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Urban Gardener R. J. Ruppenthal Tells How He Makes the Most of His Small Space

You want to garden—to grow your own fresh organic vegetables from seed using your own two hands, and maybe a bit of compost you created from your vegetable peelings and bits of cardboard. The only problem: you don’t have a garden. In fact, you live in a sad, one-room, one-window shoebox in the big city. Guess you’re S.O.L., right? Not so fast, grasshopper…

Author R. J. Ruppenthal sheds some light on the inspiration for Fresh Food from Small Spaces: The Square-Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting and shares some tips and tricks from the book in this article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

R.J. Ruppenthal is all about growing the maximum amount of food in the smallest amount of space, and sometimes that means using the back of a kitchen cabinet for mushrooms or the clutter-prone top of the refrigerator for sprouts.

And no, those jars on the counter haven’t been neglected, but are actually filled with beneficial microflora, turning common vegetables into the nutritional powerhouse kimchi.

An avid gardener, Ruppenthal has yet to get discouraged living most of his adult life in a small urban space. Any frustration he experienced was from not finding a resource book addressing the challenges of small-space gardening.

So he decided to write the book he couldn’t find. “Fresh Food from Small Spaces: The Square Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting and Sprouting” (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008) serves the urban dweller well with practical advice on starting a beginning garden in obvious and not-so-obvious spaces.

“I’d like people to know that you can grow (some of your own) food in small spaces, even if you do not have a big backyard. Balconies, patios, rooftops, windowsills, doorsteps and even countertops and cabinets are all usable spots,” says Ruppenthal, who lives in Millbrae and teaches at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose.

The more he gardened, the more creative he became with the space he had. When he ran out of usable ground space he turned to vertical gardening, including vining beans and peas, hanging baskets full of cherry tomatoes and strawberries, and espalier apple and multigrafted fruit trees.

Through trial and error, he realized that many plants could grow without the required minimum light. Granted, carrots might not grow big and greens might not reach their full potential, but these less-developed vegetables were certainly edible.

Read the whole article here.


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