10 Things You Should Know...
1. From pot to plot. Whether it’s tomatoes in a balcony container or a flower garden on a median strip, urban gardening is practiced by people with limited space and unlimited creativity.
2. A growth industry. Urban gardening has been on the rise in Denver since the 1980s, according to Abbie Harris of Denver Urban Gardens (DUG), a non-profit whose mission is to build and support community plots throughout Denver. “The year we started , we helped build three gardens,” Harris says. “This year we’re at twenty.”
3. Why the upswing? “Interest in urban gardening often goes up when the country is in a recession,” says Diane Stahl, owner of Urban Roots, a Denver shop that focuses on the needs of small-space gardeners. And these small plots can be mighty: A 10-by-10-foot plot can feed a family for a summer. Add to that canning, and you have food for most of the year.
4. Research says... According to a study conducted by the Colorado School of Public Health and Urban Roots, people who maintain urban gardens eat more healthfully, are more active and feel a greater sense of community. (Go to urbanrootsdenver.com to see the study.)
5. Grow locally, eat locally. In the wake of books like Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and films like Food, Inc., many people are seeking less processed fare that is grown closer to home. Urban gardening, which fulfills both missions, is the ultimate green activity, Stahl says.
6. Before you get dirty. You have to know your microclimate, which isn’t necessarily the same as your neighbor’s. Does your plot get sun? How’s the drainage? Are there big shade trees nearby? How close is it to asphalt and concrete?
7. Dig into it. Soil testing is critical for any kind of gardening. Colorado State University offers a test kit—just put a square of soil in the bag and mail it to CSU for an analysis. Get yours at soiltestinglab.colostate.edu.
8. Think outside the plot. Want bees or chickens? DUG has beekeeping guidelines at dug.org for home honey producers, and new chicken guidelines were piloted at a community garden at Park Hill Elementary School last fall. (If you live outside Denver, check your municipality’s laws regarding food production.)
9. Read a little first. According to Stahl, the best books to read before starting a garden in Denver are Durable Plants for the Garden (produced by CSU, Denver Botanic Gardens and Green Industries of Colorado) and The Colorado Gardener’s Guide by John Cretti.
10. Batter up. When you can’t unload your giant zucchinis at season’s end, do what the expert gardeners do: Invite friends over for an afternoon of zucchini whiffleball. After all, when zucchinis are over 12 inches long, they’re too watery for good eats—so bat away!
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