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How to Grow an Edible, Vertical Garden in Five Steps

It's hard to believe but, yes, spring is on its way. And with it all kinds of wonderful green things like arugula, celery, and cherry tomatoes. If...

It’s hard to believe but, yes, spring is on its way. And with it all kinds of wonderful green things like arugula, celery, and cherry tomatoes. If you’re a gardener, you’ve probably already started your seedlings (or at least have an order in for black seeded Simpson lettuce, Astro Arugula or sugar snap peas). If you’re a first time gardener, now is the time to decide if you really want to dig in.

Don’t know what to grow? Don’t know where to grow it? Gardens can grow anywhere (alleys! windows! walls!) and can grow all kinds of things (loofah!). Vertical gardens are a good option for people who don’t have horizontal space, rich soil or just have an ugly wall they want to cover up.

“It can work in almost any space, anywhere,” says Meg Glasser, Regional Director for Urban Farming, a group that grows edible gardens on walls, fences and other vertical surfaces. We talked to Ms. Glasser about how to make our (vertical) gardens grow.

1. Find a south-facing wall or fence.

Most vegetables need at least four hours of sunlight a day and a south-facing wall will provide the most light. It can be southwest, southeast, but it should never be north facing. Try using Google maps to locate the most southern wall.

2. Find a nearby water source.

A local, dependable, water source is one of the most critical components—without it you will need to consider another site.

3. Choose your growing containers.

Things to think about when selecting a container: what types of plants you want to grow, local climate, temporary versus permanent installation and what kind of surface you’re working with (concrete, chain link fence, wood, brick, and so on). Urban Farming uses a gridded, stainless steel container from Green Living Technologies that affixes to walls and fences. Another good option is Woolly Pockets,which are made of recycled plastic sewn into large pockets with grommets for mounting. And you can always make you own. Glasser’s suggestions? Old two liter bottles, milk jugs, or yogurt containers will work well for chain link fences.

3. Select and plant your vegetables.

You can start with seeds or seedlings but if you’re starting in later spring, use seedlings. If this is your first garden, try starting with mint, basil and chilies- lettuces too. If you’re more experienced try broccoli, tomatoes, brussel sprouts and smaller varieties of melons. Be sure to consider how much light you’ll be getting and root depth. Carrots and beats will need at least a foot and a half of soil. Lettuces have a much shallower root depth. Keep in mind what’s regionally appropriate. Don’t try to grow garlic in Southern California in the summer. And make sure to choose foods you love and want to experiment with. “Last year someone gave me mustard green seeds, which I had never grown,” says Glasser. ”Now they’re one of my favorites.”

4. Maintain. Maintain. Maintain.

This is the most challenging part of the garden. Once the thrill of planting is over, it may be hard to remember to water regularly or keep an eye out for bugs. Glasser suggests installing an automatic drip irrigation system, which comes standard in some container packages. If you can’t install an automatic drip system, set up a calendar or daily email to remind you to water at least five times a week, ideally at dusk or dawn. Certain kinds of flowers can work as a natural pesticide. And if, despite all your efforts, your veggies aren’t growing? “It’s ok, this happens to everyone,” says Glasser. “Just pull it out and try something else. Keep experimenting.”

Bonus tips!

* Photograph and document your progress from planting to harvest. You’ll be amazed.

* Get your neighbors to chip in and share the harvest.

* Keep a garden journal to note what works and what doesn’t. Next year’s garden will be better for it.

This post originally appeared on, as part of GOOD's collaboration with the Pepsi Refresh Project, a catalyst for world-changing ideas. Find out more about the Refresh campaign, or submit your own idea today.

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