First thing first, you need some space to grow. Community gardens can be a great way to become more connected with your neighborhood and learn from gardeners of all walks of life. Land in urban areas can be hard to come by-currently Portland Parks and Recreation has a waiting list for community garden plots of around 1000 people-but, you don't need much land to grow a significant amount of food and there is always container gardening.
It's estimated that twenty square feet could feed a family of four and a twelve square foot plot of vegetable could feed one to two people. If you don't have time to grow yourself but have the space, there are several Portland-based businesses that will cultivate your yard for you.
Here are some ideas of where to scope out growing space:
Portland Parks and Recreation
Portland Yardsharing Project
Toolkits for starting a community garden in your neighborhood:
Portland Parks and Recreation's Community Garden Toolkit
American Community Garden Association: Guide to Starting Your Own Community Garden
"A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself." – Franklin D. Roosevelt
Soil holds the roots of life. Healthy soil is the key ingredient to a successful garden. Good soil supplies the minerals, microbes, water retention and drainage that your plants need to thrive. So, let's start from the ground up. Get ready to dig in, dirty your hands and expand your soil horizons.
Since we are in an urban setting, it is important to test your soil before planting edibles. If your home was built before 1978, there is a high chance your soil contains lead from paint particles (the federal government banned the use of lead paint after 1978). Land next to busy roads and industrial areas should have soil tested as well. Soil tests indicate soil fertility and can help you figure out what you need to improve your soil's nutritional content.
Read more about urban soil and soil contaminants here:
Urban Gardens and Soil Contaminants
Start a Farm in the City
Know Your Soil: A Handbook for Organic Growers and Gardeners in Temperate and Sub-Tropical Regions
Soil Testing Labs
You can do a home soil test, however, these are not as accurate and comprehensive as sending samples to a lab.
Here are some suggestions of where to get your soil tested:
A&L Western Laboratories
10220 SW Nimbus Ave. Bldg. K-9, Portland, OR 97223
Standard Package plus recommendations: $13
Kinsey Agricultural Services, Inc.
297 County Highway 357, Charleston, MO 63834
Standard Sampling package: $50
2526 East Saint Helens St., Pasco, WA 99301
Organic Farming Package: $45.00
University of Massachusetts Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Lab
682 North Pleasant St., Amherst, MA 01003
Standard Soil Test Package: $9
Wy'East Environmental Services
2415 SE 11th Ave, Portland, OR 97214
Lead Test: $20
Soil tests results may be difficult to understand. Visit your local garden store or nursery to speak with an expert who will help you figure out what your soil test means.
Here are some resources on how to read your soil analysis:
Oregon Extension Soil Test Interpretation Guide
E-How: How to Read a Soil Test Evaluation (brief and simple explanation)
Once you have an understanding of your soil makeup, supplement your soil with the nutrients your plants need.
Here are some easy approaches you can take to enrich your soil:
Compost! - Use your left over food and yard scraps to complete the nutrient cycle and grow more food.
Buy amendments - There are people all over town who specialize in strengthening soil composition. From fish emulsion to rabbit poop to organic fertilizer blends, there are many environmentally friendly options to choose from. Find a garden store or nursery near you, bring in your soil test, pick employees' brains, and experiment to find out which inputs work for you and your soil.
Especially over the winter or while not growing on a piece of land, use this time to cover crop with plants that will fix nutrients into your soil.
ATTRA's Overview of Cover Crops and Green Manure
World of Container Gardening: web portal by the University of Illinois Extension
Oregon State University Extension Container Gardening
AgriLife Extension's Vegetable Gardening in Containers