Smart Gardening Tips for the Urban Homesteader

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It's been a big time for food. E. Coli scares from major food manufacturers like Costco, Starbucks, and Chipotle encouraged us noshers to learn more about where our food comes from—like how our food is grown and prepared, not to mention the overall safety of those food items being supplied to us.

It's also continued to spur healthy food trends such as the consumption of beneficial foods like kale salads and quinoa—especially as we continue to be more conscientious of what we are putting into our bodies.

In this vein, growing food awareness and concerns are fueling the meteoric rise in farm-to-table dining and urban homesteading across the nation, encouraging people around the country to get their hands back into the dirt. In fact, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, urban agriculture is now practiced by over 800 million people worldwide, with key reasoning pointing back to food security and safety.

As a soil scientist by trade and a plant lover since birth, it’s refreshing to see the increased interest consumers are taking in what we consume and how it makes it to our table. It’s also made clear that we can be more involved in the process through activities like urban gardening. As such, I’ve put together a list of quick, easy spring gardening tips for the urban homesteader, from the first-timer to the veteran.

1. Plant in Winter, Transplant in Spring

Contrary to popular belief, gardening can be a year-round hobby. By starting to plant your crops — be it herbs, vegetables, or fruits— indoors during the cold winter months, you’re giving them an increased likelihood of making it to adulthood when planted outside.

For those of you who started with seeds indoors during the winter, spring is the time to transplant seedlings.

2. Pay Attention to Soil Temperature

Soil temperature has a direct correlation with germination, so it is important to keep plants that have a similar temperature threshold in the same area. Cauliflower, celery, and cucumbers are all great planting companions with a soil temperature sweet spot of 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

3. Use Technology to Plan Ahead

Want to design the perfect outdoor garden? By using Google Earth’s free satellite imagery, you can easily plan your garden layout for free.

Live in an apartment? Google Sketchup is a great, free computer-aided design tool that can allow you to design an indoor garden, as well.

4. Don't Fall Victim to Drought

With water conservation top-of-mind for all gardeners, drought-resistant plants and vegetables make the perfect addition to any garden, especially in those drier months. Beets, carrots, onions, parsnips, pumpkins, and summer squash are all varieties of drought-tolerant veggies.

Another smart tip for the drought-conscious: installing a drip irrigation system that connects to your washing machine or a rain barrel can save up to 80% more water than a traditional irrigation system by watering plants at their roots where water is less likely to evaporate. This system also allows farmers and gardeners to schedule watering cycles for later in the day when the weather is cooler.

5. Monitor Closely the 'Smart Way'

Invest in smart technologies that help you keep a better eye on what’s going on above and beneath your garden’s soil, so you always know what your plants need. For instance, wireless cameras like GoPros or homes security systems (e.g. Nest Cam, Piper) allow you to view your garden while away. A smart garden sensor like Edyn can break down the health of your plants—light, temperature, soil electrical conductivity—from anywhere in the world.

Are You Ready to Revolutionize Your Garden?

Growing your own food at home won’t be easy, but it doesn’t have to be impossible either. It’s all about preparation, attention to detail, and leveraging the right tools. Although we may still fall victim to microorganisms that have been around for thousands of years, we are now at a point where we can have complete agency over what we produce, not to mention when and how we produce it.

Thanks to technology we can truly understand the science of plants and the soils we grow them in. And now technology is also providing us tools to streamline that process. Granted, there will be a lot of elbow grease along with blood, tears, and sweat as you work on growing your garden. But nothing will taste better than fresh crops from the garden you’ve worked so hard to maintain.