As the home of the organic agriculture movement, Santa Cruz and the surrounding areas boast many large-scale farm operations. Human and plant residents alike enjoy a Mediterranean climate perfect for growing produce; some veggies will even grow well year-round. Most condo-dwellers only dream of growing their own food because of notorious space shortages. For serious gardeners, this might pose a barrier in purchasing a condominium. Sellers can pique the interest of this group by showing them that they can grow their very own organic produce and eat it too if they keep in mind a few key points:
-Balconies are not just for Shakespeare. A balcony makes all the difference when you are growing vegetables in a small space. Even a small patio can offer enough room for several pots and/or a small raised bed. Unless your condo complex has a strata bylaw that prevents such an installation, don't forget about the extra space that window boxes and balcony railings provide. Brackets can easily be attached to wooden or plastic planters for window boxes and many home improvement centers now carry planters with a groove on the bottom that will fit snugly over railings. Maximize your space with hanging baskets of ever-bearing strawberries and indeterminate tomatoes. Don't forget, though, that hanging baskets require more watering and might obscure the sun exposure of other plants.
-Plants need light. In Santa Cruz (as with anywhere in the northern hemisphere), a Southern exposure allows for the most sunlight. You can, however, grow plants that are less sun-loving, such as spinach, in other exposures. Most herbs, too, will be successful in less-than-optimal light. Plants of tropical origin, like tomatoes and peppers, are best planted where they will receive the most light possible. Keep in mind the previous point about tall or hanging plants blocking the light of other plants. Peas prefer some shade from the sun, but tall plants like corn might be better off from the supermarket than your balcony, where their growth will quickly eclipse that of their fellow plants.
-What fruits and vegetables do you eat the most? This is an important factor to consider. Just because you can grow broccoli doesn't mean you should if you've hated it since childhood. Keep in mind, too, your own commitment to gardening: some plants require more maintenance than others. If you love tomatoes but can't commit to keeping their suckers trimmed, it might be better to visit one of the many farmers around Santa Cruz. Lettuce, on the other hand can be grown year-round if re-seeded, is easy to grow, and can be grown in a relatively small space. Beets are great space savers because they do double-duty as a root vegetable with edible leaves.
- Do your homework. If you're a beginner, you don't have to put in hours of study time to become knowledgeable about gardening. The basics of fertilization and plant growth go a long way to help you understand your plants and your garden. A little research at the library or bookstore will give you more detailed information about the Santa Cruz climate and plants specifically suited to smaller spaces, like dwarf varieties.
Santa Cruz is the perfect location for avid gardeners to explore their hobby. Those who are considering downsizing to smaller living situations needn't worry about giving up on growing fruits and vegetables. With a little creativity and careful plant selection, green thumbs and/or empty nesters can enjoy homegrown fruits and veggies without sacrificing their condo lifestyle. Even a small garden can serve as a powerful selling tool to both the young urban farming set and the empty nester. And hey, if you forget to water your garden and your plants die, there's always a farmer close by to sell you as many veggies as you can handle. That's the beauty of living in Santa Cruz.
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