2 Reasons this Urban Multifamily Community Vegetable Garden is Successful

2 Reasons this Urban Multifamily Community Garden is Thriving

People are growing their own food in bigger number than ever before.  In urban areas this trend is surging, particularly in multifamily communities.  These communities include apartments and condominium associations.  It enhances the sense of community and increases property values.  An NYU study in 2006 (the last one we saw) found that regardless of the neighborhood’s income level, property values increased up to 9.5 percent.

This month we’re talking about a client garden in Oakland and the reasons for its success.  It’s one thing to start a garden.  But, maintaining it requires a different set of skills, knowledge and time.  We’ve distilled the success of this multfamily’s garden to these two factors.

  1. How they are maintained.  It’s actually not the how – but who. Their vegetable garden pictured above is maintained by someone outside of the multifamily community.  Gardeners’ Guild performs the maintenance, but it doesn’t have to be us, or any company. It can be one or two people.  The key to its success is that the gardener is outside of the community. It’s a cleaner relationship.  No entanglements with the community.  See our explanation below.
  2. Fundamental for plant survival is – the right plant/right place; soil and proper amount of water and light But that’s not everything.

How an Outside Gardener Helped Make this Garden Successful

This is especially relevant for urban multifamily housing like homeowner’s associations or apartments.  Many of these residents are super busy and don’t have time to maintain a garden.  Yet these urban communities recognize the benefits of an edible garden. It is convenient.  Healthier and less expensive.

The realities of plant maintenance, however, can sometimes undo all the hard work of planting an edible garden. We’ve seen it happen.  Plant problems occur.  The solution rests on a board or committee burdened by multiple priorities. Sometimes there is disagreement among the group on a solution. The garden may suffer. 

When the maintenance is done outside the community it takes all the guesswork, planning and scheduling off the shoulders of residents.  They can enjoy their edibles without being pulled into the work of managing them.

Some residents and/or committee members may be horticultural experts, equally experienced with maintenance. However, if they don’t have the time, or have conflicting loyalties, it could impede the garden’s success.

If you choose to outsource the maintenance of your edible garden

Develop a garden maintenance scope of work that includes these basics.

  • Watering – either with irrigation or hand watering.  Keep in mind hand watering takes more time and will cost you more.
  • If irrigation, make sure your gardener understands how to program and troubleshoot problems.
  • Pruning – excess foilage helps direct their growth, let in light and helps protect from disease.  If they become overgrown it is harder to access air and nutrients. 
  • Thinning -this is important so that each plant has sufficient space to grow and mature.
  • Weeding
  • Fertilizing – type of fertilizer and frequency will depend on the plants.
  • Monitor for pests.  One of the most importanta components of managing pests – is monitoring.
  • Composting. As a top dressing. This will keep the soil healthy.


  • Interview contenders
  • Obtain references
  • Set and adhere to timelines for making your decision and for a start date.

How to grow the edibles pictured above

Right plant, right place, soil and water

It’s a new association in Oakland.  We recently planted strawberries, marigolds, artichokes, parsley, cilantro, and lettuces.
Below is a snapshot of how to grow them.


When to plant  depends on the variety.  Some can be planted in February through early spring.
Where to plant  They thrive in a California coastal climate
Light full sun.
Soil that drains well and they prefer acidic soil, but will grow in others.
Fertilization Once a week
Water   during fruit-bearing season water 2 to 4 days a week
Notes They are happier when planted in the ground rather than containers.

2 Reasons this Urban Multifamily Community Vegetable Garden is Successful

When to plant  Late winter or early spring
Where to plant  They like cool coastal climate.   In a hot dry area you can plant them in partial shade.

Light  4-6 hours of sun daily
Soil  Loose fertile soil with organic matter added
Monthly nitrogen fertilizer during spring and summer

Water  Regular deep watering
Can be grown from seeds or starts from a nursery; can be damaged by frequent hard frosts

2 Reasons this Urban Multifamily Community Vegetable Garden is Successful

When to plant  Early spring or late fall.
Where to plant near your kitchen.

Light  6 hours of sun daily.
Soil  Any kind, but must drain well.
Container plants will need more frequent fertilizing.

Water  Keep soil evenly moist.
Harder to grow by seed.  Best to purchase starts from a nursery; they are a biennial

2 Reasons this Urban Multifamily Community Vegetable Garden is Successful

When to plant  Depends in the type. Early spring or fall, but can be grown year-round.  Best grown by transplants.
Light  6 hours of sun daily.
Soil  Loose soil that drains well.
Adequate nitrogen.  Adding compost will improve growing conditions.

Water  Regular watering.
Harvest in the morning.  It will be crisper.

