Urban Gardening by Bike

I am a city girl, but sometimes I complain about not having a yard and google Asheville farmhouses.  A classic “grass is greener” situation.  In reality, I have never displayed a green thumb and barely use my only outdoor space, a small wooden balcony.  Admitting this to myself, I decided to embrace what I have fully, instead of uselessly dreaming of what I do not have.  The result is my new urban garden!  My south-facing balcony gets strong direct sunlight for most of the day and finding plants that thrive in such an environment was easy.

On Saturday, I biked to my neighborhood garden center (Fertile, for locals) and loaded up on flowers: roses, begonias, daisies, and a window box for mounting.

To transport the plants, I simply zip-tied to my front rack a wine crate that Mr. Dottie found in our alley (free!).  This served the purpose splendidly.  The plants were packed in enough that they did not jostle or fall over.

Back at my condo, I transferred the flowers to bigger pots with more soil.  Lucky for me, I snapped up several terra-cotta pots that my neighbor left in the basement when she moved (free!).  These were a big score, as transporting heavy pots would have been difficult.

I learned via gardening blogs that I need some larger material at the bottom of my pots, below the soil, to help with drainage and avoid root rot.  I had enough wine corks for the first pot, but then I was at a loss and not up for another trip to the store.  Mr. Dottie came up with a plan to collect rocks from under nearby L tracks, which sounded kinda gross, but after only a few handfuls each – and after picking out the broken glass – we were set (free!).  :)

On Sunday, I returned to the garden center for herbs and vegetables.  Same bike set up as before.  I got sage, rosemary, basil, thyme, tomatoes, and banana peppers!

 Mr. D stuffed another flower box in his pannier.

Then we got back to work potting.  Getting my hands in the dirt – like a kid again – was fun, even though the dirt came from a bag.  (I was able to buy organic potting soil from the nearby grocery store, allowing me to walk home carrying the bags and avoid loading the bike up.)

Now I have a real live urban garden – complete with herbs, veggies, and flowers.  Once I prove to myself that I can keep these guys alive, I plan to go back for more.  And I’m working on some seedlings (green beans, catnip, flowers) that hopefully will join the rest of the gang outside soon.

As a final touch, I scored two barely-used patio arm chairs from Craigslist, which the seller delivered for a small extra fee.

I could not be more excited about my tiny urban garden!  Now I can sit outside and enjoy my personal oasis.  :)

Plus, I’ve already roasted a chicken using my own herbs – delish!

Does anyone else have an urban garden?  Or do you have an actual yard with an actual garden??  I’d love to hear stories and tips.

{Two helpful blogs I used as resources: Urban Organic Gardener  and Life on the Balcony.}

  • http://lladybird.wordpress.com/ Lauren

    So cute! I have a tiny little garden in my front yard – some of which was transported on my bicycle, too :) Mine is only herbs, though. I have parsley, basil, rosemary, mint, dill & cilantro. I’ve been pretty good about keeping everything watered & weeded daily, so far anyway hahahaha.

    My parents have a huuuge garden (seriously, it’s bigger than my entire house) in their back yard – that’s where I get all my veggies from! I’m so spoiled haha.

  • http://pin-hole.tumblr.com Dave

    …and here I was just saying the other day that we need to have Bike to the Nursery for Landscaping Supplies Day (http://portlandize.com/2012/05/its-not-just-me/)! Great minds think alike :)

    We have some small beds around our apartment that we’ve built very simple raised bed containers in – we’ve tried growing veggies in them, but it’s just too shady around our apartment for peppers, tomatoes and the like, so we’ve decided to just tear all that out and put in some flowers, ferns, etc – native stuff that will grow well in shade. We do however have a nice patch of herbs by our kitchen door that is doing awesome – thyme, oregano, tarragon, sage, chives – it is pretty awesome being able to just go snip stuff from outside your back door rather than buying a plastic package at the store, eh? :) Our neighbor’s bed is full of mint and fennel, so we also plan to ask if we can steal some of that later in the year too :)

  • http://pin-hole.tumblr.com Dave

    …and here I was just saying the other day that we need to have Bike to the Nursery for Landscaping Supplies Day (http://portlandize.com/2012/05/its-not-just-me/)! Great minds think alike :)

