Have you ever tried to have a vegetable patch in an apartment? Or have you tried to make the most of a small courtyard, rooftop or balcony to plant food and be more self-sufficient?
If the answer is yes, you are going to love this interview with Cé Rodríguez.
Cé is the agrotuber behind the youtube channel and the instagram account en20metros (within 20 metres), where he shares his adventures in the veggie garden he has in the small courtyard of his house and he helps others to do the same.
We just love the easy and useful tips he gives and therefore we have decided to ask him a number of questions so that you too can share in the joys of a vegetable garden, even if you live in the city.
For you, what are the benefits of having a vegetable garden?
Firstly, it’s the monetary saving. When I started planting things in my courtyard my first objective was to save myself the €1 cost of a lettuce.
Another advantage is that you eat healthier, you eat more and tastier vegetables. I haven’t had to buy a bad tomato in nearly 3 years.
In addition, the veggie patch is the most local and seasonal available: in winter I eat my own broccoli, they are good for my health as well as being tastier. In summer, the tomatoes, the beans (that are often imported into Spain), etc.
To top if off, having a vegetable garden is an escape from the stresses around us and it also helps us to understand the value of products in the shops.
You believe that anyone can plant a vegetable garden, no matter how little space they have. Where should the people reading this, who may live in a flat without a courtyard or with just a small balcony start?
They should start by growing leafy plants, small ones in the smallest pot they can get their hands on. Just to try it out. At the moment, I am growing a lettuce in a bean tin, it is already quite big and I am watching to see how big it gets. No doubt, if I get a good result with this lettuce I will move on to planting some rocket this way.
Then, plant herbs: rosemary, parsley… there is no comparison between fresh herbs and the dried variety and they are so easy to grow.
If you don’t have a lot of sunshine, it is better to buy a seedling instead of trying to grow from seed, as it can be more complicated.
The trick is to start by taking small steps, set small goals and slowly move forward. For example, everyone wants to have tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants… and they are more difficult to grow. It could be that you don’t have the right conditions and you get a plague of insects or some type of mould or fungi…
What traditional homemade remedies are your favourites for keeping your vegetable garden healthy? Ones that are eco-friendly, and don’t cost much money.
One of my favourites is potassium soap, it’s natural and as it contains potassium and not sodium you can use it every 5 days if you are having problem with insects infestations. You can make it with vegetable oil and by buying some potassium, or it can also be purchased ready-made.
Another remedy I like a lot is herbal teas or infusions.
Sometimes I make herbal infusions that are repellents, for example camomile tea can get rid of whitefly in just 5 days, or a horsetail infusion for treating fungi. You can buy horsetail in bulk or if it grows in your area, you can make your own.
If you have aromatic herbs in your little patch, you will manage to avoid a number of plagues thanks to the smell they emit. Planting rosemary or basil next to your tomatoes is a good idea because not only do they encourage pollinators to visit, but the same pollinators may also eat up any plagues you might have. For example, in a corner of the city where there are no flowers you may be taken over by aphids, however if you have aromatic herbs and flowers you will attract bees and wasps…
Another homemade remedy is a nettle slurry that is somewhat difficult to make in a flat because it is very stinky, but you can buy some nettle flour that makes it much easier to use.
Medicinal plants are really interesting.
You have mentioned insects, but apart from aromatic herbs what else can we do to attract good insects to our vegetable garden such as ladybugs?
In my area (Vigo, Spain) we have a problem, because the Asian wasp is massacring the ladybirds. However, I do know that ladybugs are attracted to bay plants, you can even make a bay leaf infusion and pour in on the corners of your vegetable patch.
In order to attract beneficial insects, flowers are amazing. Small wasps (syrphid or hoverflies) firstly eat the sugary nectar and then they get their protein from eating the insect plagues: camomile, marigolds, verbenas, borage… they are very hardy plants that attract all types of insects.
Another good option is to make an insect hotel, that will only be occupied by good insects because the bad ones don’t tend to move in. You can make one using some wooden boards, pieces of bamboo, dry grass, pine cones… You make a kind of box, put it in a spot where bugs are coming and going and that’s it.
