Become an Urban Farmer on the Cheap

Food insecurity is becoming a bigger problem in major cities across the world. With populations growing at a rapid rate and arable land dwindling, urban farming has become the new “it” word in terms of food production.

24 September 2017

Regular urban citizens are now taking it upon themselves to provide enough fresh produce for themselves and even their communities. And despite limited space, urbanites are making the most of rooftops, balconies and windowsills.

If you find yourself with little to no gardening space, don’t worry. You can still become an urban farmer by implementing these simple workarounds…


The traditional idea of gardening entails an open horizontal ground space. But vertical gardening turns this idea on its head in a dramatic and modern way. Vertical gardening allows gardeners with very limited areas to still enjoy the rewards of growing their own produce. Getting started is easy – simply pick a wall that gets enough sunlight year-round.

Next, you want to build your frame. There are many design templates available online. If you’re not much of a DIY fan, you can always ask a friend to build one for you, or purchase a frame online. Below is a simplified sketch of what a standard vertical garden frame looks like.

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Vertical gardens are also perfect for climber plants such as beans, peas, vine tomatoes, cucumbers, squashes and baby marrows.


If you don’t have a wall to use, you can also make use of several small containers and pots throughout your garden and home to plant herbs, vegetables and other plants. Anything goes in terms of containers – glass bottles, mugs, wheelbarrows, ceramic bowls and small wooden crates.

Some produce, like radishes, beets and lettuce, can easily grow in containers smaller than 24 centimetres in diameter. The same applies to herbs like basil, chives, parsley and mint.

For deep-rooted veggies like potatoes, tomatoes and peppers, you can make use of plastic buckets, paint cans and other medium-sized containers. Just make sure you clean the container properly before planting anything to prevent possible chemical contamination.

Also ensure all your containers are elevated on bricks or wooden blocks to allow for drainage.


Living in an apartment or loft makes gardening a bit more tricky. Fortunately, you can still put your green fingers to work by making use of windowsills and any other flat surface you’re willing to sacrifice for some greenery.

Hanging baskets are also a great way to bring herbs and smaller vegetables like cherry tomatoes or chillies into your home. Just make sure the plants get enough sun wherever they are to keep your produce healthy.


Rooftop gardens are becoming more popular worldwide. With urbanites having little access to open land, many gardening gurus are moving towards building rooftops. The City of Johannesburg and City of Cape Town are already running active rooftop gardening initiatives, encouraging locals to plant vegetables and fruit. Contact your local authorities via the following links for more info if you would like to get started:

Sources: City of Cape Town, Johannesburg Development Agency