‘Tis the season for mud, earthworms, seedlings, and gardening gloves. It’s one of our favorites. Gardening offers an outlet for people from all walks of life and brings communities together. In addition to the obvious benefit of fresh, nutritious produce, urban gardens offer a host of benefits that go well beyond the gardener alone.

Urban gardens are:

Tips for the sustainable and savvy urban gardener:

First time gardener? Start small. You’ll be surprised at just how many zucchini squashes one plant will produce. Your family will be, too. And your coworkers. And your neighbors. And random passerby. There will be plenty of squash for everyone. No matter where you fall on the spectrum - from potted tomato plant on the back patio to president of your neighborhood garden club - growing your own food or landscape will bring you enjoyment and satisfaction.

Use organic, chemical free pesticide and herbicides. It takes a quick Google search to discover a long list of homemade pesticides you can mix from items already in your home or kitchen. You will also be able to find many natural pesticides and herbicides for sale at your local garden center or online. If you must use a chemical pesticide or herbicide, do some research to learn which will be safest and most appropriate. Knowing which pests attack which plants allows you to treat accordingly, and not overtreat a garden that doesn’t need it. The EPA also offers resources on using pesticides, herbicides and fungicides safely at home.

Compost. One thing to know about urban soil is that it often shows the evidence of decades of development. (Tangent: it’s often a good idea to test the soil around your home or garden to better understand its attributes and deficiencies; things like your soil’s Ph balance, nitrogen and potassium levels, and composition can make a difference in what will thrive there. You can pick up a soil testing kit for less than $20 at most garden centers or hardware stores. They’re simple to use and the test tubes make you feel like a mad scientist.) Composting can help return nutrients and balance to depleted soil. To compost, you don’t need to build a fully aerated, NASA researched and certified system. You’re more than welcome to, of course, but a wire cage in the backyard will also work well. The best part about composting is that it’s also a great way for your family to recycle and prevent food waste.

Pay attention to garden design. An understanding of companion planting can naturally prevent infestations of pests as well as maximize the usefulness of your garden space. Alternating crops each year will help you maintain and replenish your soil. It also prevents the buildup of soil-borne pests and disease.

So get out there and get your hands dirty. Then share your Indy Urban Garden with SustainIndy to be added to the city’s map of urban gardens.