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When I started gardening, it was in a two by six foot raised bed in my mother-in-law's back yard. I focused on doing everything I could to make those twelve square feet as productive as I could, including preparing the soil, companion planting, and learning about succession planting. This knowledge served me well when my husband and I bought our home, which is situated on ¼ of an acre of shady clay just outside of Detroit. We're squeezing every bit of produce we can out of this garden, and the five books on this list have had a huge impact on helping me learn how to make the most of our space.

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Five Great Books for Urban Gardeners

1. Fresh Food From Small Spaces by R.J. Ruppenthal

The subtitle of this book says it all: The Square-Inch Gardener's Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting. What I really enjoyed about Ruppenthal's book is that he recognizes the challenges faced by urban gardeners. One of the biggest challenges (beyond lack of space) is lack of sunlight. So Ruppenthal makes a point of suggesting plants that will grow well in only a few hours of sun per day. Also, he suggests ways to make the most of the sun you do have, such as using reflected sunlight from light-colored walls. Fresh Food From Small Spaces also covers other ways to grow your own food, including sprouting seeds and growing mushrooms (which can be done in a bathtub). Maybe the best thing about this book is that it makes you look at your space in a new way, thinking "what can I grow there?" instead of "if only I had more space to grow." (Chelsea Green, 2009)

2. The Bountiful Container by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey

If container gardening is your method of choice (or your only option...) The Bountiful Container will tell you exactly what you need to know to successfully grow a wide variety of crops. The most useful part of this book is that the authors do a great job of specifying which size container to use to grow a particular fruit, herb, or vegetable. They also offer several container recipes and ideas for reusing old items as containers in your garden. They make the point that most veggies can be grown successfully in containers, but not all of them are worth trying to grow because the yield won't be worth the amount of space they require. This is very important to keep in mind if you're trying to make the best use of your space. (Workman Publishing, 2002)

3. The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Eric Knutsen

More than "just" a gardening book, The Urban Homestead has a great section on urban gardening, but also includes information about backyard poultry, alternative energy, and non-toxic cleaning. This is not so much a "how-to" book as it is an idea book, a way of looking at your life, including your garden, and figuring out how to be more self-sufficient. (Process, 2008)

4. Food Not Lawns by Heather Coburn Flores If you're lucky enough to have a yard - even a small one - don't waste it growing a lawn! This book takes a look at our obsession with the lawn, and what it costs us. Then it goes a step further and teaches the reader how to convert that wasted space into a bountiful garden. Flores packs this book with information on identifying a site for your garden, water conservation, soil, composting, plants, how to save seed, and project design, along with plenty of ideas for fostering a sense of community with your neighbors. (Chelsea Green, 2006) 5. Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew This was the first book I bought about gardening in small spaces, and it was instrumental in helping me see how much food I could really produce in a small garden bed. The general idea is that you should grow in one-foot squares, with your bed laid out in a grid pattern. Special attention is paid to preparing the soil well and never, ever, walking on it and compacting it. There is also plenty of information in the book about succession planting to get the most out of your garden, as well as detailed information about plant spacing, seed starting, and recommended varieties. Bartholomew has updated the book with the release of All New Square Foot Gardening (published by Cool Springs Press) but I still have my old copy on hand. (Rodale, 1981/Cool Springs Press, 2006)