Space and shade
City gardeners are typically faced with a space crunch: Our "back 40" may be measured in feet and inches rather than acres. Many first-timers also face setbacks at the outset in the form of shade from nearby tall buildings and trees, most of them not their own. If you're squeezed for sunny space, but already have a small flower garden that's doing well, why not stick some vegetables in there? Kale, broccoli, lettuce and parsley are good choices for a shady spot and will look pretty next to your petunias and marigolds.
Want to maximize your output from a small plot? Go for a SPIN: short for small plot intensive. Dispense with the conventional narrow rows and wide walkways and create wider raised beds accessible from all sides which you can thickly sow with faster-growing veggies like lettuce, spinach and arugula: Sow a spring and late summer crop of these cold-loving greens for a longer salad season. Or sow a slow grower, like carrots, among faster growing companions like radish---you'll be finishing up the radish just as the carrots are big enough to need the space they left behind.
Container plantings are another way for urban gardeners to maximize their sunny spaces or deal with poor soil. You can make a container out of almost anything, from an old 4L milk jug with its top cut out, to a hanging colander for your cascading cherry tomatoes. Milk crates lined with fabric are one of my favourites; six of them together make a credible garden that can sit on an asphalt driveway, a balcony or a back deck.
Unfortunately, many urban yards contain contaminated soil: Lead leaching from old paint on houses and garages or from leaded gasoline is a common culprit. Use a mixture of your own compost mixed with peat moss in your containers, add a few handfuls of fallen leaves underneath your soil for a slow-release fertilizer and remember that containers dry out faster than conventional garden plots---no shirking on the watering (unless you're growing peppers or Mediterranean-type plants like rosemary and lavender, which don't mind getting dried out).
CompostThe miracle soil conditioner and plant food that no gardener should ever be without! It is so easy to make your own---if you have even a few feet of yard, there's no excuse not to. All organic matter that you add to the compost pile will break down eventually, but if you think your kitchen veggie peelings, coffee grounds, eggshells, old leaves and grass clippings will offend your near neighbours' delicate aesthetic senses, buy a plastic composter to keep everything tidy. Compost is the cheapest, most energy efficient, locally based plant food available. If you're in short supply but still want to reap its benefits, you can steep a few cups of compost in a bucket of water for a couple of days to make a tea to fertilize your hungry plants.
Local and heritage seedsSupport a small heritage seed company like Annapolis Seeds (annapolisseeds.com) of Nictaux, NS, or Hope Seeds (hopeseed.com) of Keswick Ridge, NB. These companies grow out varieties once commonly grown in the Maritimes, but rarely found in most seed catalogues anymore; many of these varieties were bred over years to succeed in our tough climate. Because they are open-pollinated (not hybridized), their seeds can be saved to grow again year after year, saving you money. By growing and saving the seeds from these old and often rare varieties, you're ensuring their survival and increasing the genetic diversity of our seed stock. And you're supporting the local economy by buying from a Maritime grower.
Community gardens/landsharesApartment dwellers eager to get their hands dirty should join a community garden group: Check out Peninsula Urban Gardens Society at
pugs.chebucto.org for information on the garden closest to you. For a less formal approach to gardening away from home, consider landsharing, where landless gardeners get connected with homeowners eager to have their lawns converted to vegetable growing. Google "Halifax Landshare" for a map showing available plots and eager landless gardeners waiting to be matched up.
Finally, not a tip but a warning: Urban gardening almost always means dealing with felines using your garden as a litterbox. I have not yet found a satisfactory method of keeping the cats at bay; fencing, orange peels, cayenne pepper, and a dog, have not worked to date. Please let me know if you find a satisfactory solution.