It’s not easy being green. This is especially true in a city due to the lack of private gardens and backyards. City dwellers who are trying to lean away from meat and eat more organic, home-grown vegetables, or those who simply yearn to connect with the earth by vegetable gardening in Barcelona, find themselves relegated to pots on balconies and terraces, if they are lucky enough to have them.
Huertas so good.
This is where Barcelona’s huertas comunitarias (community allotments) step in. Wedged between high rises and on abandoned plots, they are managed by the Ajuntament’s La xarxa d’Horts Urbans. Some of the huertas (‘horts’ in Catalan) are reserved for people over 65 years of age who obtain usage rights via a lottery system. Others, such as the Hort d’ Font Trobada on Montjuic have been set up by local community groups. Most of them develop organically (pun intended), meaning there is no central go-to database where interested gardeners can join or register. The best way to get involved is simply to ask when you see people working inside.
While the huertas comunitarias provide a chance to bond with locals over bags of manure, the harvest is hardly going to feed your tribe once it has been distributed amongst the community members. However, other options exist to make sure their green intake is healthy, wholesome, and hands-on.
Option One: The constant gardener.
For Australian Glen Teeuw, who recently left his tech job to open a café, vegetable gardening in Barcelona means renting an allotment at Els Horts de Sant Joan de Despi. The huge site is part of the Delta de Llobregat, a region covered in commercial farming enterprises.
Teeuw became an avid gardener early on after his uncle, a horticulturist, gave him the green bug. He was keen to get something started when he moved to the area three years ago. “Living out here, you see allotments everywhere,” he says.
But I didn’t know how to get my hands on one, until one day driving around I saw a ‘to rent’ sign.
For 40 euros a months, Teeuw gets access to a 30-square-meter patch of earth and water. Even after adding the cost of fertilizer and seeds, his little piece of earth yields more than enough vegetables to feed himself and his partner, with an ample amount left over to give to friends. To anyone who has reeled back in shock at the price of organic fruit and veg here, this sounds like a bargain. Or is it? “People have this distorted vision that growing vegetables is easy and quick,” says Teeuw.
But in reality it takes a long time. Farming is quite labour intensive.
Teeuw spends about four hours every weekend at his huerta. Currently, he’s tending to heirloom tomatoes, spinach, beetroot and broad beans. But getting your hands dirty is only part of the job. There are many others hours spent researching. “I learn a lot from the internet and just talking to other people on the [huerta] site.” His top tips?
“Research, research, research on how to plan, how to grow, and how to use the soil. Make sure you are aware of how much time and energy it will take, or consider sharing the allotment with someone else. And don’t try to grow anything that is not suitable for the climate. My French beans were a disaster.”
Option Two: The urban(e) farmer.
If you are lucky enough to have a rooftop or sizable terrace in the city, then potted plants aren’t your only options. Urban farming, with some professional help, can have you picking vegetables right in your own piso. Oscar Pascual of Grow in Pallet, a local company that specializes in horts urbans for schools, restaurants, and private homes, helps city residents create mini-farms in their highrise building.
After returning to Barcelona from an extended trip WWOOFing around organic farms in New Zealand, Pascual got the inspiration for Grow in Pallet by looking at a Google map of his native city and seeing “a sea of flat rooftops, like a massive terracotta prairie.” He now provides seed-to-harvest services for urban terrace farmers.
The process begins with a thorough analysis of available water supply, sun orientation, and the basic infrastructure. At least six hours of direct sunlight is essential. That may be a tall order in other places, but in Barcelona, as Pascual reminds us,
The climate here makes it possible to cultivate all year round.
After installing the pallets, soil, irrigation system and helping get the garden up and running, regular checkups are conducted to keep the operation running smoothly. With 4-5 pallets, an investment that would cost around 1300 euros (all included), a small family should obtain enough yield to guarantee a year-round healthy diet, along with a new activity to enjoy.
Option Three: The couch potato.
Cooltivat sits at the innovative juncture of technology and horticulture. This digital platform allows you to design and manage your own huerta without ever having to muddy your boots. Starting from 29.95 euros a month, you get virtual access to a 10-square-meter allotment at a huge site in Cabrera de Mar. The website gives you regular updates, weather and soil conditions, and chat rooms to converse with your plot’s caretakers. You decide what and when to harvest, which is then delivered to your door. Cheating? Maybe. But they used to say the same about the microwave.
Between the 2500 hours of yearly sunshine and these options, vegetable gardening in Barcelona is closer at hand than one might suspect.