Urban gardening in the Bay Area

No yard? No problem. This guest post was provided by Karolina Willson from Castro Valley, who wanted to share some of her discoveries for urban gardening with children.

Gardening in the Bay Area with kids
Our first big harvest

I always thought that I had a black thumb, so I’m not sure what possessed me to make an attempt at gardening early last spring. It had something to do with the enthusiasm that my then two-year-old son, Dominic, always exhibited when in the presence of the flora and fauna. Perhaps it was my need to transform the desolate scrap of weed-ridden land that we acquired as a side yard in our new rental. Maybe it was a lingering nostalgia for the summers I had spent with my own grandfather, puttering around in his prolific plot of land, bees flying over my head and the smell of tomato plants on my fingertips.

Whatever the reasoning, I plunged headfirst into creating my very own garden! With my trusty toddler sidekick, I managed to turn our narrow outdoor space into a lovely, productive patch, full of various vegetables, fruit, flowers, and herbs. It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience to share with my son, who will hopefully carry on this tradition with his own children and grandchildren. I offer some of my lessons learned so that you, too, can take the plunge into growing.

Decide on an in-ground row garden or a raised bed garden.
Look at what you have available. Do you have a large or smaller space? If you have adequate ground soil, you can dig into the earth, adding compost and nutrients, and plant rows of veggies and fruit, with trees and bushes along the perimeters.

Gardening in the Bay Area with kids

If you have less room, like I did, or there is little workable soil, you can create a raised bed garden. Find supplies like cinder blocks, cedar boards, untreated pallets, planter boxes, barrels, or pots of varied sizes to enclose your garden. You might be able to find a raised bed kit you like, though these tend to be more expensive. I’ve even seen a raised bed garden built over concrete.

Start small.
When I first started, I used nine large cinder blocks to create a 3’ x 3’ raised bed with two smaller pockets of growing space per brick, plus the area in the middle for growing things that require more space. I also bought two large pots for tomatoes.

Once I saw that this was going well, I bought seven more bricks to make a raised bed for flowers (to attract pollinators) and to grow herbs. Once that was thriving, I bought more pots, planters, and finally, built my own 6’ x 3’ raised bed plot with 6’ untreated cedar boards from the Home Depot.

Gardening in the Bay Area with kids

If you’re going the way of in-ground row garden, you can decide where and how large you want your first plot to be and start working the ground. If you start with an overly ambitious plan (like, doing your entire large backyard in one weekend), you will likely get overwhelmed. If you start small and work on one project, working up to the next once you achieve success, you’ll start to get excited and feed off of you small successes.

Find out what you can grow.
Luckily, we Bay Area residents have a really long growing period. A book like Golden Gate Gardening (available at the Ecology Center among other places) will help you determine what sort of plants will thrive during the current season. Take into account how much sun and shade your plot will get and then go from there. Be aware that while you may get plenty of sun during the spring and summer in your plot, unless it’s facing the South, the amount of sun may be greatly reduced in the Fall and Winter months.

Reserve a small plot for your kid(s).
I found out that a great way to involve my little one in this whole gardening experiment was to create a small designated spot that was just for him. He knows he’s responsible for the sowing, weeding, watering, and finally harvesting of this area. His excitement of having his very own project yields the very best harvest of all—lots of joy and enthusiasm to be outside and working in the dirt!

Pro Tip: A snail/slug hunt is always a great way to keep our young farmers busy long after their patch of garden has been tended to…and it’s a great way to practice natural pest control!

Gardening in the Bay Area with kids

Finally, just go for it!
You likely won’t know a lot when you first start, but you will find yourself looking up problems (via Sir Google) as they come up and often finding great solutions all on your own. Who knew you were so resourceful? Within a couple of seasons you will find yourself with a thriving garden, a sun-kissed face, a happy kid, looking forward to the next growing season, offering advice to a novice gardener neighbor!

Thank you Karolina and family for sharing.

Related: Chicken resources in the East Bay (share yours) Take your baby to the nursery.

Please share your favorite local garden stores and tips in the comments.

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  1. says

    Great ideas and you’ve established a great space, starting small is smart and I’m a firm believer to grow what you like to eat. Love the pictures!
    Carole at GardenUp green