Guide to Building a Tiny Fall Urban Garden

So this was going to be your year — the year you stop missing the Farmer’s Market by sleeping in on Sundays, the year you were going to stop paying $1.50 extra for organic food at the grocery store, the year you weren’t going to live on frozen veggies.

If you’re like lots of urban dreamers, you may have missed the mark this spring. But urban gardens are definitely still within reach — in fact, they’re trending. 

The internet, hipster hideouts, and community gardens in metropolises are brimming with advice on how to get started. And now that the weather’s cooling, it may seem like you’ll have to wait until next year to build yourself a backyard oasis.

Not so.

Lots of vegetables grow better in the cooler seasons because the outside air temperature is more forgiving on tender, budding plants. And, the weather is more predictable — less rain, more moderate conditions. Pests become less pernicious in cooler weather, too!

Building a tiny fall garden is the perfect chance to pull your own carrots, herbs, and root vegetables up from the soil, clean them yourself in your kitchen, and cook meals with love and intention. 

Let’s take this step by step.

Step One: Examine your space. What’s available to you? Balcony? Rooftop? Backyard? Windowsill? Figure out where you have the most space and light.

Step Two: Decide what plants or vegetables you want. In this case, we’d like to grow our own vegetables. We don’t need to go overboard — let’s say six vegetables. Check your local garden depots and start with seeds. It’s much more cost effective. Here is a general list of vegetables that grow well in the fall: 

  • Brussels sprouts (3 month grow time)
  • Carrots (2-3 months)
  • Cabbage (2-5 months)
  • Kale (2 months)
  • Lettuce (1-2 months)
  • Radishes (1 month)
  • Rutabaga (3-4 months)
  • Spinach (5-9 days)
  • Swiss chard (14 days)
  • Shallots and garlic (3-4 months)
  • Peas (1 month)
  • Broccoli (3-4 months)
  • Beetroots (1-3 months)
  • Butternut squash (3-4 months)

Step Three: Decide how you’re going to grow them — in containers? If so, make sure yours have drainage holes large enough for roots. Will you build your own wooden frame? Shockingly easy, by the way. This is a great method for planting multiple vegetables at once in a contained space — and a wonderful way to utilize companion vegetables (or vegetables that grow well near each other.) For example, of the list above, these are companion vegetables:

  • Broccoli, cabbage, carrots, peas, radishes, and squash
  • Onions, garlic, spinach, swiss chard, lettuce, and brussels sprouts

Step Four: Get supplied with moist, preferably locally sourced, soil. It’s a good idea to fill the bottom of containers with stones, to enhance drainage. Otherwise, start packing in soil! Not too lightly, mind you.

Step Five: Make sure you’re using your space effectively. If it’s possible to install shelves outside to set your wooden containers in, do that! If you’re using regular container pots, string them vertically and make sure each one is getting adequate sunlight. (Six hours a day for vegetables is ideal.) 

Step Six: Time it properly. You’ll want to plant 12 weeks before your average first fall frost date. That’s when you’ll want to start with cabbage family plants (indoors if possible.) At 10 weeks, you can start with broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale. At 8 weeks, you can plant spinach. Then, on or around the first fall frost date, plant your garlic and shallots!

Step Seven: Actually doing it: sow seeds as evenly as you can. Thin crowded sprouts after they’ve popped up and remember to keep plants that like each other close! Make sure that your seeds are getting about an inch of water a week, and then once they’re established, water them good and deep about once a week. 

You’ve done it! Now, if you notice anything untoward during the process… something isn’t flowering when it’s supposed to, one of your plants isn’t getting enough water, your crop flowered but produced measly results…

The internet is an invaluable resource. Also, your local gardening shops likely know everything. Maybe there’s an issue with soil composition. Maybe you had an influx of rain that week, and you should be covering your plants to protect them from overwatering. 

Gardening, like our lives, is a constantly evolving movement in a state of perpetual flux. There are only a few hard and fast rules…

Water. Soil. Sunlight. Love. 

A bit like us, really. 

Stay tuned for delicious fall recipes you can enjoy with your freshly-gardened veggies!

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.