A friend writes, "Sadly, we do not seem to have been granted a plot in our community garden yet- so next spring my growing will be constrained to a variety of large pots and planters. Any recommendations on what grows well in "captivity" vs. free earth? Our tomatoes were kind of lame last year- maybe I should limit myself to herbs?"
The answer to this question is guerrilla gardening. Guerrilla gardening is the concept of taking over unused green space and planting gardens. Some of these green spaces are privately owned, but abandoned by the owners, who haven't paid taxes on these lots in years. Many of these lots are maintained (mowed) by the city only because fellow citizens call complaints in to codes. If someone were to say begin maintaining a lot by starting his or her own vegetable garden (and planting fruit trees and bushes), residents in the area would stop calling codes, the city would stop mowing because of lack of complaints, and the absentee landowner would stop receiving mowing bills.
Wikipedia defines guerrilla gardening as, "political gardening; a form of nonviolent direct action, primarily practiced by environmentalists. It is related to land rights, land reform, and permaculture. Activists take over ("squat") an abandoned piece of land which they do not own to grow crops or plants. Guerrilla gardeners believe in re-considering land ownership in order to reclaim land from perceived neglect or misuse and assign a new purpose to it.
Some guerrilla gardeners carry out their actions at night, in relative secrecy, to sow and tend a new vegetable patch or flower garden. Others work more openly, seeking to engage with members of the local community, as illustrated in the examples that follow. It has grown into a form of proactive activism or pro-activism."
For more information on guerrilla gardening:
Wikipedia Guerrilla Gardening
Guerrilla Gardening Handbook
The challenge with guerrilla gardening is that if the lot is ever auctioned off due to delinquent taxes, you either need to be ready to purchase the lot, loose your garden, or petition the city/county to turn it into a community garden (since it is already being used as such). In Knoxville, it is easy to research lots through KnoxNetWhere, but for friends in other cities, you may have to go to the courthouse.
Another way to create more gardening space, is to approach the city and ask permission to use park space or empty lots owned by the city trying to create more community gardening space. There is no need to re-invent the wheel, talk to local community garden advocates and ask how they succeeded in creating gardening space. See if they are ready to assist in creating more.
Now, none of this really answers the questions above, but it does offer an option if you are unable to get community garden space. If local activism isn't in the cards (this year), my best advice is to find the sunniest areas of your yard and go from there. Gardens don't have to be large tilled areas. Smaller gardens, even 2x3 spaces, created by building up soil (for more information go to The Garden Stoop December 2008 fourth paragraph) in the sunniest areas of your yard work well, too. This also makes it harder for those bad bugs to take over your crops.
If you have absolutely no space at all and need to container garden, make sure you use deep containers. Plants like tomatoes like to set deep roots. I have successful grown tomatoes in five gallon buckets, but deeper is better. I have friends that use the deep rubbermaid type containers (used for storage), but the problem with using these is that they bulge. I have also successfully seen people use the city/county hard type plastic recycle bins. I do not advocate borrowing or stealing these from your neighbors. Old garbage cans might work well f you can keep it from bulging. The trick in any container garden is to provide adequate drainage, and as always, good soil.
Another option to container gardening is to go upside down. I successfully grew tomatoes upside down in 5 gallon buckets last year. My yield wasn't as good as those in the ground, but we grew enough to enjoy. Of course, that was the first year experiment; I will try to perfect this method in 2009. I have seen photos of folks growing peppers and eggplant upside down, too.
As not to make this article too long, and not to distract from the original message of guerrilla gardening, I'm going to pause here. If anyone is interested in learning more about upside gardening, let me know. I may have an article on that, if not, I'll write one for you.
As always, thanks for reading.