    We have some small beds around our apartment that we’ve built very simple raised bed containers in – we’ve tried growing veggies in them, but it’s just too shady around our apartment for peppers, tomatoes and the like, so we’ve decided to just tear all that out and put in some flowers, ferns, etc – native stuff that will grow well in shade. We do however have a nice patch of herbs by our kitchen door that is doing awesome – thyme, oregano, tarragon, sage, chives – it is pretty awesome being able to just go snip stuff from outside your back door rather than buying a plastic package at the store, eh? :) Our neighbor’s bed is full of mint and fennel, so we also plan to ask if we can steal some of that later in the year too :)

  • http://verynorth.blogspot.com/ Timoohz

    I can’t really give you any advice – I have had two different herbs in a pot die on me this year. That’s all I had planted so far. The later one was just last week. Maybe taking it outside was too much of a change of climate for the plant. I guess it got too much sunshine so it dried up (forgot to water it,too), as I don’t think it froze to death. I didn’t see any signs of frostbites on it anyway. :-/ The trees are getting leaves and grass is growing so it should be survivable outside. Maybe it’s colder high on a balcony.

    On the other hand, I managed to get something growing by accident. I didn’t empty the pots last year, so there was some herb (chive) growing in one of the pots. Any bets how long before they’re dead too? :-)

    Bags of soil can be transported rather handily in a backpack it you don’t have racks or panniers, more care has to be taken with the ceramic pots as they’re rather fragile. Long, plastic hang-from-the-railing boxes will get some looks on the streets, but I haven’t seen myself on any ‘weird things transported on a bike’ pictures yet. :-)

    But what are some of those hanging pots of yours made of? Straw?

  • Angela Diaz

    I have an urban gardening blog (veggiegardeningdiaz.com).  I grow in containers, raised beds, and direct in the ground. I don’t have a huge yard, but make the most of the space I have. I’ve grown a small variety of carrots in rectangular window boxes (they only grow to about 2 inches long). I use a lot of recycled materials (like cutting off the bottoms of 2 liter soda bottles to place over baby plants when it gets cold out, creating a mini greenhouse effect).  I haven’t posted much lately just because i’ve been busy actually gardening and my laptop is acting goofy and slow.  I have loads of pictures I need to post before I get too far into the season. Any advice you need, feel free to ask. I grow fruits, veggies and herbs.  

    • http://letsgorideabike.com/blog Dottie

      Thanks, Angela!  Great blog!  Your garden work is impressive.  I’ll definitely be reading over your posts.

  • http://endlessvelolove.blogspot.com/ G.E.

    Okay, so now I’m REALLY going to feel bad if I can’t get my garden to grow… here you are with your small/economic urban outdoor space, and you’re making it work. It’s actually motivating me to keep trying! :O)  Your plants look beautiful too!

    • http://myaudienceisowls.blogspot.com/ Dottie

      Glad I could motivate you.  :)  We’ll see how my garden looks in a few months…

    • http://letsgorideabike.com/blog Dottie

      Glad I could motivate you.  :)  We’ll see how my garden looks in a few months…

  • http://yaybeth.blogspot.com/ Beth

    I DO have a bit of a garden – mostly flowers, but also herbs and even a tomato plant. My biggest tip is to beware the urban squirrel. They are a breed apart and if they find your garden nothing will scare them away from digging in the soil, as though there could just randomly be tasty nuts hiding amongst the roots of your basil. They destroyed all my budding green tomatoes last year, just ripped them off, took a bite, and left them there – like it’s some kind of sport, the little bastards! (Fortunately I also have a sun porch, so I could move the plant inside to safety.) They once even chewed through the window screen to get to a tomato I had on the windowsill inside. Truly, they are a menace.

    Another tip is to always use the “good” potting soil, and by that I mean the really light stuff. The heavier (and cheaper) soils just don’t work for container gardening, no matter how hard I try. So much for thinking “dirt is dirt, who cares.” Also, if your soil gets a thin layer of mold (usually happens to indoor plants), sprinkle a thick layer of cinnamon over it. Oh, and trim back the basil regularly – pinch off the stems with little flowers when they appear – or it will be Little Shop of Horrors around there by the end of the summer.

    Have fun with it! It really makes the whole summer infinitely more enjoyable when you can have green things around you!

    • http://myaudienceisowls.blogspot.com/ Dottie

      Thanks for all the tips!  I’m taking notes.

