(ABC4) – With warmer weather in the forecast and spring on the horizon, many Utahns are starting to plan out their gardens. Spring will bring planting, and come late summer and fall, tables and bellies will be full of fresh, homegrown produce. In the past, those of us who live in apartments may have found ourselves jealous of our friends with yards and gardens, but luckily there are actually a few ways to grow your own produce this year, even if you are short on space.

Start a balcony garden

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A balcony garden is a great way to reap the rewards of growing season, even if you don’t have a yard. It can even be relatively simple and affordable, with a little planning ahead.

According to Jason Laws, a certified arborist with Salt Lake-based landscaping company Elite Grounds, a division of Stratton and Brätt, choosing the correct soil for a container garden is key.

“The biggest thing that either makes or breaks a balcony garden is understanding that the soil profile has to maintain or hold on to water, but it also has to allow it to pass through and drain out the bottom of the pot,” he explains. “Otherwise, stuff will rot.”

A good potting mix for balcony gardens is a combination of one part peat moss, one part mulch, and one part sand, he says. You can either buy a mix with these ingredients already incorporated or buy each component and combine them yourself.

Laws also says it’s important to make sure you have an uncontaminated potting mix for container gardening, instead of taking soil from the ground or a yard.

“If you use a peat moss, mulch, and sand [mix], you’re basically going to get a sterile mix, so it’s not going to attract or have any of those bacteria or fungus,” he explains.

And, once you have the soil, take some time to consider what you want to plant in it. First, you’re going to have to consider if you want to plant from seed or use a starter plant.

If you’re looking for an all-organic option, or would like to plant an obscure or specialty vegetable or herb, planting from seed might be for you. But Laws warns this method takes a lot more work, and if you’re a beginner or casual gardener — and especially if you are also short on space —purchasing an already started plant at a local nursery is an easier option that will greatly improve your chance of a bountiful harvest.

And, whichever method you choose — while it might be tempting to pick a whole bunch of pretty things to plant — making sure you have enough room for growth in each pot is also essential.

“What happens more often than not, if you pick 12 varieties of things, you’ll get three that will actually outperform or outgrow the other ones,” Laws explains.

Instead, think critically about what you want to eat and make sure each plant has adequate space, as outlined on the tag when you buy it.

According to Laws, good growing options for balcony gardens are tomatoes (make sure you get a variety that is determinate, meaning it the plant will reach only a specific height, and all the fruit will ripen at once), and herbs.

“Herb gardens are excellent for balconies,” he says. “You can have fresh oregano and sage and basil and rosemary and thyme; all of those things grow really well here.”

Another element that makes balcony gardening different from traditional gardening is light. Many apartment balconies don’t get sun all day, and if your balcony faces north, you might need supplementary light to ensure maximum plant growth. Laws recommends a full-spectrum growth light, which can be purchased at big box stores Home Depot or Lowe’s, if your balcony needs some extra rays.

Join a community garden

Community gardeners harvesting at Wasatch Community Gardens, photo courtesy of Wasatch Community Gardens

If you don’t have a balcony, or perhaps just want a bit more of a hands-on experience, joining a local community garden might be a good route. The Wasatch Community Gardens is one of the largest conglomerates along the Wasatch Front, with locations in across Salt Lake City, as well as in Sandy, Magna, and Draper.

At Wasatch Community Gardens, gardeners can each rent a personal plot that they have the options to renew year after year. This way, they can even plant winter-weathering plants, like garlic, in the fall, and reap the rewards in the spring.

And even with this gardening approach, you won’t break the bank, either. According to Ed D’Alessandro, the facilities manager at Wasatch Community Gardens, the team always works to keep the prices of plot rental affordable to all income levels.

“We try very hard to get low-income people into our gardens, just so they do have access to space to provide a little more food security for people in the community,” he says.

However, there is a waitlist for most gardens, D’Alessandro says, so those interested should sign up as soon as they can. But the convenience and affordability offered make waiting worth it, he adds.

“I feel like just finding a space to garden is really step one,” D’Alessandro, who lives in an apartment, says of joining the community garden. “And our gardens are great because they have irrigation already together.”

However, when working at Wasatch Community Garden, you won’t just be looking out for your own plot, you’ll be responsible for contributing six hours per year to the garden communal areas, too. This time can be spent doing anything from cleaning the shared pathways or shed to contributing to the communal gardens, which house herbs and a pollinator bed. Some gardens also have fruit trees or a community area, where anyone from the surrounding area can come pick produce to eat if they need it.

“It’s just a great way to build community and get neighbors knowing each other,” D’Alessandro  says of joining the garden. “Building the community is equally as important as growing veggies.”

And lastly, don’t be discouraged if you’ve never gardened before. D’Alessandro says that the staff at Wasatch Community Gardens are more than happy to help at the garden or through the plethora of classes offered in person and online. He also adds that you can learn a lot from talking to your fellow gardeners, too.

“I think a lot that I learned was from other community gardeners,” he says. “I just encourage people to get in the ground. Just take that being intimidated thing off the list. [We’re] just encouraging people to just jump in and figure it out as they go, because it can be that easy to grow food for yourself.”