Gardening in the concrete jungle


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Raise your hand if you think you don’t have enough space to support a garden. Now put your hand down. Because you’re wrong. A common misconception of urban dwellers is that they don’t have the room or layout to grow their own fresh produce.

Mike Lieberman, of Urban Organic Gardener, has successfully and personally debunked that myth since he began his own urban garden in the spring of 2009 when he lived in the East Village of Manhattan.

And it all began with an apple. “I was buying organic at the time. I picked up an apple and looked at the label: product of Chile.

“I started thinking about what I could do. I was looking at the apple, which was the epiphany, and I started to grow my own food,” he said. “I was becoming more conscious and aware of my choices and what they affected beyond my wallet and bubble.”

So he started to research ways he could grow his own food in his small New York City apartment. But the information didn’t speak to him. “I found information, but it wasn’t spoken in my language or for my living conditions.”

Which is how Urbanorganicgardener.com, Lieberman’s website, was born. The site shares advice and tips for growing your own urban garden, and HellaWella got the dirt on how to start.

The first step, according to Lieberman, is to take a survey of the space you’re living in. Do you have a window sill, fire escape, patio, room on your kitchen counter? Any space where you can put a pot or container is fair game.

“There are more options than you think,” he said.

Next, you need to ask yourself: How much sunlight do I get? When you live in an urban environment or apartment, you’ll often find that your window faces trees or other buildings that restrict the amount of sun that comes through.

Once you’ve determined how much sun you get, Lieberman offered his basic rule of thumb for choosing plants: If you only get three to four hours of sun, choose leafy greens, including lettuce (iceberg, romaine, butter), spinach, kale, arugula and Swiss chard. Not only do greens require little sunlight, but they’re low maintenance.

Conversely, anything that grows from “flower to fruit” — think tomato, eggplant, cucumber and pepper — require at least six to eight hours of sun each day.

Next question to ask yourself is: What do I eat a lot of? “It sounds obvious,” Lieberman said, “but it’s something you need to take into consideration.”

And while that answer is different for everyone, he does suggest planting organically. That means no fertilizer, no chemicals, nothing toxic.

Lieberman waters his veggies once a week with a self-watering container, which he built himself. Check out the video below for his step-by-step, DIY guide.

Now what if your plants aren’t thriving? Lieberman suggests this simple tip: Change something. Take a look at what you’re doing and alter it in some way. Are you watering every day? Then lessen the amount. It’s all about trial and error, but he also advises keeping a journal so you know what you’ve tried, what worked and what didn’t.

Lieberman, who now lives in California, also shared what plants he’s currently growing. He has 10 containers on his balcony that house Asian greens, mint, Swiss chard, lettuce, garlic, arugula and parsley.

And when asked what’s in his ideal salad, Lieberman stuck with the basics: “A simple salad with things we can all incorporate more in our daily diets: lettuce, kale, garlic, onion, avocado and cucumber, massaged in with olive oil, sea salt and a little bit of raw honey.”

Tell us below: Have you tried urban gardening? What did you grow, and how successful were you?