      The urban squirrels worry me.  Greg saw one on our balcony last year, tearing up our old chairs, and there was nothing there but fabric.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com/blog Dottie

      Thanks for all the tips!  I’m taking notes.

      The urban squirrels worry me.  Greg saw one on our balcony last year, tearing up our old chairs, and there was nothing there but fabric.

  • http://www.ThatllDoFarm.com/blog Andrea

    Congrats on your garden! You’re going to love it — and nothing ever tastes as good as a tomato you’ve grown yourself. We use the discarded wool for filler at the bottom of our containers. There is always waste fiber when we shear the sheep or alpacas, but we hate to waste it so it goes in the containers for drainage. Perhaps a bit more rural than your urban solution of wine corks — and a lot less delicious!

    • http://letsgorideabike.com/blog Dottie

      Duuuuude, your farm is amazing!  Alpaca!  Sheep!  Now I want to make a trip to Ohio to visit you.  I recently started kniting, I could take one of your classes.  :) 

      Now I’m back to daydreaming about farm life…

  • Arika Lycan

    I have a yard with an urban garden (using re-purposed concrete blocks! Your garden looks great :) So exciting to harvest things you grew yourself! Here’s some pics of my garden:
    http://happyhomeypsi.blogspot.com

  • http://www.organiccity.net Christina Pearson

    I grow as many veggies in containers as the land lords will let me. Three things I wish I’d learned years ago are 1)self watering containers are a gift from the universe, and can be made out of a lot of free materials and 2) squirrels are your enemy, bird netting is your friend. I rubberband/clothespin it to my pots when I plant them with seeds, or starters, and once the little planties get bigger, un clip it so it can move with the growing seedlings. 3) Tomato cages are worth it. Staking in pots can be tedious, and if you’re only growing a few plants, just spend the ten bucks and pick up a few cages.

    South facing balcony with smallish pots you’re going to want to water pretty often, especially in the hot months.

  • http://www.organiccity.net Christina Pearson

    I grow as many veggies in containers as the land lords will let me. Three things I wish I’d learned years ago are 1)self watering containers are a gift from the universe, and can be made out of a lot of free materials and 2) squirrels are your enemy, bird netting is your friend. I rubberband/clothespin it to my pots when I plant them with seeds, or starters, and once the little planties get bigger, un clip it so it can move with the growing seedlings. 3) Tomato cages are worth it. Staking in pots can be tedious, and if you’re only growing a few plants, just spend the ten bucks and pick up a few cages.

    South facing balcony with smallish pots you’re going to want to water pretty often, especially in the hot months.

  • http://bikestheuniverseandeverything.com/ Erin B

    I have a yard, but due to a number of reasons I raise bed garden in a sort of oversized container approach.  The one plant you haven’t mentioned that is a must have for me is a tomato plant!  Look for sweet million or other bush variety and  do a quick google search for how to prune a tomato to keep them from getting out of hand and you will be all set!

    I also really recommend:
    http://www.amazon.com/The-Girls-Guide-Growing-Your/dp/184773510X
    The Girl’s Guide to Growing your Own.

    It has great tips for small gardens.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Thanks, I love book recommendations! I bought a little heirloom tomato plant.

  • http://aprillikesbikes.wordpress.com/ April

    My apartment has a fenced-in concrete patio, and I have quite the garden going. We have snow peas, brussels sprouts, tomatoes, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, sage, strawberries, parsley, leeks, and I have a big flat container each of salad greens and braising greens!  I still want to plant basil and cilantro.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Sounds amazing! You can make so many dishes with those veggies!

  • Annie Angello

    I’ve been an urban gardener for about 4 years and love doing it.  This year my roommate and I have (in our medium-sized Austin, TX yard) 8 tomatoes, 5 10-foot sunflowers, broccoli, zucchini, carrots, beets, beans, and arugula.  In the herb beds we have thyme, parsley, bay, lavender, oregano, chives, mint, and sage.  There’s also a gigantic rosemary bush and a blackberry bush in a container.  It’s too much fun not to!  Also, it doesn’t get more locally grown than my own backyard.

  • Vicki

    I love gardening and have a large garden that I have to work hard to tame. I also pick up plants by bike, in the front basket of my bike. I have a sunday market nearby which is a great source of cheap plants, too. Nothing beats eatIng home grown herbs and veggies.

