How to Farm or Garden When You Have No Land Whatsoever

Real life steps you can take to learn how to farm or garden and gain experience by not having any land of your own! | How to Farm or Garden When You Have No Land Whatsoever | Heirloom Soul | heirloomsoul.com |

In the City of Chicago, nestled in the completely gentrified little neighborhood of Bucktown, lives me in my rental apartment.  While it’s adorable here and there’s tons of trees, my immediate setting isn’t any greener than the skinny rectangular patches of Earth that line the streets, where thousands of dogs (and the occasional 3 a.m. Wolfpack) do their business…

Yup.  It’s totally true.  I don’t have a garden of my own.  In fact, I’ve never had a garden of my own, in the traditional sense of the word.

So then, wait.  How have I learned everything I know about gardening?  And how do I post all my pictures of gardens I plant and food I harvest if I have no yard or land whatsoever?

(Please note that affiliate links are present in this post, which means if you click on a link and buy something I’ll get like 4 cents for it.  All product recommendations are genuine and my own).

I’ve taken some pretty big leaps throughout my food growing journey.  A forest flower in a former life, I started really wanting a vegetable garden but not having a clue how to start one.  So I offered up my free time to volunteer on urban farms in Detroit where I planted seeds and trees for the first time.  That evolved into landing a job working on several non-profit urban farms, and that was when I felt my life bloom technicolor rainbows of possibility.  A season later, I relocated to Chicago to work with an edible landscaping company where I designed the layouts of and helped grow over 100 backyard gardens and taught dozens of families what I knew about growing food.  I even got to teach classrooms of children in school gardens!  That company fired me last year (it happens), but it was perhaps the biggest blessing of all because I am still gardening – but on my own terms.  And now I have this blog where I get to share everything I’ve learned with anyone who cares.  It’s all so incredible to me.

 

Long story short, I have a lot of experience growing food – because I put myself in the way of many opportunities.  I chose urban farming and immersed myself in it.  And I continue to make new, creative food growing opportunities for myself despite not even having a garden of my own!  This all could not be more true, I swear.

So, what do you do when all you want is to grow a garden but there’s nowhere to do it?  

You get creative.  You step out of your comfort zone.  You talk to other people.  You make new friends.  I never said this wouldn’t be scary.  Take my more articulate advice below.

Totally Related:  6 Reasons Why You Need to Start Your Organic Garden This Year


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The most obvious solution when you don’t have a yard = Grow a Container Garden

If you live in a city and have no yard, your answer to growing a few vegetables and herbs lies here.  You can line pots along the front, back and sides of your house; hang them off your balcony; put them on a fire escape or rooftop of your apartment building; your kitchen window!!!; or anywhere that gets a few hours of sunlight everyday.

Vertical growing systems can work well for small urban areas.  I grew this one last fall at a local garden center I managed:

 

Thing is, growing food in pots costs very little money and is extremely low risk.  Depending on what you want to grow, a container garden won’t require the full amount of sun a larger garden would.  Some advice:  Go hard on the herbs, do small cherry tomatoes rather than large ones, purchase good organic soil, and make sure you keep up with watering because pots dry out quick in the summer.

Read This:  Steps to Starting a Vegetable Garden in Your Own Backyard

Here’s a container garden that caught my eye in Chicago last year where people lined their sidewalk with a hodge podge of cheap pots.  Growing a garden does not have to be complicated:

 

I grew this small Self-Watering Gardeners Supply Container for a client on his rooftop last summer with cucumbers, a jalapeno pepper and a bush tomato plant and it produced in abundance:

 

The fun thing about growing in pots is that basically anything can be a pot, even an old wheelbarrow. Anything you use for a pot will definitely need holes in the bottom for drainage, though!

 

You can totally do this container gardening thing.  It’s so low-risk, there’s no reason not to!

 

 

Tear Up the Driveway

Yes I’m really suggesting you jackhammer your driveway to bits and plant a garden in its place.  This is assuming you own your property and have full say in whether your driveway gets to stay or not.  Maybe you live in the city and you don’t even have a car… in that case, what do you even need a driveway for?  With a jackhammer, a pick axe (or a similar tool that will allow leverage under large pieces of rock), some shovels and some really nice friends, you can take your driveway out in a weekend.

Asphalt driveways are much easier to remove than concrete, which will require the jackhammer.  All driveways will have a few inches of gravel underneath that will need to be dug up.  New soil and compost may need to be purchased to fill your space in, so plan and budget for that.  

Before committing to tearing up your driveway, try to figure out a way to sustainably dispose of your driveway materials without dumping it all in the trash where it will end up in a landfill.  Post on Craigslist that you’ll have concrete aggregate and crushed gravel for free pick-up.  If shovels and jackhammers aren’t your type of work, you can also post a want ad on Craigslist for the labor.

 

Turn Your Front Yard Into a Demonstration Garden

Just… Don’t be these people:

Americans have some serious gripes with front yard veggie gardens and act like their front yard is totally off-limits to everything but grass.  Not true.  Edible gardens get a bad rap for being ugly… sometimes the case but not always.  I’ve grown some of the most beautiful vegetable gardens you could lay your eyes on.  And I say that with all the humbleness I can muster – the plants are beautiful on their own, I just help them look their best!

Turning your front yard into an edible garden is a bold move, and I encourage everyone to do it.  Even if it’s planting a fruit tree guild, or growing vining cucumbers or squash up the sunny side of your house.  People will notice.  They’ll scratch their heads.  And they’ll be intrigued.  They might even start their own front yard garden, you being their source of inspiration!

