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Published on March 1st, 2009 | by adamwilliams

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What Vegetables Can Urban Gardeners Grow on a Fire Escape?

Urban food growing is not a new concept, but in recent years it has, perhaps, enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. As people look for lifestyles that return to basics — local, reasonably self-reliant, organic — many are picking up a seed packet and a trowel.

But what defines “urban” when it comes to farming, homesteading, gardening?

I previously blogged about well-known urban homesteaders, the Dervaes family in Pasadena, Calif. The Dervaes are a fantastic model, though not the only one, for thriving as farmers within a highly populated area. The Dervaes work a 1/5-acre piece of land.

I live in the center of St. Louis and am a novice expanding a garden on what is often referred to as a postage-stamp lot (my total property — house, garage and yard — is less than one-tenth of an acre).

Given that the dictionary definition of “urban” applies to anyone living in a populated area and, essentially, includes anyone not living in an outright rural/farm area, then even home gardens in the suburbs could be considered urban.

But what about, say, New Yorkers, or Chicagoans, who live in apartment buildings and only have a fire escape for outdoor space to use for home gardening? They are of course considered urban in the ultimate sense, but can they tend to their own productive soils?

Yes. The solution is containers. And plenty of the ultra-urban dwellers of major cities around the world are putting pot and box planting to use.

According to Seeds of Change, when considering a “containable garden,” the question is not “What can I grow?” Rather it should be, “What can’t I grow?”

The seed seller says:

A huge variety of flowers, herbs and vegetables can be grown in containers; many fruits, bulbs and shrubs are also happy in pots. Slow-growing dwarf and miniature plants, and the smaller and more ornamental vegetables are particularly well suited for containers. And while vines and trees need stakes, trellises or wire cylinders for climbing or support, they often do better in containers than in the ground, where they tend to grow too fast. You can grow your own salad by planting lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, and carrots in a single large pot; or try a “pizza garden” of tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, oregano and basil!

Ultimately, for those in the most populous cities, just as for those who have spacious suburban yards, whether or not to grow one’s own food — or to follow other homesteading methods as displayed by the Dervaes family, et al — lies within each individual or family.

The ways are there for those who have the will. Sometimes it takes more creativity than for other situations. But adaptability and problem-solving is what life is about, right?

Photo: LollyKnit, via Flickr



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2 Responses to What Vegetables Can Urban Gardeners Grow on a Fire Escape?

  1. Dawn/FFL says:

    Are there any vegetables that will do ok in non-direct light, my patio is in the shade (north facing)

  2. Kristen says:

    I cannot believe you took my grouchy comment and made it into an entire post. It’s both hilarious and mortifying.

    Despite what I said, here in NYC, it is illegal to put or hang anything on your fire escape. It’s true almost everyone does it, but if caught, it can lead to hefty fines for your landlord (who will gladly pass the cost along to you).

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