A guide to urban gardening, part 1: Why we should start growing our own food and how to get started

Photo by markusspiske from Pixabay

By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao 

Despite already being a trend as well as a proposed solution to curb both hunger and malnutrition, there has been a rising interest in urban gardening recently particularly due to the nationwide imposed community quarantine which kept people inside the safety of their own homes. 

With more time on their hands as well as a mix of boredom, curiosity, and perseverance to grow their own food, homeowners across the Philippines engaged in urban gardening to either provide for their needs during the lockdown or find a productive hobby to spend the day. 

Even now, with the lockdown lifted, numerous residents still want to try their hand in growing their own food at the comfort of their own homes. But there’s more to urban gardening than just being able to produce food in an available space in one’s house. 

Bryan A. Tingas, a farming advocate, shared some other benefits of urban gardening during the a webinar under the AgriTalk 2020 Caraga leg which was held in partnership with the Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Training Institute in Caraga (DA-ATI Caraga) Manila Bulletin, and Agriculture Online. 

He defined urban gardening as the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in or around urban areas. While it is commonly done within households, it is not limited to these locations. 

According to Tingas, one advantage of growing one’s own food is the security of knowing that it is produced without the use of harmful chemicals such as pesticides and insecticides. 

“We should not be fooled about how pretty vegetables and fruits look like. There’s a chance that these are grown with chemicals. We should ask ourselves, if [the chemicals sprayed on the produce] is not safe to breathe, then how will the fruits and vegetables be safe to eat?,” Tingas said in the webinar aired via the Facebook pages of ATI Caraga and Agriculture Online. 

Other than producing food that’s safe for consumption, another benefit of urban gardening is that it promotes healthy eating and prevents malnutrition since the homegrown vegetables and other produce can provide the necessary vitamins and minerals needed by the body. 

Families also have a lot to gain from urban gardening. Family members can spend time together to create stronger bonds and more memories while sowing seeds, watering the plants, and more. 

Moreover, families can also save and earn more money from urban gardening since it can help cut the cost of expenses from buying produce from the market or grocery while surplus from harvests can be sold to those interested. 

In the meantime, urban gardening also has its benefits to the environment. One is that it helps reduce the volume of solid waste since urban gardening can be done using recycled materials such as plastic bottles, and tin cans among others.  

The plants will also help produce oxygen for cleaner air, help beautify the surroundings, and give gardeners and those around them a closer connection with nature. 

Utilizing bio-waste 

“[Urban gardening] is the cheapest and healthiest way of food production as it utilizes bio-waste as a source of fertilizer in growing crops,” Tingas explained. 

To begin using bio-waste as fertilizer, the first thing to do is to identify and segregate the waste that comes from a household. Usually, the categories include items that are biodegradable like food waste and paper, as well as non-biodegradable items such as plastic and glass. 

Biodegradable waste works best as a natural fertilizer for homegrown produce.  

“We can use barrel composting to compost food waste such as leftovers. It only takes a single container where we store all the food waste and leave them there to decompose. Once they’ve reached the state where they’re attracting insects, this is natural, it can be used to fertilize the plants,” Tingas said. 

Besides barrel composting, there is also vermi-composting where worms can help in the decomposition process; and heap composting where the biodegradable waste is mixed with the dead leaves and plants in the garden and left there under despite the weather. 

“Organic foliar fertilizers, fermented plant juices, and fish amino acids can also be applied on the soil to help in plant growth,” Tingas said. 

How to get started on urban gardening 

When it finally comes down to starting an urban garden, Tingas offers a step-by-step guide to ensure success in growing food. 

Like any farm or garden, the first step involves planning. Tingas said that some of the things to consider when mapping out one’s urban garden includes the location, what plants to grow, and the soil medium. 

In terms of the location, the farming advocate said that any location works well provided that the plants have an access to a minimum of six hours of sunlight everyday, an ample water source, and receives good air ventilation. 

As for the plants, gardeners can choose whether they want to plant edible herbs, vegetables, fruit-bearing trees, medicinal plants, or ornamentals to meet their demands and interests. 

Meanwhile, gardeners should also pay attention to the soil type to secure the growth of their plants. A good growing medium must be porous or absorbent so that the water and other inputs will be soaked in the soil and delivered to the plants’ roots, have a good amount of air inside to allow the plants to breathe, and it must drain well to avoid water-logging.

Tingas said that the ideal soil mixture is made up of one part soil, one part composted manure, and one part rice hull or coconut coir dust. 

For the continuation of this article, Tingas will discuss the basics of the different kinds of urban gardening and how aspiring gardeners can get started in growing their own food.

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Patricia Bianca S. Taculao
Patricia Taculao, or Patty as she likes to be called, is a content producer for Manila Bulletin Digital Lifestyle. She graduated from University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She loves to spend her free time, reading, painting, and watching old movies.

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