Read This:  Edible Medicinal Plants for Your Yard + How to Grow and Use Them

 

Build Community in Your Life…. Get to Know to Your Neighbors

We’ve all had that next-door neighbor who has the most hideous yard we’ve ever seen, sun fully exposing its dried up grassy bits all summer long.  Chances are your neighbor doesn’t care about his yard.  Bigger chances are he won’t care if you want to make it beautiful by filling it with veggies, herbs and pollinating flowers… but there’s also a chance that he might love it.  

Just because someone doesn’t take care of their yard doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate someone else taking care of it (this is why landscaping companies exist).  In return, you get a place to grow vegetables or fruit bushes or medicinal herbs.  You might even inspire the next-next door neighbor to start their own garden.  Then you could start a garden club and plan garden block parties and harvest potlucks!  Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here, but I’m telling you, people start this stuff!  And it’s amazing.

Thing is, talking to your neighbors and asking them to collaborate on things where you both mutually benefit will increase trust and community in your home base.  We should be helping each other.  We should be benefitting from one another’s work.  We should be holding hands in this thing called life!

 

Volunteer with a Non-Profit Community Garden

Not only is joining a community garden a great way to learn how to grow food – it’s also a great way to make new friends.  Last spring, I joined Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm in the Logan Square neighborhood in Chicago.  It’s a small urban farming effort that grows food across the street from a school.   Families of the school benefit from free produce, and kids learn how to garden during and after school hours.  As a volunteer grower, I was allowed to take home produce from one designated bed (though I never really did).  I did take home a friendship, though (my dear, hilarious friend, Kate.  And to make this story even better, her landlord ended up hiring me to landscape his rental properties.)  

 

Meeting other people who are into growing food will open new doors for you.  So put yourself there!  Below is a picture of Corner Farm during a compost workshop, where volunteer gardeners and members of the community learned the basics of composting.  

Read This:  How to Compost Kitchen & Garden Scraps to Build Soil Biodiversity

These types of workshops happen in every city across the United States – try Googling “urban farms in <your city>”, follow farms and gardens on Facebook, look on Meetup.com (where I’ve found free permaculture workshops in Chicago!)  This stuff exists and the people that put it together are gracious and it’s usually free, so what are you waiting for?

 

If You’ve Got Skills, Offer Them for a Chunk of the Harvest

If you are a talented gardener and have valuable gardening knowledge you can teach others, what in the heck are you waiting for?  Go teach it, mama!  Ask for a portion of the harvest as part of your reward.  Perhaps you have a friend who expresses interest in gardening, or always asks your advice.  Offer to set up a garden for them and teach them while you go.  

Maybe you know someone down the street who would be interested in your services and they have a huge yard – offer your expertise to them with the understanding that you may go pick their yard whenever you want.

This is literally what I do (except I get money, not vegetables… but that’s a fascinating post for another day).

In the meantime, we’re teaching people the most valuable life skill they could possibly have.  How to grow food.  You can feel good about helping the human race be a little more self-sufficient and less reliant on the global food system.

 

Start Making a Plan to Get Your Land

If that’s what you really want to do, that is.  If you know you want to live somewhere with a bigger yard, or if you want acreage for an actual farm, there are things you can do now to get yourself there.  Start saving more of your money today.  Start researching online to figure out how much different properties may actually cost you.  Read books, listen to podcasts, keep filling your head with knowledge about growing food and TAKE NOTES!  I have some suggestions for books and podcasts below.  Start formulating your dreams now and push yourself to make a plan to get there.

 

No matter what your food-growing dream is, be it a backyard like this:

Or a farm like this:

Yep, that’s me again, totally not my farm (it’s Meredith’s!).

Don’t ever give up on your dreams because there is always a way.

 

Some of my favorite books & podcasts I recommend to continue your personal education:

                

Homesteady Podcast

Self-Sufficient Life Podcast

Sustainable World Radio Podcast

 

Some good products that will help you grow in containers:

 

 

Related:  Best Organic Fertilizers and Soil Amendments for Your Garden

Real life steps you can take to learn how to farm or garden and gain experience by not having any land of your own! | How to Farm or Garden When You Have No Land Whatsoever | Heirloom Soul | heirloomsoul.com |

 

Comments

  1. Reply

    Our first ever garden was in totes! I have just this season managed to get my little sister to start some container gardens to help supply them with food. I am a firm believer in growing food wherever you are! Great article. Thanks.

    1. Reply

      Thanks Dana!! There’s always a way 🙂 I’m trying to get some of my friends in Chicago to let me come over and start a garden for them on their balconies / rooftops. Excited to share the knowledge!

  2. Reply

    I have no land because I live in a floating cabin. Fortunately, we float on a fresh water lake so that makes watering less problematic. I have a floating garden with four bed raised above the lake level. I also grow lots of things in pots on the cabin deck. The only “land” I have on shore is a small patch I’ve grown using my compost. Each year it gets a little deeper. It’s a long ways from the lake so I use rain barrels to capture water for the summer months and only use the ground to grow potatoes. They are the only thing the forest critters seem to leave a bit alone. You can see more about my garden here. http://powellriverbooks.blogspot.com/search/label/Gardening

    1. Reply

      Hi Margy, wow, your floating life sounds so interesting and amazing! I am absolutely checking out your garden right now! Thanks so much for sharing, I love hearing special stories like yours.

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