you create a 4×4 raised bed and section it off into one foot squares. In each square you plant a variety of plants, pretty well anything your heart desires (though if you want to plant squash and beans, a few extra steps and props are required). Square foot gardening seems to be a pretty ideal solution for people want to grow food in small spaces. The only real drawback to SFG seems to be the cost involved in building the raised box and acquiring soil; however, I would argue that it’s a minor drawback since most small space gardeners face similar, if not higher, costs in purchasing multiple planters and soil. If you’re on a budget be creative about sourcing your lumber, soil and seeds. Hint: talk to your gardening friends.
While I’m hesitant to shout, “SFG IS THE SHIT!” from the rooftops at this early stage in the season, I’m very excited to see how this gardening experiment goes. Growing your own food is really important and extremely rewarding. Try it.