Fresh Food from Small Spaces: The Square-Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting by R.J. Ruppenthal, is an extremely useful and clearly written how-to guide to urban gardening. Its subtitle gives you the idea of what it covers. (The link goes to Amazon.)
I laughed at that “square inch” as it’s a takeoff on a classic gardening book called Square Foot Gardening. So if it’s inches rather than feet we are talking here, it’s about things you can do in a very small space, no matter where you live (city, country, or in between) and no matter how cold, dry, wet, hot, or otherwise challenging your climate might be.
Ruppenthal is well suited to writing this book — he has lived a lot in small apartments and condos, yet still manages to garden, sprout, and ferment to an amazing degree. This is the book he couldn’t find, so he wrote it himself. He and his family have something fresh to eat 365 days of the year, and we are not just talking a few leafy greens. The amount of protein that can be produced indoors is quite amazing. Oops, I said “amazing” a moment ago, but this book really did startle me. I have done most of the things he writes about, and I still kept learning new things as I read.
In these days of economic crunch, weird weather, and other uncetainties, Fresh Food from Small Spaces offers many simple skills you can develop to eat inexpensively, deliciously, and healthfully. In the Introduction, Ruppenthal talks about the importance of knowing basic food production skills in order to thrive and even to survive sustainably in the coming years. And then he goes on to describe many things city-dwellers can do to grow 10% to 20% of your food or more.
Here are the thirteen chapters. I like how he mentions websites and other books as he writes.
 Creating a Food System for Your Space: Consider both indoor and outdoor space: the top of your refrigerator, a balcony, a closet or other storage space, a yard no matter how tiny, and other spots. Notice the amount of sunlight or other light too, but there is a lot you can do in dark areas.
 Deciding What to Grow: Includes sections on vegetables in low light conditions, growing berries and small fruits, and companion plants that can repel pests. (Mint repels white fly, aphids and cabbage moths, for example.) It also covers cold climates, and pests and diseases.
 How to Buy or Build Productive Vegetable Containers: He makes a case for self-watering containers and tells you how to make or buy them. He also discusses soil and fertilizer. Naturally, his approach is organic.
 Using Vertical Space and Reflected Light: “If there’s one urban commodity that’s almost as precious as land, it’s light,” is how this chapter begins. It continues with tips for terracing, trellising, and tumbling. (Tumbling is growing downward from a hanging planter.)
 Starting Transplants and Cycling Your Crops: It’s optional to start transplants, but after he says that, he makes a compelling case for doing it and gives you lots of information on how to.
 Growing Fruits and Berries in Your Spare Space: You can grow them in planters. There’s a very useful list of fruits that can grow well in a range of climates. Many are dwarf or semi-dwarf so you don’t have to be a climber to harvest them!
 Sprouting Grains, Beans, Wheatgrass, and Salad Sprouts: This is a very good introduction to sprouting, with some mouth-watering recipes. If you haven’t done much sprouting, it is a very economical and quite easy way to get quality organic produce.
 Making Yogurt, Kefir, and Fermented Foods: “This is a book about producing food, not cooking or preserving it. Why then, you ask, is there a chapter on fermentation? Fermented foods have a place here because culturing them greatly adds to the nutritive value of the underlying food, as well as enhancing your body’s ability to digest and absorb its nutrients. Yogurt, for example, contains around 20 percent more protein than the milk it’s made from…”
 Cultivating Mushrooms: This is the only thing in the book that I have absolutely no experience with, and the chapter made me want to go buy a simple kit and give it a try!
 Raising Chickens and Honeybees in the City: This is probably the most “out there” chapter in the book. I immediately thought of roosters crowing but he is talking about keeping hens only, for their eggs. He comments that a few eggs or a little honey may convert any dubious neighbors.
 Making Compost and Partnering with Worms: Lots of tips on easy methods, relatively smell-free.
 Survival During Resource Shortages: This chapter focuses on ways to prepare for supply disruptions, power outages, and the like. Useful.
Helping to Build a Sustainable Future: A good summary. The book has an index (as a librarian, I always check for one), and a useful list of resources.
I really hope that you will consider buying Fresh Food from Small Spaces, as I think it has the potential to change lives in very positive ways. I’ve got a list going of family members and friends who are going to receive surprise copies!