Looking to start a home garden but not sure how to go about it? We know there are many budding gardeners amongst our Green Queen readers who have not yet flexed their green thumbs. Perhaps you are put off by Hong Kong’s dirty air or maybe you are not sure how to grow anything in the confined space you have to play with. Either way, Chef Moises Mehl is here to help. For the past few months, he has been tending his urban garden in what most gardeners would consider a fairly confined space, experimenting with soil mixtures, plant varietals, pest control, water management and more. He shares his top tips below in Part 1 of our two part series.
Location, Location, Location
It is Hong Kong after all! Your gardening real estate is important. For optimal results, find a spot that gets six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day. This will make a huge difference in terms of results for many varieties of vegetables. If this is not possible, don’t worry- you can still be a successful gardener. You will just need to choose veggie species that don’t require too much light.
The Importance Of Planning
Once you find your spot, you need to plan how much you want to grow. Since the area for our home garden is fairly small, we chose to follow the Mel Bartholomew Square Foot Gardening method- we found this to be the most efficient technique to yield a variety and quantity of produce in a limited physical space. Mel Bartholomew’s method enables gardening beginners to plant many types of plants in a single bed made up of small divided square spaces.
If you have the tools, you can make your own boxes using wood (some people use wine crates) or any other plant friendly material. For my project I used a 2 x 3 square feet pre-made self-assembly box.
One you have your boxe(s) ready, you will need to create a grid of what you want to plant in the growing area. Using the square foot gardening techniques, you grid your space in one square foot spaces and you plant in each square. If you are using a pot, try to ensure it is at least one square foot- any smaller and the produce yield will be minimal.
Some cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli are quite large once fully grown, so they will take up one whole square foot, whilst others like lettuce, kale, Swiss chard and spinach require less of the bed so you can plant 4 or 5 per square foot. In the case of root veggies like carrots and radishes, it goes up to 9 per square foot. These are general guidelines and intended as a starting point- make sure to adapt according to your bed’s needs.
A couple of other suggestions: I recommend using organic seeds and also planting a variety of different families of plants to avoid one disease wiping out your entire crop. For example, don’t just plant kale and cabbage (both part of the cruciferous family). Mix kale, chard, spinach and carrots to ensure variety and low pest cross contamination.
This is very important to keep your garden growing well. Soil needs to allow too keep moist, grow of the roots, easy flow of water and rich in nutrients that feed the plants. I found the Mel mix based soil is very good, is made by using equal volume of 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 pea moss, and 1/3 compost. I found some soils already that have similar composition and work very well. Look at end on resources section.
Once you have your boxes and soil ready, you need to prepare your soil by adding fertilizer to it. This enables your seed babies to grow well. If you buy pre-mixed organic soil, it usually has a one month supply of fertilizer already blended in. Depending on the season, weather and temperature, you can begin by planting your seeds in smaller pods in your home. Later, you can transplant your pods to the larger box. From my experience, root veggies are not easy to transplant, so it’s best to plant those directly into the soil. A quick note about depth: if you are going to grow carrots, is very important to check the depth of your box. You need a good twelve inches down, otherwise you will have very short carrots!
Don’t miss Part 2 in which Chef Moy talks watering, pest control and harvesting.
Want to Know More?
You can also check the Green Queen Guide’s Gardening Resources section for more listings.