New PoP Gardening Feature: “Grown in the City” by John Reinhardt

John Reinhardt is an urban planner, writer, photographer, and urban gardener. An avid cook, John is interested in the intersection of urban design, sustainability, and food systems planning. He currently resides in Washington DC and works for the American Planning Association. He currently writes Grown in the City, a blog about urban gardening and food systems planning.

Gardening in the city can be a rewarding, yet challenging experience.  If you’re lucky enough to have a coveted spot in a community garden, hang on to it!  You can even try sharing backyards (a site I used to connect with some other urban planners who were interested in gardening).  The easiest way, however, is to start container gardening.

Last season I started with tomatoes and herbs out on my balcony in Columbia Heights.  The plants grew marvelously, until about August when I struggled to keep them alive in the DC heat.  I’d water once in the morning, once when I got home from work, and once again in the evening.  I still had trouble keeping up!

This season, I did some research and learned to make self-watering planters.  I made three sizes – an 18-gallon size that holds tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, peas, string beans, and some herbs.  I also constructed a smaller size, made our of recycled yogurt containers, that currently have basil, cilantro, sage, garlic chives, and common chives growing in them.  Finally, I constructed shoebox size containers to house flats of lettuce, radishes, and other similar vegetables that need to be started at different times throughout the season to ensure a long harvest.

I highly recommend the self-watering container method.  For under $20, I was able to construct an 18 gallon tub;  for next to nothing, I was able to use my recycled yogurt containers to grow herbs in.  For those who are in really sunny locations, or who travel for work, these self-watering containers are a must.

Check out the plans and photos at

10 Comment

  • I really like this addition. Thanks.

  • Great post! I just set up some containers with herbs and more seedlings so will try this out. A couple questions: with this much dirt what do you do with it season to season and what do you fertilize with?

  • Thanks for the kind words heisenburg and Tall E! To answer your question – Following the season, I remove the plants and cover the soil with a layer of compostable material (leaves). This year, however, I think I’m going to try planting garlic, which will grow over the winter and be ready to harvest in the spring (no sense letting that soil go to waste!)

    I currently fertilize with an organic fertilizer mix, but once I get my worm factory up and running, I’ll use the worm tea.

    It’s probably a good idea to rotate the crops from season to season, and add fresh compost, as certain veggies and herbs use more and different nutrients than others.

  • You may also want to try building a small salad box…

    captcha – “follow jets”

  • Thanks for this post, from someone who has never grown anything.
    My boyfriend had a garden at one time, and I am actually interested in the idea of doing something like this now.

    PS – You live in my building! (I cannot wait to not have that view anymore)

  • Hey Jodi – Yes, I think we met during one of the fire alarms perhaps? Ha! Take advantage of the great sunlight if you are here for the summer. I can certainly help you get some stuff going.

  • Love it. Now if only I had a balcony!

  • So I’m a below-novice gardener, and just received delivery of my “beginner’s veggie garden”. It’s 8 little starter plants in 4 inch plastic containers: cucumbers, a couple of different tomatoes, squash, and something I’m not remembering right now. I only have container gardening as an option, and my plan was to dump a bunch of potting soil in four of these 13-inch pots (12-inches deep), add the starter plants, and then in a couple of months…MAGIC! right?

    Experts, what else should I be doing? Am I setting myself up for failure? I am dedicated enough to water a couple of times a day, what else will I need to do?

  • DCAC – Check out my blog, for starters! 😀 If at all possible, try to build some form of self-watering container to avoid heartbreak. I’m not sure what varieties of plants you get in the “Beginners veggie garden”. Some varieties of the same vegetable are much more water-intensive than others. Do you have an idea of the variety? Other than that, the best advice I can give is that the bigger the container, the better. 13-inch pots may be pushing it, as the plants can dry out quickly in the hot DC sun. Other than that, where will you be growing? A sunny location? Shady? Feel free to contact me at growninthecity AT gmail DOT com for more help.

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