Ultimate Guide to Los Angeles Urban Farming and Starting an Urban Garden

woman tending to plants in her patio urban garden in Los Angeles

Ultimate Guide to Los Angeles Urban Farming and Starting an Urban Garden

Gardening is becoming more popular in every corner of the country. Rather than taking care of houseplants, people are focusing on growing food.

Urban gardening in Los Angeles is a great way to grow fresh produce for yourself or to sell at farmers markets. Whether you hope to grow a personal garden for fresh produce, join a community garden, or create an urban garden with other residents, Los Angeles is the place. It has a long growing season that’s perfect for producing a variety of vegetables and herbs.

Read this comprehensive guide to get started!

Choose Between a Personal Urban Garden and a Commercial Urban Garden

Can you make a profit from your urban garden?

Yes! Some urban gardeners sell fresh vegetables and herbs to local businesses or at farmers markets.

People plant urban gardens for a variety of reasons. For example, your garden could provide food for you and your family. Alternatively, maybe you’ll share the produce with the local community for a profit. Either way, your goal will be an important factor in planning the size, location, and types of plants for your urban garden. As a result, understanding your options will help you determine the future of your urban garden.

How to Start a Personal Urban Garden

A personal urban garden is one that’s meant to provide fresh food for you and your family. You might save money on your weekly grocery run, but you aren’t generating a profit from personal urban gardening. There are a variety of ways to grow food for your family in Los Angeles, even for city dwellers with only a small amount of space. Those options include:

Container Gardens

Depending on the amount of space you have available, any containers deep enough to let plants grow roots — around 10 -12 inches — can be used for plants. You’ll simply need to put holes in the bottom to allow the soil to drain properly.

Raised Garden Beds

If you have yard space to grow vegetables, then a raised bed garden can help you avoid weeds. Raised beds can also be used on concrete patios or sidewalks. Raised beds can be built on sloping land, as well.

Community Gardens

Some community gardens are designed for growing commercial vegetables only. However, others allow residents to rent spaces within them for personal use. There are over 100 community gardens in Los Angeles (and we’ll discuss them later in this article).

Vertical Gardens

A vertical urban garden is a type of container garden that uses vertical space to compensate for small areas. Tiered containers, hanging pots, and trellises, for example, may be used to help plants use vertical space.

Window Boxes and Containers:

If you have very little space, then planter boxes are an option for growing small plants. Typically used for herbs or flowers, these boxes are placed directly outside a window for easy plant watering and care.

How to Start a Commercial Urban Garden

A commercial urban garden is designed for growing produce you want to sell. Starting a vegetable garden can help you make money from home. Small urban gardens also need only a relatively small start-up investment.

If you don’t have the space for a garden at home, then there are other urban farming solutions you can try. Many people participate in a community garden, for example, to provide local vegetables to the area and generate an extra income stream. These are a few ways you can get started growing an urban garden in Los Angeles to generate a profit:

Backyard Farming

Even if you don’t use your entire yard, you can make a profit from vegetables you grow in your yard space. Maximize your yield with vertical gardening techniques, raised beds, and companion planting. If you’re short on space, then you can even grow herbs on a windowsill.

Community Gardens

Some community gardens are nonprofit organizations. Therefore, they depend on volunteers to grow food for donations. Others provide rental plots that allow you to grow vegetables and herbs for your consumption or for a profit.

  • Rented, leased, or borrowed land: If you’re interested in more than a tiny plot, then leasing or renting a space from someone else might be the solution. With smart planting strategies, you can make a reasonable profit by farming less than an acre of land.
  • Terrace or roof gardens: Heavily populated areas often have less space for urban gardens. Using rooftops can be a solution. But before planting a rooftop garden, it’s essential to learn the local ordinances and talk to the owner of the building. You also need to be sure the roof is structurally safe for the additional weight.

Pro Tip:

Whether you’re growing vegetables for your family’s health or in hopes of creating a revenue stream, start small. This can help you avoid getting overwhelmed.

