For the wannabe gardener who has no experience, very little time, and only a small space to grow vegetables in, there's an "out of the box" guided gardening system that could make your first garden drop dead simple.
Seasoned gardeners might scoff at a gardening solution that leaves no room for mistakes, but because growing vegetables is a skill like any other, and novice and new gardeners need to start somewhere, this tool might be a great learning experience and an entry point for those who would otherwise never plant a seed.
The UrbMat aims to "take the guesswork out of gardening," as it integrates a weed barrier, a built-in irrigation system, and an assortment of 12 vegetables, herbs, and flowers encapsulated in seed balls, along with pre-cut holes for planting for optimal spacing. and growing instructions printed right on the mat. All that needs to be supplied by the prospective gardener is a small area to plant in, a hose connection, and a little time and the willingness to grow a few veggies at home.
"The focus is not only to create mats now, but to innovate the indoor and outdoor natural urban living space. The massive rural to urban migration over the past few generations does not mean that we need to stop eating healthy, local foods.
Urban areas are often aptly seen as food deserts, when there’s no reason to be so. Right now, some cities don’t even have fresh food markets. Fresh food markets and gardens don’t just provide healthy food; they also help build community by bringing neighborhoods together with a common interest.” - Phil Weiner, founder of UrbnEarth
The UrbMat, from UrbnEarth, measures just 3' by 2', so it can be rolled out and used in a small space, and while its small size will only support a minimalist garden bed, there's probably no easier way to have an instant garden. New gardeners don't need to figure out which varieties grow well together, as the system is designed with complementary companion planting in mind, and don't need to learn about plant spacing or seed starting in order to cultivate their first homegrown foods.
Aside from the all-in-one guided garden mat, the other advantage that the UrbMat offers is its use of seed balls (GrowUps) that contain non-GMO seeds encapsulated in a mix of compost, worm castings, clay, and chili powder, which don't need to be buried in the soil, but rather simply pressed into the soil at the appropriate opening in the mat. These seed balls help the veggie starts germinate and grow by keeping them moist and protected until they are sprouted, along with supplying soil nutrients that support healthy plant growth.
The UrbMats cost $69, and come with 12 varieties of plants (arugula, basil, carrots, catnip, cilantro, chard, lettuce, marigold, parsley, kale, radish, and spinach). The purchase of each one of these gardening systems also underwrites the donation of two meals to kids suffering from hunger (in partnership with Feeding America and 2 Degrees Food), so new gardeners are not only putting food on their table, but are also helping to feed someone less fortunate than they are.
[Update: I received some comments on Facebook from people concerned that the mats were made from a material that would leach toxins into the soil, so I contacted Phil Weiner and asked him. He replied that the mats were made of "recycled poly propylene, the most common form of landscape fabric that every farm in the nation uses. We also print using soy-based inks, therefore there is never worry that any materials are leaching on the soil, and the irrigation is all food grade and is also used by the same industrial farms around the country. We select all of our manufacturing partners, in the US, based on their mission as well as the safety of the products."]