How to grow your own food if you rent

Tips to start an edible garden with mobile gardens, planters and pots.

Edible gardening is more popular than ever according to the national pandemic gardening survey by Sustain – the Australian Food Network.

Growing your own flowers, herbs, seeds, berries and plants can give you a great source of healthy food. Not only does it make you feel good and helps you save money, it also reduces waste and contributes to a greener city.

Renters need to keep their properties in their current condition. But most landlords are more than happy for tenants to add in a little care.

Belinda Thackeray, project manager for Sydney City Farm at Sydney Par shares some simple ideas below for edible gardening in a rented property.

Belinda Thackeray at Sydney City Farm

I’m keen to grow my own food. But am I allowed to if I’m renting?

First, think what you want to create and if it will alter the property. If so, speak to your landlord or real estate agent before starting. You don’t want to lose your bond or be charged a cleaning or rubbish removal fee at move-out time. Apartment dwellers also need to follow body corporate rules.

There are so many options – how do I get started?

Mobile, pack-away style gardens, planters and pots all work well. They are easy to move and also allow you to keep the soil that you’ve invested time and money improving. Use vertical space, hanging pots, tiered plant stands and window boxes to make the most of your available sun.

Which pots are best for what?

Bigger pots are often better than lots of small pots that can dry out quickly. Dwarf fruit trees need the soil to be about 50cm deep while vegies and herbs need about 20cm to 30cm.

I like corrugated tank styles or large plastic pots that are lightweight and easy to move. There are a great range of colours and styles available.

If you’re reusing plastic pots, remove any old dry soil first and wash them with warm soapy water. Half wine barrels are great for fruit trees.

Free polystyrene fruit boxes from greengrocers are the perfect depth for growing herbs and small vegies. Just put a few drainage holes in the base and fill with good quality potting mix.

Use pots with saucers on balconies to avoid any water run-off issues.

Where should I put my pots and planters?

I like to position my edibles near the door, window or kitchen for easy harvesting and so I don’t forget to water them. Keep in mind, many edible plants need 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight to be fully productive. Vertical gardens can work on sunny walls or potted plants on trolleys so you can move them to follow the sun.

I only have a small balcony within an apartment block – what should I grow?

Picking the right plants for your position is critical.

Herbs are a great option and don’t need much space. For sunny spots, plant basil, chives, oregano and thyme. In shadier spots try parsley or mint. Mint can spread quickly so plant it in its own pot.

Remember to water often as the wind can dry plants out quickly. It’s a good idea to use heavy pots or secure planters so they won’t blow away.

Taller perennial herbs like rosemary can act as a windbreak for more delicate annual herbs like dill and coriander.

What should I plant now?

Always plant what you like to eat and go for fast growing, high yield producers. Something like rocket (arugula) is ready in just 4 weeks when grown from seed. It can be continually harvested for months.

You can grow from seed or save time buying seedlings to get you started. In cooler weather, it’s planting time for citrus, strawberries and other dwarf fruit trees.

How often should I water?

Plants need regular watering until established. Water more often when it is warm and put water onto the soil for the plant’s roots. In summer, water in the morning to reduce fungal disease problems.

Spreading a layer of mulch like sugar cane over the soil surface helps conserve moisture. This means you need to water less often and keeps the soil and plant roots cool. Water crystals and soil wetters can also help with soil water penetration and retention.

Simple irrigation systems and tap timers are great if you’re going away.

You can find out more about urban farming and growing your own food with Sydney City Farm.

Posted . Last updated .

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