Choosing Plants for Your LA Urban Garden

The climate in Los Angeles, California, provides one of the longest growing seasons in the country. When you’re choosing plants for an urban garden, you’ll also need to consider which months you’ll be planting and how much time you want to spend gardening.

If you’re growing a garden for personal use, then starting small with the vegetables you like most can provide added incentive to succeed. Also, vegetables for commercial gardens should have a shorter growing period for maximum profit. This guide will help you decide when to plant seedlings in your urban garden.

Fruits and Vegetables for Your Spring Urban Garden

Los Angeles planting zones range from 7 to 11, which means many plants can be planted in early spring. Some options and their planting months are:

  • Beets: Early March
  • Celery: March
  • Cucumbers: March
  • Lettuce: March
  • Tomatoes: March
  • Spinach: March

Fruits and Vegetables for Your Summer Urban Garden

Many types of vegetables can be grown during California’s summer season if you have a good watering system and avoid too much full sun exposure. Extend the spring growth season with:

  • Corn: Plant the seeds in June
  • Cucumbers: June for a late or second harvest
  • Peppers: June for late harvest
  • Squash: June
  • Tomatoes: June (It’s also possible to keep spring tomato plants pollinating and producing throughout the summer)

Fruits and Vegetables for Your Autumn Urban Garden

As summer turns to fall, cooler air promotes better growth. Try urban gardening with these plants because they can keep producing through late fall:

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Beans
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes

Winter vegetables can be planted in late September and into October. Some good vegetable options are:

  • Peas: Late September
  • Beets: Late September
  • Carrots: Late September
  • Radishes: Late September
  • Turnips: Late September
  • Cauliflower: October
  • Cabbage: October
  • Broccoli: October
  • Kale: October
  • Cauliflower: October

Fruits and Vegetables for Your Winter Urban Garden

In the absence of frost, vegetables can even be grown or harvested during November and December. So you can also try planting these veggies in the late fall:

  • Cauliflower: February
  • Beets: February planting
  • Bell Peppers: December and January
  • Broccoli: February
  • Cabbage: February
  • Carrots: Late January and early February
  • Peas
  • Chives: February
  • Kale: February
  • Lettuce: February

Pro Tip:

If you intend to plant more vegetables immediately after harvesting, then choose plants from a different crop family. Rotating crop families can help you avoid garden diseases or poor soil quality.

Herbs You Can Grow in Your LA Urban Garden

Fresh herbs can complement any meal. They can also provide pest control when grown alongside organic vegetables. These herbs grow well in California’s dry climate:

  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Oregano
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Lavender

How to Make the Most of Limited Space in Your Small Urban Garden

man transferring a growing plant to a larger container in his urban garden

The vegetables you choose to plant will inevitably be determined by more than their seasons and planting schedules. After all, you probably want to grow the vegetables you love so you can enjoy them. However, if you plan to sell vegetables, it’s important to consider planting cycles and the plants that will sell best in your area. Choosing the right plants and creative planting techniques will help you make the most of limited space.

High-Yield Plants for Increased Profits

If you hope to make a significant profit from your urban garden, choosing your plants carefully is a good way to start.

Vegetables with a short growing season and a high yield per plant will provide the biggest crop. In addition, you can enjoy the produce multiple times throughout the season. Bountiful plants are also motivating if you’re just starting to grow a green thumb. Try some of these vegetables to get the most out of your limited space:

Radishes

These small root vegetables mature in 21-28 days. Also, it may be a big seller at local restaurants.

Leafy Greens

Greens like lettuce, spinach, endive, and Swiss chard mature in 45 to 50 days. Succession planting can yield multiple harvests.

Arugula

Arugula matures in 45-60 days, and it should be harvested before it flowers.

Tomatoes

Cherry and grape tomatoes, for example, produce large amounts of fruit that are ready in 65-70 days. Some medium-sized tomatoes ripen quickly, as well. These include Early Girl (around 50 days), Early Wonder, Bloody Butcher, Red Alert, and Alaskan Fancy (55 days).