Every now and then in the garden it is hard to avoid plastic especially when it comes to flowerpots, seed planters, organic plague controlling products… How can we reduce our plastic use in our vegetable gardens?
In many ways:
- There are heaps of crops that allow you to grow a number of seeds in a large tray, e.g. lettuce. This enables you to avoid using individual seedling pots.
- Another option is using biodegradable cardboard pots, you can even bury them direction into the ground. Or you can make seedling pots using the cardboard tube leftover from your toilet paper rolls and other things.
- If you receive a plant that comes in a plastic pot, don’t throw it away. It’s not allowed, reuse it to pot other plants.
- When it comes to compost, I don’t use peat because peat bogs contribute to deforestation. So, I try to avoid buying blocks of peat and make my own homemade compost or worm compost.
- Another idea: you can use supporting stakes made from bamboo rather than from plastic. I bought some bamboo ones about 3 years ago and even if you leave them out over winter, they are really strong and hard-wearing.
- When it comes to tools, it is better to invest in a few quality items that are made from metal rather than those that have a plastic handle and you know will end up breaking at some point.
*Note from Sinplástico: In some garden centre greenhouses they have so many plastic pots that they end up throwing them away. If you need some pots or seedling starters to plant outon your terrace or balcony, you can ask if you might take some extra pots with you when you next visit your local garden centre. You can keep reusing them for years.
One of the topics that generates the most questions and obstacles about having a vegetable garden at home is the compost. That it smells, that it drips everywhere… How can we successfully make our own compost living in a flat?
It is complicated, because it is always necessary to add a little water. Although it shouldn’t release lots of water, it can drip from time to time.
However, it is true that if you make good quality compost it shouldn’t smell.
To your compost you should add a dry brown component, rich in carbon, you can do so by breaking up some dry leaves, used mail parcels, pizza boxes… and then later add the wet or green organic part. A good compost should not smell because it should contain possibly even more of the dry part than the wet component. As you move it around aerating it, the temperature increases and it starts to breakdown and form real compost.
The smelly rotting happens when something is out of balance: the compost is too compact, it’s too wet, you left it without its lid on, your compost bin doesn’t allow for good aeration…
When you want to start making compost in a city courtyard or terrace you should take into account the fact that compost is made by microorganisms. Therefore, it may be that you need to buy a little compost to add to your initial mixture. From then on, when you add your compostable materials, you move the mixture around and those same microorganisms will start working.
Another trick is to freeze your organic waste so that it doesn’t smell until you are able to compost it.
How can we use our household waste to grow strong healthy plants?
- You can for example use the skin/peel of certain fruit. A banana peel or homegrown organic potato skin, one that hasn’t been treated with hormones, wash it well and put it in water to boil. This water will be rich in potassium and is a very good natural fertilizer for flowers, capsicum plants and tomatoes.
- I always reuse my used coffee grounds, I have found that it is impressive just how good they are for my strawberries and other plants that need a little acidity in the soil. As tap water tends to have a pH of 8 or 9 and often has a little limescale, which is was alkalises it, sometimes plants start to turn a little yellow. Coffee grounds are really helpful to regulate this.
- The water from germinating legumes or sprouts has a heap of natural plant growing hormones – auxins, making it an excellent fertiliser for your plants: it envigorates them. The water from soaking legumes before you cook them has a lot of iron and it can be used for watering. If you tend to boil your veggies without adding salt or oil you can also reuse this water on your plants.
- The strings from an old cotton mop are perfect for reusing to tie young plants to a guiding stake, such as for young tomato plants… It’s cotton, so it won’t damage the plant stem.
- Plastic bottles can be reused for storing tap water for watering, this way the chlorine will evaporate over a 24hr period…
There are thousands of things you can reuse.
Many thanks Cé, for sharing all your tricks and tips with us to ensure we have a healthy, organic and plastic-free urban veggie patch.
What about you? Are you feeling motivated to plant your own urban vegetable garden? If you already have one on the go, would you like to tell us about it in the comments section?