Rooftop outdoor garden in the city

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#1Thing: How to Grow a Garden in NYC

August 7, 2019

By Lori Melton

In urban areas like New York City, green space might be limited, especially at apartments and brownstones. This can mean you might have to get creative if you’re surrounded by concrete and want to grow a garden. Plus, soil contamination is a big problem all over New York. So, it’s important to consider health and safety in your growing endeavor.

Fear not, lots of New Yorkers nurture flourishing gardens. These tips and ideas should help you get growing.

Considering Soil Contamination – Important Safety Tips

Unfortunately, soil in urban garden areas might contain toxic chemicals or pollutants. As such, exposure to and contact with these contaminants can pose health risks for people of all ages. However, young children are especially at risk because they are more likely to play with the soil and even put it in their mouths.

Furthermore, eating food grown in contaminated soil or putting your hands in your mouth after touching it, can cause health problems. So, first and foremost, monitor children’s actions when they are in an urban garden and make sure they (and you) avoid doing these things.

Other urban gardening safety tips include:

  • Build raised garden beds over the soil
  • Place a layer of semipermeable landscape fabric on top of the soil before adding clean soil to the raised bed. Beds are boxes placed on top of existing soil and they should be made from untreated, unpainted wood, stone, or concrete.
  • Use grass, wood chips, or mulch to cover any exposed soil areas
  • Always use clean soil or compost
  • Wear gloves while gardening
  • Never use chemical pesticides
  • Wash your hands and clothes and take off your shoes after you’re done
  • Wash tools after use
  • Wash and/or peel veggies and fruits from the garden well before eating

Also, be sure to educate yourself on the components of mulch, compost, and soil. If you have doubts about contamination, get the soil tested. Most importantly, don’t grow food in the space until you get test results. The Urban Soils Lab at Brooklyn College is one place that tests soil.

Know What to Plant and When to Plant It

Many gardeners follow a plant in the spring, harvest in the fall rule. However, NYC’s climate is a little different. So, some residents plant herb and vegetable gardens in the fall. In these cases, if you get your plants in by mid-October, you can yield some tasty additions to your Thanksgiving dinner.

Alternatively, consult online resources, such as The Old Farmers Almanac, to get a planting calendar for New York City. This invaluable tool lists ideal planting dates for a long list of crops.

Bring a Little of the Outdoors In

Growing an outdoor garden might be next to impossible for NYC apartment dwellers who have little access to personal green space. Don’t worry, there are still ways to bring the outdoors into your home.

For instance, Burpee home gardening company offers a wide variety of container plants that you can grow in a small space, such as a windowsill, patio, or fire escape. The site also features several how-to videos for growing container veggies such as broccoli, squash, carrots, tomatoes, and more.

AeroGarden is another fantastic indoor gardening source. The company’s revolutionary automated gardening products even make gardening easy for green thumb-challenged users. No real knowledge of gardening is required. Plants grow year-round, with low light and minimal effort. The automated containers come in different sizes and can support veggies, herbs, and flowers.

Finally, find detailed tips on growing a standard windowsill herb garden in our previous post.

Start or Join a Community Garden

One of the nicest benefits of maintaining an outdoor garden is the opportunity it brings for soaking up the sunshine, getting some fresh air, and some physical activity. Starting a community garden or volunteering at an existing one also helps beautify an urban environment and is a good way to meet others in your neighborhood.

For information on where to find community gardens and tips on how to start one, visit Grow NYC’s Garden Program website. Or, to help children learn gardening techniques you can join New York’s citywide school gardens initiative, Grow to Learn NYC.