Spring is here, and with it comes the food growing season here in our area. At the Capital Area Food Bank, the start of the growing season is an exciting time for Hillary Quarles – the food growing education specialist. She manages our Urban Demonstration Garden, a half-acre urban farm outside our D.C. warehouse where we grow delicious veggies throughout the spring and summer. To Hillary, the garden is a place to teach people how to grow healthy, nutritious food in an urban environment. “Learning how to garden is an experience that connects you to nature and to the world of fresh produce,” she says.
One of the ways we grow our plants is through urban garden plots and container gardens. These small plots and containers are great tools for growing veggies in a city environment. Hillary’s mission is to teach as many people as she can how to build them because, as she notes, “the more people who know how to garden, the more healthy produce we’re able to provide to our neighbors who may be in need.”
To that end, Hillary regularly hosts “how to build an urban garden” workshops for the food bank’s nonprofit partners— soup kitchens, food pantries, faith-based organizations and others. These partners then take what they’ve learned to start their own garden plots and container gardens, and they use the resulting produce for their community.
The best thing about urban gardens, Hillary says, is that absolutely anyone can grow healthy, nutritious veggies. Families with limited resources or space can build a small plot in a backyard, or even plant container pots on a windowsill or balcony. Volunteers coming by the food bank can learn how to get growing wherever they live. You too can build a container garden by following the directions we’ve compiled below!
How to Build a Container Garden
What You’ll Need
A small container or pot for the plants and a bucket for mixing soil, a drill, rocks, soil, fertilizer, water, a small shovel, and seedlings!
Preparing the Container
1. Drill holes in container.
Taking a small container, drill holes in the bottom so the water can drain. This is a crucial step, because you can drown the plants if you don’t do this!
2. Add rocks to the container.
This will allow for better drainage at the base of the container. Make sure you put on gloves for this part!
3. Mix in soil and some fertilizer in a bucket and add water.
You’ll want to make sure you add enough water so that the soil is dampened to the consistency of a damp sponge.
4. Loosely add soil to the container.
Don’t pack the soil tight. Smooth the top of the soil to make an even surface.
5. Dig holes in the soil.
These are where the small plants will go. You’ll want to dig the holes about two inches deep and space out the holes so the plant have room to grow.
6. Plant Seedlings
Carefully remove the seedlings from small pot and place the seedling in the hole. Gently fill the hole around the plant so that the stem and leaves are above the soil line. Don’t pack it down!
7. Water the Soil
Water the soil to a damp consistency once all planting has been completed.
Now you’re all set!
If you’re interested in learning more about gardening, our Urban Garden holds demonstrations throughout the year. You can also spend time volunteering in our garden. By learning about the growing process, about food nutrition and about food waste, you can become an advocate for sustainable growing and help us take hunger off the map in the Capital Area!