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Tiny Gardens: A Roundup of Urban Farming Books

Words by Gail O’Hara Photograph by Carissa Gallo

We’ve rounded up some of the best resources out there for amateur city-dwelling farmers. Here are five books that will help you get started…

Eating locally can mean shopping at a farmer’s market and food co-ops or growing things in your own backyard, but not everyone is lucky enough to have space and ground to plant things in. Still, urban farming is enjoying a bit of a renaissance (it’s not uncommon to see goats and chickens roaming the streets in Portland, Oregon!). We rounded up some of the best books for people who want to grow things in very small city spaces, whether you’re looking to compost, plant window boxes, preserve fruit or just grow herbs.

1. The Essential Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal (Penguin)
The authors have written a comprehensive bible for the urban farmer, which will help you navigate every single aspect of farm planning (including bees, poultry, rabbits, goats, fruit trees, irrigation and more!). Even the famous Alice Waters recommends it: “This lucidly written, encyclopedic volume—which contains everything from homemade fertilizer recipes to chicken coop blueprints—is the single most useful resource I know for urban dwellers,” she says on the back cover.

2.  Apartment Gardening: Plants, Projects and Recipes for Growing Food in Your Urban Home by Amy Pennington (Sasquatch)
So you think you can’t garden because you live in a small apartment? Nonsense. The author has ideas for gathering supplies, growing herbs, edible blossoms, home pickling, planting, growing lettuce, seed starting and tons of recipes—all of which can be achieved in the smallest of flats. She even has a chapter devoted to making your own organic beauty products.

3. Mini Gardens by Lawrence Lachoff (Raja Toy Company, 1972)
This slim volume on miniature gardens is a catalog from a toy company from 1972, so don’t try ordering any of the small terrariums in the back section! Still, this cute used paperback (you could even call it a zine) features seven brief chapters on the author’s personal exploration and record of learning how to grow plants indoors.

4. Vertical Vegetables and Fruit: Creative Gardening Techniques for Growing Up in Small Spaces by Rhonda Massingham Hart (Storey)
When the author suggests “growing up,” she means having your plants grow up toward the sky (she’s not commenting on your maturity level). Her guide is full of ideas on techniques such as trellises and tepees, growing vine-friendly fruits such as peas, cucumbers and melons and all kinds of other resources for those who need to make the most of a small space.

5. A Little Piece of Earth: How to Grow Your Own Food in Small Spaces by Maria Finn (Universe)
Sausalito resident Finn wants people in small spaces to know what she knows—that a city dweller can cultivate herbs, compost, grow things in window boxes or go foraging. She also offers advice on making shitake mushroom logs, preserving Meyer lemons, using herb stems and making herb ice cubes.

NPR recently did a story on why microgardens are going to be huge and showed a few for inspiration

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