Cucumbers

Pickling cucumbers have the fastest growth cycle, and they can be used for both pickling and salads. Cucumbers mature in 50-75 days.

Beans

Green and wax beans, for example, grow rapidly in warm weather, maturing in 55-65 days.

Squash and Zucchini

Summer squash matures in 40-55 days, and it can be planted with trellises for vertical growth to save space. Zucchini takes a little longer (around 60 days) and typically produces a large crop.

Okra

Okra reaches maturity in 50-65 days, and the plants can produce for 10-12 weeks.

Peppers

While they can take 70-90 days to mature, pepper plants love full sunlight and heat. They’re an excellent choice in California.

Herbs

Fresh herbs are popular for seasoning restaurant meals, as well as the meals you make at home. Popular varieties include basil, chives, oregano, parsley, lavender, and chamomile.

Space Saving Tips for Growing More in Your Urban Garden

Growing what you and your family love to eat makes the most sense if you hope to enjoy your garden. Still, when you have limited space (maybe you’re even renting a storage unit), it can be difficult to figure out how to make everything fit. Try some of these tips to keep your favorite veggies and herbs from hogging all the space in your urban garden.

  • Aim high. Many vegetables that typically take up a lot of space can be grown vertically with the help of cages or trellises.
  • Try shelf containers. Shelves placed close to a wall or deck railing can quickly multiply your crops.
  • Separate the space hogs. Plant herbs or vegetables that can take over your garden in separate containers. Then they won’t crowd out other plants.
  • Use hanging baskets. Create extra gardening space on your porch, pergola, deck, or balcony with hanging pots.
  • Create steps. Stacked, raised beds work like stair steps, allowing several layers of plants to get the same amount of California sunshine.

Pro Tip:

Get creative with containers. Practically anything that will hold soil can be used to grow plants. Different types of containers can help you save space. Self-watering pots can also help your plants grow if you want to start container gardening but you’re worried about parched soil.

How to Start an Urban Garden

Planning is the key to success when creating a garden in a small space. You should know how much space you need, the supplies you’ll require to get started, and what you hope to accomplish with your urban garden. Use these steps to get started when you’ve decided to plant an urban garden:

1. Get a Firm Understanding of What You Hope To Accomplish

Why did you decide to grow a garden? If you hope to provide food for your family, then personal tastes will be an important factor in the plants you choose. For gardens designed to teach children, it’s vital to create a space where they can participate. If you hope to make a profit, then you’ll need to learn about which plants have the best return on investment.

2. Plan Your Location

The location of your urban garden will dictate how much space you have and the amount of sunlight your plants will get each day. Although Los Angeles is sunny many days of the year, trees and surrounding buildings can shade your urban garden.

Your location is one of the most vital factors in planning your garden. Are you interested in joining a community garden? If so, learn about the gardens in your neighborhood and which ones have space available to find the right fit.

3. Determine Your Planting Method

Do you have space in your backyard where you can plant directly in the ground? Even if you have space on the ground, raised beds have advantages you might want to consider. If you plan to use a deck, patio, or even a fire escape, then you will need to consider the types of containers you’ll use.

4. Gather Supplies

You will need containers, potting soil, fertilizer, and plants to grow vegetables or herbs. You might also invest in some tools like a hand trowel to help you garden with ease.

Should you use seeds or plants in your urban garden?

If you’re new to gardening, then seedlings (small plants) are the easiest to grow.

Seeds come in packets, some of which can create hundreds of plants. However, unlike plants, seeds often need to be started indoors and can take anywhere from days to weeks to germinate. Seedlings are plants that are in season and ready to plant outdoors. Seedlings are often easier to care for and provide you with a clear picture of your future garden.

5. Enlist Help

A garden is most enjoyable when the time and harvest is shared with those you love. Gather family members or friends and neighbors to help you create a garden. Vegetable and herb gardens can supply a variety of plants to entice everyone with a green thumb to join in the fun.

