Small Space Gardening in Hamilton

For Hamilton’s inner-city residents, especially those living in apartments or houses with limited space, gardening can be a difficult task. Green Venture, in cooperation with the Hamilton Community Garden Network, Volunteer Hamilton, and the City of Hamilton sponsored by a Keep America Beautiful/UPS grant, has offered a series of workshops throughout July and August 2012 to teach Hamiltonians about Small Space Gardening (SSG).

Small Space Gardening is making the best use of balcony or window space to grow vegetables in a cost-effective manner. SSG workshops were held at Volunteer Hamilton, 257 King Street East, Hamilton, and were led by Green Venture’s Kim Dunlop and summer student, Robert Smith. At the workshops, attendees got the hands-on experience of building their own containers to take home.  They also got to see the different models in action on the  Volunteer Hamilton rooftop garden.

Self-Watering Containers

Self-watering totes on Volunteer Hamilton rooftop garden

Self-watering totes on Volunteer Hamilton rooftop garden

The first SSG workshop focused on self-watering containers and how to build them. Self-watering containers are an inexpensive way to grow a lot of plants with minimal care. These containers have an area at the base that can be filled with water.  Over time, a ‘wick’ (something absorbant) pulls the water  into the soil to keep the plants watered. Larger containers can be made out of plastic totes or buckets and smaller ones can be made from 2L pop bottles or kitty litter pails. The practical part of the workshop focused on building self-watering containers out of pop bottles cut in half, stacked and filled with soil and herbs. In larger con

tainers, plants such as tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, and melons can be grown – just to name a few. The only challenge is giving them enough space because they grow so fast! Some important points to remember when gardening in containers:

  • Use a soil specifically made for plants in pots – regular garden soil is too heavy and does not have adequate drainage for containers
  • Use light coloured containers – dark containers will heat up in the sun very quickly leaving you with very dry plants
  • Ensure there is good drainage in your container.  Options include a few holes in a container’s base for water to escape or material with lots of space in between (like rocks or broken up styrofoam) in the bottom few inches of larger pots.
  • Avoid overwatering. The beauty of self-watering container is plants only take up the water they need.  In general, if the soil is dry more then 1cm below the surface it is time to water.

Planting in self-watering containers

Vertical Gardening

Gutters on Volunteer Hamilton rooftop garden

Gutters on Volunteer Hamilton rooftop garden

As our plants grew taller, the second SSG workshop focused on vertical gardening to give plants a way to grow up, instead of out. Vertical gardening is very simple and can be done with PVC piping, a wood-trellis, the rails along a balcony or other household items that plants can climb. Tying plants to bamboo stakes or a wood-trellis is a traditional way of helping plants grow up instead of out so that space is preserved around the ground for other plants. For those in apartments or with decks, plants such as tomatoes or melons can be tied up along the posts of the balcony and this will also aid in their growth by giving them space to grow.

Gutters can be used to grow small plants such as salad greens (see photos). We do recommend that you buy additional gutters to attach to a deck and do not use your home gutter system. Some tips to keep in mind for vertical gardening are:

  • Don’t tie plants tightly or they won’t grow well.  Loosen ties if they start to dig into the stem.
  • Place gutter gardens in places where they will not be flooded so plants will not be washed away

Growing Vegetables for the Fall

In August, the final workshop focused on preparing for fall gardening and what to grow to see the best results. August is a good time to start planting sprouts, carrots, beets and plants from the broccoli family so that they will be ready to eat before winter. Some of these plants, such as chinese cabbage or carrots, will not be hurt by light frost – they actually get sweeter with a bit of frost bite. Heavier frosts will hurt these plants so care should be taken to protect them using pop bottles or meshing to cover them over night.

The workshop continued onto the rooftop garden at Volunteer Hamilton which had been growing for a month and the plants were doing very well. All of the self-watering containers were full with vegetables that were ripening. The melons we had planted had grown up the balcony and were almost sitting on the hand rail. The workshop concluded with planting fall vegetable seeds in small containers with some green onions that had already started growing. In the coming weeks, we shall see how well they do.

Windowbox with herbs on Volunteer Hamilton rooftop garden

Windowbox with herbs on Volunteer Hamilton rooftop garden

Brochures from workshops

SSG – Grow Container Vegetables in Fall

SSG – How to build a Self-Watering Container Brochure

SSG – How to Vertical Garden

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