  • http://chrissyridesabike.tumblr.com/ Chrissy

    i have a south and east facing concrete balcony in my apartment. It only get direct sunlight for maybe 3 hours every morning. However, because the sunlight in Vegas is so intense, it’s really quite enough. I have some seedlings that I started about 3 weeks ago of Chinese ornamental peppers, turkish eggplants, armenian cucumber, elite zucchini squash, heatwave tomatoes, and california wonder peppers. It’s been about half and half so far- Half of my seedlings are fried, the other half are thriving. My zucchinis seem to be doing the best- they’re pretty big, and I had to transfer them from my seed tray to containers I made out of old yogurt containers and milk cartons. This is the first time I’m container gardening, as I grew up in the country, so I guess we’ll both be learning at the same time!

  • http://www.weefrills.com/ Sarah W.

    That wine crate is so chic!

  • http://inspiredcyclist.wordpress.com/ Inspiredcyclist

    I planned on getting some plants this weekend, now after seeing your beautiful oasis – I MUST!  Beautiful!

  • Erica Satifka

    I’ve managed to kill every plant I’ve ever tried to take care of, vegetable plants are especially not safe around me. It’s a shame too, because I do have a very small urban yard (perhaps fifteen feet on each side, square) that would be great for gardening if I were any good at it. But I do plan to restock the window boxes on our front porch with some un-killable flowers. Maybe I’ll put some flowers in the back yard too, it’s not as cool as growing food but better than the dirt patch we have right now. :)

  • Al Fickensher

    I live in Davenport, Iowa and have a 40ft X 15ft water garden which includes an approximately 20ft creek. My entire adult life I wished for such a thing but for various reasons was never able to do it till I was age 67 three years ago. 

    It is in a standard city lot, 50 X 120 back yard and utilizes the entire length of the yard and about 1/3rd of the width.

    I’d love to share a couple/few piccys of “my little corner of Upper Michigan/Wisconsin” with you and possibly your readers but I’d need an email addy to attach them to if you’d be willing.

    BTW, I do errand type urban commuting on my elegant 1974 Schwinn Suburban that’s been modernized with Shimano Ultegra jewelry (that stuff is so pretty) and aluminum rims for quite the weight savings over original.

    Alfred Fickensher
    effee2oh3 at yahoodotcom

  • http://locojoe.com/bikeblog Van

    We have a suburban sized yard with the back yard being almost entirely garden. I sometimes wish we had just a small deck/patio potted garden so it would be easier and less time consuming to maintain and I’d focus on quality not quantity.

  • http://bikesocial.blogspot.com/ Gordon Inkeles

    Bike gardening! Way to go!

  • http://bbybike.tumblr.com/ Wiebke

    Inspiring post! I wish I had more space, no balcony or good window sills. Time to explore Berlin’s community gardens! :)

  • http://myhyggelig.blogspot.com/ my hyggelig

    I absolutely love this post!  I think you should have just left the plants in the crate on your bicycle – now that would have really been urban gardening!!!  I’m not much for gardening myself, but have found that small doses as I get older really can be therapeutic after a long day at the office.  Plus, once you start having meals entirely out of your garden all summer long, there is no better taste and no better feeling of self sufficiency!  

    http://myhyggelig.blogspot.com/2009/08/jardin-de-bicyclette.html

  • http://twitter.com/urbangardens Urban Gardens

    Lovely post! I love your crate on the front of the bike. You show how one can transport quite a bit in a small container, then plant an impressive garden in a small space, bravo!

  • Msdeckers

    Very nice…It looks like a great start….Love that you transported the plants by bike….I felt a little self concious the first time I did it but now it is old hat….  City Farmer News is another site that is very inspiring…and I know that Chicago has some community gardens…..you may be spotted there next yr…gardening is addictive….welcome to the world of gardening

  • DawnT

    That crate looks awesome! Absolutely authentic Dutch bike style!

    For a gardening tip, potted plants can dry out really fast. Granted I’m in California, and you have humidity (I’ve experienced Chicago in summer), but my biggest tip is to really monitor the soil moisture at first so they don’t croak right away! I’ve done that! :) Also, better to water ahead of a hot/dry spell if you can.

    Nothing better than fresh herbs from your own garden. And there is some research that says that actually digging in soil releases some “happy” chemical. I can’t remember the details exactly, but there is definitely something in gardening that makes one happy! :) So biking and gardening are a perfect combo!

