Home-grown organic vegetables in the city: building an urban vegetable garden

There are many ways to grow vegetables in urban environments, but limited space, limited sun and toxic soil are major concerns. We’re lucky in that our yard faces south and it’s a good size lot. We didn’t test our soil because we’re sure it contaminated with lead and other toxins, but if you’re not sure, you can always test your soil through UMass Extension for $10. 

We had a few plants in containers last year and our cherry tomatoes and basil did well. If you rent or don’t want to change your yard in a major way, this is a great option. This year we wanted to grow more food, so we decided to put in raised beds. The cost of these varies a lot, but pricier materials (like cedar) tend to last longer. We decided to spend the money in hopes we would have to re-do our work less often.

Here is what we did:


1.    Went to our neighborhood urban gardening store, cluck for advice (the owner Drake helped us plan all this out)

2.    Measured the yard space that gets a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight and drew out a plan so we could calculate how much dirt and stone we would need.

a.     Decided on 4’ x 16’ beds (because you can comfortably reach into the middle of a 4’ bed- you don’t want to have to step into your raised beds and because cedar planks come in 16’ lengths)

b.    We used gravel around the beds because we hate weed whacking and didn’t want to weed whack around the beds every week- we wanted 3’ aisles between and around the beds because most people can squat comfortably in that space.

c.     Our total garden space was 17’ by 32’ –it didn’t have to be quite that large, but we didn’t want to have a weird grass patch between the house and the gardens so we decided to fill that area with gravel also. This worked out well because now we have an area to set out chairs that feels like part of the garden.

3.    Went back to cluck and bought:

a.     stainless steel corner brackets

b.    Typar weed control landscape fabric 

c.     a large pointed shovel

d.    a flat, smaller shovel

4.    Ordered 16 foot cedar planks for the beds and pressure treated 2x4s to edge the sidewalk from L. Sweet Lumber, they deliver.

5.    Ordered 4 cubic yards of 3/8” blue stone from Earth Products- this was enough to have 2-3” of gravel in the beds for drainage and surrounding the beds.

6.    Drew up a garden plan using info from “Vertical Vegetables and Fruit: Creative Gardening Techniques for Growing Up in Small Spaces” by Rhonda Massinghma Hart and the Growplanner ipad app to determine spacing and which vertical structures to use.


1.    Dug up all the grass and roots and created a big pile.

2.    Pulled up some of our driveway to get the best sun space for the beds.

3.    Built the beds.

4.    Leveled the area as well as we could. We didn’t go for completely level because there is a big slant and this would have involved a whole lot of digging.

5.    Put the beds on the dirt and dug and leveled them into the spot we wanted to place them by moving more dirt around.

6.    Lay down the typar and secured the edges with landscape pins.

7.    Placed the beds, added another layer of typar and since we couldn’t located our staple gun, added gravel to keep the typar in the beds.

8.    Got the dirt delivered form The Compost Plant and shoveled it into the beds, leaving only a bit of space at the top, since we expected the dirt to compact over time.

9.    Built bamboo teepees and bought an A-frame and settled these in the beds.

10.  Planted the seedlings.

11.  Put in an irrigation system using a splitter on our outside hose connection, some extra tough hose under the stone leading to the beds and some soaker hose in the beds. Dave created his own system using hardware supplies- but they also have systems designed for this

12.  Added chicken wire around the beds to deal with our free-range neighborhood chicken problem using metal fencing posts.

13.  Dug out the edges of the driveway around the stone and put in 4”x6” pressure treated wood for edging. We like cobblestones as edging, but for the size of the area we were edging it would have been too expensive. 

Posted on June 18, 2014 .