Because my backyard is entirely concrete like many city yards/alleys/unused spaces, I have no soil in which to plant my garden. But that's cool, that's ok, because there are so many options for us city gardeners!
My original plan was to construct raised beds (pictured at left) on top of the cement. Look how happy this white woman is in her garden! She's going to be able to make so much fresh Arugula Orange & Parmesan Salad for her Tupperware party!
Many companies manufacture modular kits that include the side panels and corner connectors to build any shape or size raised bed to fit your space. They also stack to create deeper beds for things like potatoes and root veggies. Build on top of any surface, fill it with soil, and voila! Insta-earth!
My genius plan was that even if my farm didn't work out, I could at least plant grass or flowers in the beds so it would look like I had a real back yard. I could roll in the grass in my own yard!!!!!! (and if you don't live in New York City you probably can't understand how magical and special that is)
So, in January I bought some raised bed kits from Gardener's Supply Company and was very proud of myself for planning my summer space so early. I didn't mind spending money on the kits because I figured they would last for years and this was a one-time set up cost that would be very worth it. Then something sad happened.
Have you read about my guerrilla garden neighbors? It's ok, you don't have to go read it, I'll summarize because you're lazy: my neighbors have built a very productive food garden in the empty lot next to my building and it gets bigger every year. Though I'm new to this apartment and back yard, I have actually lived in this building for the last 5 years, so I've seen how much work goes into the neighbor's squatter garden. This year they began prepping the empty lot in early Spring as usual: cleaning out accumulated trash, breaking down last year's plants, building the trellises for their viney veggies, and preparing soil beds. Lots of hard work.
Then one day recently an official-looking crew showed up with a giant dumpster and a team of men and KABOOM: the "empty lot" was suddenly very very empty.
It appears that someone has finally purchased the space where my neighbors have been growing food. The clean up crew tore down all the trellises and ripped up the land. They emptied the contents of the space into the dumpster. They installed a new iron fence that, though it admittedly makes my block look more legit, is just a solid symbol that the farmers will never be able to step foot on that land again. I can't imagine how my neighbors watched from their apartment across the street as all their hard work (and expected fall harvest) disappeared.
Aside from feeling terrible that they lost their space, I realized something: I don't own this backyard. I rent this apartment. I could really be kicked out, or have a reason I need to leave, at any time. Why am I investing in permanent garden structures if I might not be here next planting season or even at the end of the summer?
That's when I became an official container gardener.
I decided I needed a garden bed that could be moved if necessary without disrupting the plants, so I bought large Rubbermaid tubs for $7 each, and after drilling some drainage and air holes, I am planning to plant in them. If I get evicted any time soon, or I get my dream job at Disney World and have to move to Florida, I can just pack the tubs into a truck and take them wherever I go next!
I'm going to donate the raised bed kits I had purchased to a community garden. If you have any suggestions of which one, let me know! I'll keep you updated.