By Kris McDowell

The concept of victory gardens (aka war gardens) became prevalent during WWI when the government asked citizens to grow food wherever they could. Since then, there have been fluctuations in the interest in urban farming, as it is now often referred to, and degrees of size and complexity.

Some people grow a few of their favorites in pots each year, others install permanent garden beds. Others add chickens or even goats into the mix.

In a recent Sierra Club article, author and urban farmer Novella Carpenter offers ways to get started or expand existing gardens.

Watch the Sunlight

The most important consideration for any garden is the number of hours of direct sunlight the location of your garden will get. Taking a few days to make notes about where the longest stretches of sunlight hit will be useful when determining what you will be able to grow successfully.

Tomatoes, kale, zucchini, eggplants, peppers and potatoes need at least six hours of sunlight per day while lettuce, spinach, beets and herbs like parsley and mint will do fine in areas with fewer hours of sunlight.

Expand Vegetable Bed Options

The size of the space available for planting, along with the amount of sun will greatly impact your decisions about creating in-ground beds or growing in containers either large and mostly immobile or small and easily moveable.

Large, sun-filled spaces could be filled with in-ground beds, galvanized metal livestock tanks or trash cans. Smaller spaces and balconies are better suited for five to 15-gallon pots, suitable for tomatoes or zucchini. Even windowsills can accommodate four-inch pots containing herbs.

Grow High Yield Plants

Tomatoes, zucchini, lettuces, green onions, herbs and sturdy greens like kale can be harvested multiple times. Starts can be purchased at a variety of places: garden centers, farmers’ markets and hardware and grocery stores – and take less time than starting plants from seeds.

Don’t Skip the Flowers

Especially if you have limited space you might be inclined to skip the flowers and focus on food. However besides being pleasant to look at, sunflowers, borage/starflower and lacy phacelia/purple tansy attract and provide food for pollinators like bees. Tomatoes benefit from marigold companions to ward off nematodes from their roots.

Once you’ve gotten your hands dirty and become comfortable with your space, consider planting berry bushes or fruit trees or getting adventurous with new-to-you seed varieties.