A green space for urban gardeners

An Earth Day challenge: grow one item of produce this season

I read an article earlier this week that questioned whether it was cost effective to grow your own food. It listed a ton of supplies needed to begin and suggested balancing the price of those supplies against the price of just purchasing the food outright…

It’s the kind of thing that can discourage a person from getting started, and let me say — as someone who does grow tomatoes and a veggie or two — that you don’t need to tick off a 25-item check list before going gardener. And, you can reap immediate returns — not just where your wallet is concerned, but in terms of the quality of the produce produced, as well.

If you live in an urban area and have only a small balcony like I do, I challenge you to give it a grow this season. Buy one large clay pot, enough soil to fill it, one packet of cherry tomato seeds and one wire hoop for support. All can be had for less than $15. My thumb is no greener than the next guy’s and I’ve managed to get oodles of fresh tomatoes during a season — far more than $15 worth!

And though I described my process, which has evolved over several years, in one of this blog’s first posts, you don’t have to spend the additional money on a mini greenhouse with peat pellets to get results. You can sow the seeds outside directly into the soil, using a spoon to sprinkle on soil to cover them — no need to invest in a hand trowel.

After your first season you will also be able to subtract the cost of buying seeds for the following year’s garden, and inch a little closer to sustainability, by collecting seeds from your harvest to use next time.

Oh, one more thing: I often find that store-bought tomatoes don’t last very long if left unrefrigerated (and refrigeration robs tomatoes of flavor). Since your home-grown tomatoes won’t have to travel lengthy distances to get to the dinner table, they’ll last longer without the big chill, thus retaining their fabulous flavor.

I’m casting these produce seeds upon the soil this year (all grown in containers on my balcony): lemon cucumber (organic), kermit hybrid Thai eggplant, mariachi hybrid pepper, Risentraube cherry tomato (an heirloom variety from Germany), purple Russian tomato (a small-fruit heirloom from the Ukraine), and golden sweet hybrid ( a yellow grape tomato).

I may try some sugar snap peas and a mesclun mix, too.

So don’t be put off by those who say you can’t — I’m proof that anyone can!

[Photos: The edible purple flower that preceded the kermit hybrid eggplant (top), and an Isis candy tomato – both from last season’s garden.]

Coming Sunday: A recipe that uses both the Thai eggplant and the Isis candy tomato


  Jo wrote @

A great motivational post, Avis. I agree, anyone can grow at least some of their own food, if only they’d give it a go.

  heather @ whatsbloomingthis week wrote @

Count me in – tomatoes, herbs and zucchini all in pots on my patio. Nothing better than going into the garden and picking a cherry tomato and popping it into your mouth all warm from the sun.

  linda wrote @

Happy Earth Day Avis! Articles like the one you’re referring to seem to proliferate at this time of year. There are so many creative, cost-saving ways to get started growing one’s own veggies, and you’ve given some great tips.

My primary motivations for growing some of our food are not economic. Still, in all the years I’ve grown produce, I’ve always harvested enough veggies to more than compensate for what it would cost me to buy those veggies in a store, even if I figure the cost of conventionally-grown (non-organic) produce. At the price of store-bought organic produce, the savings are even more dramatic.

  City Diggity wrote @

That’s a fabulous point about organic produce! It costs even more at the market, and the price difference between the organic seeds and the non-organic are often negligible.

I don’t think I really appreciated tomatoes until I tasted the amazing flavor of the ones I grew myself!

Heather, Jo, and Linda,
Happy Earth Day to you and enjoy your home-grown produce!

  Pam’s English Garden wrote @

Hi, Avis, Great post. As you say there are so many reasons other than cost for growing your own veg. and it doesn’t have to be costly. I have a vegetable garden because I like to know exactly what went into the produce I eat … it may say organic in the store, but I like to be sure. I also grow an extra row for the local food pantry (I doubt I would BUY vegetables and donate them). Wishing you a happy Earth Day, Pam x

PS. Avis, I have switched to a blogspot blog. Please change the address in your sidebar. Thanks.

  City Diggity wrote @

That your food pantry kindness is both inspirational and aspirational! I’ll do the same some day when I have yard space for a garden. As it is, I usually harvest so many tomatoes from my container plants that I’m able to share with my friends.

Herbs are a great way to go! And growing your own can definitely save you money since those at the grocer’s aren’t cheap. And, they don’t stay fresh very long.

  Andrea wrote @

Avis, I’m going beyond houseplants this year for the first time and trying my hand at herbs! I am hoping to buy my supplies this weekend.

I have a very sunny south-facing window and am hoping to find a few herbs willing to grow for me there! I want to try basil, chives and mint for sure, and maybe rosemary or oregano….? I don’t think I can do tomatoes indoors though, and my back tiny landing-porch is very shady….

  Andrea wrote @

PS: I keep store-bought tomatoes in the fridge but bring them back to room temperature for eating. That’s my compromise. I agree they don’t last long just sitting out.

  Gatsbys Gardens wrote @

I agree Avis, we don’t want to turn anyone off on gardening because it is something you can do your whole life.


  Stephanie wrote @

Happy belated Earth day Avis!

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