Green Villages often receives questions about gardening, worm farming, chook keeping and everything in between. Belinda Thackeray, our resident gardening specialist and manager of Sydney City Farm, is more than happy to offer advice.
This month, reader Mark writes:
Hi, I recently moved into a unit block with a courtyard of soil and it’s above a car park. I would like to have a garden but don’t know what to do first to make it viable. Thanks, Mark
There are many options for gardening in small spaces. You can check our guides to balcony gardening, growing food in small spaces and even cultivating citrus. Mark doesn’t mention if he owns or rents, but this will obviously have an impact on the set-up of his garden. This is a good opportunity to go through a few considerations for renters with green thumbs (particularly those who like to grow their own food).
Am I allowed to create a garden at my rental property?
Renters usually need to keep properties in their current condition. Consider what you want to create and whether it will alter the property. If so, speak to your landlord or real estate agent before starting. You don’t want to lose your bond or be charged a cleaning or rubbish removal fee when you move out!
What type of garden should I make?
Mobile, pack away-style gardens, planters and pots work well. They are easy to move and also allow you to keep the soil that you have invested time and money into improving. Use vertical space, hanging pots, tiered plant stands and window boxes to make the most of your available sun.
Which pots are best?
Bigger pots are often better than lots of small pots that can dry out quickly. Dwarf fruit trees need about 50 cm of soil depth, while veggies and herbs need around 20-30 cm. If you’re re-using plastic pots, remove any old dry soil first and wash with warm soapy water. Try corrugated tank styles or large plastic pots that are light. Half wine barrels are great for fruit trees. Free polystyrene fruit boxes from greengrocers are the perfect depth for growing herbs and small vegies.
Just put a few drainage holes in the base and fill with good quality potting mix. Use pots with saucers on balconies to avoid any water run-off issues.
Where should I put my pots and planters?
Position your edibles near the door, window or kitchen for easy harvest and so you don’t forget to water them. Many edible plants need 4-6 hours of direct sunlight to be fully productive. Vertical gardens can work on sunny walls and potted plants on trolleys with casters can be moved to follow the sun.
How often should I water?
Plants need regular watering until established. Water more often when it is warm and put water onto the soil for uptake by the plant’s roots. In summer, aim for morning watering to reduce fungal disease problems.
Spreading a layer of mulch like sugar cane over the soil surface helps conserve soil moisture. This means you need to water less often and also keeps soil and plants roots cool. Water crystals and soil wetters can also help with soil water penetration and retention.
I only have a small balcony on the 6th floor, can I grow herbs?
Yes, but picking the right plants for your position is key! For sunny spots plant basil, chives, oregano and thyme. In shadier spots, try parsley or mint. Mint can spread quickly so plant it in its own pot. It’s a good idea to use heavy pots or secure planters so they won’t blow away. Planting a taller perennial herb like rosemary can act as a windbreak for more delicate annual herbs like dill and coriander.
To find out more, come along to the City Farm edible gardening for renters workshop at Sydney Park on 26 February or 7 May.
Belinda Thackeray is a horticulturist and educator with a passion for nurturing, productive and sustainable environments. Working as the City Farm project manager, Belinda is developing spaces and programs to connect urban people with agriculture. She spends her spare time at home growing an abundance of food for her family.