  • Lafs4

    Love the wine corks…we do the same in our house.  I am guessing you favour red.

  • DawnT

    That crate looks awesome! Absolutely authentic Dutch bike style!

    For a gardening tip, potted plants can dry out really fast. Granted I’m in California, and you have humidity (I’ve experienced Chicago in summer), but my biggest tip is to really monitor the soil moisture at first so they don’t croak right away! I’ve done that! :) Also, better to water ahead of a hot/dry spell if you can.

    Nothing better than fresh herbs from your own garden. And there is some research that says that actually digging in soil releases some “happy” chemical. I can’t remember the details exactly, but there is definitely something in gardening that makes one happy! :) So biking and gardening are a perfect combo!

  • l*

    Congratulations!

    Gardening (doesn’t matter if it’s in a large garden or a small plot) –> relaxing, enlivening (raising the spirits),  destressing , invigorating, revitalizing, sedating , salubrious ….. etc. … trust me ;p   :D  ;)

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Lovely! So far, I agree. :)

  • http://letsgorideabike.com Trisha

    Everything looks so lovely! You’ve inspired me to better tend my window gardens. Nice tip about the corks; never thought about using my extras that way. Also, I can totally envision you and Greg ar–I mean, debating the use of the rocks from under the El. 

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      :)

  • Karen

    I have a very similar garden to yours! I live in Chicago as well and have a very small wooden landing outside my kitchen (mine faces west, south is the best!).  It’s too small for a table and chairs, and really nothing you can do with it BUT put a little urban garden there :)  This is the third year that my husband and I have had an herb garden and flower garden out there, and every year we do a better job. This year we also have tomatoes and strawberries.  We planted ours in early April since the weather was so warm in March.  The only plants we lost were basil due to a few cold overnight lows, but we replaced those a few weeks ago.  We cook from home all the time and just our herb garden daily.  Last year I was still using my parsley, lemon thyme, sage and rosemary until Thanksgiving!! A lot of the herbs are very hearty and I’m sure yours will do great facing south! Happy gardening!

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  • Karen

    What a great post, Dottie!  The shots of you with a plant ladden crate are so charming and make transportation cycling both romantic and utilitarian at the same time.

    Arizona is a tough place to garden because of the soil quality and limited precipitation.  Watering in the desert seems crazy and wasteful so I xerascape (desert/low water gardening) but it’s still a challenge.  We’re moving to Phx and the place we are renting was recently landscaped with rock, garden gravel and low water plants.  For this first year I’ll stick to potted plants that love sun and dry conditions.  I’ve struggled with  terra cotta pots as they lose water through evaporation so you might want to try pots that are glazed on the outside.  I also wonder if corks in the botton of the pot promote mildue but have no idea.  I’ve always used rocks.

    If you are new to gardening, don’t let dying buds and stems get you down.  Regular cutting back of growth that isn’t health is good for your plant and promotes new growth.  Good luck.

  • Julia Ringma

    I am in the SUBurbs but go get my bedding plants by bicycle. I have a wire basket on the front that is smaller than yours but lighter, so I make several trips. I also have been known to put the Bob trailer on and use a recycling box with a shelf in the middle to transport plants. It is fun to ride home with bright flowers trailing out of the basket. People turn to look and smile!

  • kristalooper

    I live in NYC and have enjoyed setting up a roof garden this year. My favorite part was freaking out all the people exiting HomeDepot as they saw little me (all of five foot one) load up my bike with a huge bag of potting soil that weighed almost double the weight of my bike! I think I rocked their worlds that day!

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Awesome! Fun to imagine that scene. :)

  • http://twitter.com/bikelaneliving Bike Lane Living

    Awesome project!  I’ve been wanting to add herbs to my patio garden and maybe a hanging flower box, too. This is just the inspiration I needed!

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      I’d like to add some hanging flower baskets, too.

  • http://www.ColorHug.com/ Lauren M.

    I love your urban garden!  I got some basil and oregano for my birthday, so hopefully I can keep them alive!

    http://www.ColorHug.com

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  • 2by2cyclist

    Dottie,
    Great perspective! I to am looking to contribute to a lifestyle that leaves the corporate giants chasing a slightly smaller target!

    Thanks
    1

  • http://bbybike.tumblr.com/ Wiebke

    Inspiring post! I wish I had more space, no balcony or good window sills. Time to explore Berlin’s community gardens! :)