2 Reasons this Urban Multifamily Community Vegetable Garden is Successful

It’s About Having a Successful Vegetable Garden

If your apartment or homeowner’s association is in an urban part of the San Francisco Bay area, you may choose to have residents take on the care of your edible garden. It may be a big success and enhance the social interaction between residents.  Or, your multifamily community may opt to have an independent contractor maintain your garden for reasons discussed above. Whatever you do, let us know about your experiences.  

Our Sources


Below are five plants you can grow in containers this fall and winter.





Delicious peppery taste! Nutritious and good in salads combined with lettuce, mixed in pasta. Fast growing.

Container should be at least 8” deep and 6” in diameter per each arugula plant

Light Requirements
Likes 6 hours of sunlight

Likes to stay moist

Protect from deer with wire or netting

How to harvest
Cut the outer leaves while plant is still growing in a tight rosette. The flavor of arugula will get stronger once they bloom





Fresh grown lasts longer and it’s more flavorful. Loose leaf or romaine handle cold better. Fast growing.

Container You should have a medium sized container. 6-8″ inches between young plants

Light Requirements
Partial shade is okay

Regular water

Protect from deer They really like lettuce.  Protect with wire or netting

Lettuce is more sensitive to frost.  Buy fabric cover to protect it.

How to harvest
Cut the outer leaves





Highly nutritious and tasty sauteed lightly in garlic and olive oil. Many people love it raw. They are also a cold-hardy plant.

Container should be at least 12″ diameter

Light Requirements
Likes full sun but will tolerate part shade

Likes regular watering

Protect from deer with wire or netting

How to harvest
Pick the oldest leaves from the lowest section of the plants





Plant garlic from bulbs in your nursery.  Garlic makes everything taste better and some swear by it as a health remedy.  A few days before planting, break apart cloves from bulb and keep the papery husk on each individual clove.

Bulbs should be planted 2-3″ deep and have room for roots to grow.  So, container must be at least 12″ wide and 18″ deep and allow 6″ between cloves.

Light Requirements
Likes full sun

Likes moisture. But, make sure soil drains well because bulbs can rot

Protect from deer with wire or netting

How to harvest
Pick the oldest leaves from the lowest section of the plants


Mustard Greens



Great sauteed are in soups or stews. Spicy leaves cook well with strong ingredients like onion and garlic. Smaller, milder ones are good in salads and stir fries.  They are also a cold-hardy plant.  Not as cold hearty as kale but they can tolerate a light frost.

Container should be at least 12″ diameter. Plant 3-5″ apart (seedlings). Thin seedlings once they reach 3-4″ high

Light Requirements
Likes full sun

Whenever the top 2″ of soil feels dry

Protect from deer with wire or netting

How to harvest
The larger the leaf, the stronger the flavor will be



Do you live in a San Francisco Bay Area city with no yard?

Do you like to eat healthy and buy the same vegetables each week, bemoaning their rising costs?

If you have a porch, deck, balcony, small patio, stair landing, or windowsill, consider growing container vegetables this fall. You will save money, find they taste better, last longer than store-bought and have the satisfaction of growing them yourself!

It is easier than you think. The fastest way to do it is to purchase young plants from your local nursery and transplant into larger containers.  This will alleviate the issues you might encounter when starting from seed.  You will find young starter plants in a six-pack or 2 or 4” plastic pots.

There are several vegetables that grow well in the fall to winter. Most can take light to moderate frosts.

You will need to purchase these items.


Size and shape depend on –

How many plants of each type and their requirements for root growth and the space between each one.  Each plant on the list below has recommendations.  Most often your planters will need to be wider than tall.  Its overall size will depend on how much space you have and how many plants you want to grow.  We recommend that you start small.  You can always add later.  I have been to most of the bay area nurseries and there is a wide selection and sizes of clay pots reasonably priced.  Make sure they have drain holes.  I have also read that adding a thin layer of coarse gravel at the bottom of the container will enhance drainage.

Good Soil

High quality potting mix.  This is lighter than the typical bay area soil which is tends to be clay which lacks air pores to drain adequately.  You don’t need to spend a lot of money for this either.  Add compost if it is readily accessible.


They will come in either time-release granules or water soluble form.  Since you are starting small don’t buy a large quantity and follow the directions.  Using compost will also make your soil healthier. Note – container plants require more frequent watering which washes away fertilizer nutrients so they will need to be fertilized more frequently than plants in the ground.


Check with your local nursery first to find out if they carry young plants (seedlings) and if they don’t try to get a referral to one that does.  Check each plant that they appear to be well taken care of, have no flowers or fruits.  Discard plant with roots that are knotted and circled at the bottom of the pot or stems that look spindly.  See the right for some options.


Berkeley Horticultural Nursery
Pollinate Farm and Garden, Oakland
Armstrong Gardens (throughout Bay Area)
Sloat Garden Center (throughout Bay Area)
Annie’s Annuals, Richmond
Home Depot and Lowes may also have seedlings

Now you know the first steps of what to purchase.  See Part 2 for specific plants!