Pro Tip:

Check local ordinances, zoning laws, and building restrictions before planting your urban garden. Some ordinances may restrict the types of plants you can plant and where you put them.

Community Urban Gardens in Los Angeles

people tending individual plots in a community garden

If you don’t have the backyard or patio space for an urban garden, you can still find opportunities to grow your own plants in Los Angeles. Community gardens are shared plots of land where locals gather to plant vegetables, herbs, plants, and flowers. Community gardens are often managed by volunteers, and you’ll likely have to pay a small rental fee for your own gardening space.

There are more than 125 community gardens in Los Angeles. The list includes traditional community gardens, educational gardens, and urban farms. To learn about community gardens in your neighborhood, visit the Los Angeles Community Garden Council.

Many community gardens also host classes and workshops, have websites, and plan events that are open to the public. Get to know the community gardens in your area by visiting a few before deciding where you want to join. These are a few of the community gardens located in Los Angeles:

Spring Street Community Garden

Spring Street Community Garden has over 35 raised beds, compost bins, and picnic tables. The organization advocates for low income and homeless residents of Los Angeles. It’s located on S. Spring Street.

Ocean View Farms

Founded nearly 40 years ago, Ocean View Farms provides practically countless plots to choose from. It’s located on S. Centinela Avenue.

Erica J. Glazer Community Garden

With approximately 5,000 square feet of growing space, Erica J. Glazer Garden has 35 plots. Located on Richmond Avenue, the garden is a great resource for USC students.

Santa Monica Community Garden

Santa Monica Community Garden plots are only available to Santa Monica Residents. It’s actually a trio of gardens, and the three locations provide 117 plots. Applications are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The locations are on Main Street, Park Drive, and Euclid Park.

Rosewood Community Garden

Rosewood is located in a residential area. It provides an opportunity for many local children to learn about how food is grown, what is used, and the work that’s involved. It’s located on Rosewood Avenue.

Wattles Farm

The four gardens of Wattles Mansion became a community garden in 1975 and officially turned into a nonprofit space in 1978. The garden’s 172 plots have over 300 members. It’s located on North Curson Avenue.

Emerson Avenue Community Garden

Located on a one-acre portion of Orville Wright Middle School, the garden is run entirely by volunteers. The nonprofit organic garden is shared by the school and the public for community building and educational purposes.

Fountain Community Garden

Fountain Community Garden has 65 plots and over 100 urban gardeners. It is a place where residents can grow food for their families. You can find it on East Hollywood, near 101 Freeway and Fountain Avenue.

Pro Tip:

If you rent a plot in a community garden, then take the time to meet your neighbors. You can learn new gardening tips and meet new people within the community.

Starting a New Community Garden

Creating a new community garden is always a welcome idea in Los Angeles. If you hope to transform an empty lot or create access to a gardening space, then it’s important to get started the right way. You will need to know local ordinances, how you plan to manage the garden’s finances, and other early planning facts to bring your garden to life.

Answering these questions can help you prepare:

Have you picked out a potential location?

Also, do you know what the land was used for in the past? Make sure you conduct a soil test before you start planting.

What type of garden are you planning?

Educational urban gardens, traditional community gardens, and urban farms each have different needs and requirements.

Do you have community support?

See if there other residents in the area willing to volunteer time or interested in becoming urban gardeners themselves. You could also form a volunteer leadership group.

Do you have the education to manage garden-related finances?

You may be able to get assistance from the Los Angeles Community Garden Council. Also, consider if there are funds available for start-up costs, garden maintenance, and water bills.

Additional tools include a sample of garden rules, a plot application and garden budget template, and a tool list. You may also wish to find a local mentor who can help you learn all the details related to managing a community garden.

Growing an urban garden is a fun project, and it provides local food for communities. Urban gardening is also a great way for families and communities to interact. Urban gardens can be an introduction to a healthier lifestyle and even generate a profit. No matter why you love gardening, Los Angeles provides a variety of ways to get started and enjoy the city.

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