Temporary permaculture for renters – 11 ideas for growing abundant food without owning land

How do you get thriving permaculture garden while you’re renting?  There are particular challenges, but there’s also a whole lot of great ideas for creating abundant temporary gardens and flourishing community spaces.

In our 20s, Evan and I lived in rental houses for years before we moved to Crystal Waters ecovillage.  We grew a fair bit in pots, in the yard and along the footpath, but we also became avid community gardeners and helped to organise a food box system for the other foods we needed. Our sense of permaculture gardening embraced the community – the city farm, friends places and verges (amazing macadamias and tamarinds).

Maia checking out the community garden at Maleny Neighbourhood Centre’s community garden – one of the many local community gardens where I run regular free permaculture workshops.

Not all renters move regularly of course and some landlords are happy for you to create an flourishing edible garden. My grandparents rented the same house for about 40 years. They always had a lovely vegetable garden out the back. Generally however, renters or not, people do move more often now. Almost half of the Australian population moves every 5 years. In Australia, government statistics show that people in their 20s and 30s move multiple times in that 5 year period.

So, whether you are a renter or just a regular mover, here are some ideas for you…

Mesclun Greens Pot

Create a fabulously productive salad bar in a pot. Densely seed up a pot with a mix of things like lettuce, rocket, mizuna, endive, coriander, asian greens, spinach, basil and mustard greens. As soon as the leaves grow big enough, start snipping a leaf here and there – a pot full of nutrients, colour and flavour. To keep the plants thriving, regularly water them with a natural fertiliser – diluted worm liquid is great.

Lettuces, radishes, rocket, basil, mustard greens all grow so quickly. Very soon you will be plucking fresh leaves for your salad bowl or stir-fry.

For getting things going in your temporary pot gardens, I recommend using a few bigger pots rather than lots of little pots which dry out so quickly. Using self-watering pots or mini-wicking gardens is also a benefit.  Here’s a few ideas to try:




Herb Garden in a pot

In large pots you can also grow a wonderful diversity of herbs together.

Try themes – teas, asian spice, pizza pots…

  • For a nice tea – try mints and lemon balm.
  • For an spice pot – try chilli, lemongrass, coriander, vientamese mint …
  • For a pizza and pasta pot – grow sage, rosemary, oregano, parsley, chives, mini basil and thyme together.
Mix of basils and tomato in a large up cycled pot.  (source


Fruit tree guild in a pot

If you are in a temporary garden, it’s still wonderful to be able to have fruit trees, but you most probably want to be able to take them with you when you move.

Even the smallest garden can support a dwarf fruit tree or two in a pot. So many fruit trees are now available in dwarf varieties and they do really well. However, you do need to remember that these plants are entirely dependent on you for their water and nutrients – they cannot send their roots off in search of more food and water. Plant the fruit tree in a big pot  – remember that in 2 years you’ll need to trim roots and add fresh potting mix, so choose a shape of pot that you can slide the tree from.

Some good fruits plants for pots – dwarf lemon, pomegranate, acerola, finger lime, kaffir lime, jaboticaba, dwarf apple, dwarf mango, dwarf avocado (need another to cross-pollinate though), tamarillo, strawberry … just to name a few.

You could also try a multi-grafted tree to get a few different varieties on one root stock – for example mandarin, orange and lemon.

Make sure you mulch the pots well and add complementary plants such as nasturtiums (edible leaves, flowers and seeds), herbs to repel insects, flowers to attract pollinators.

Nasturtiums add great colour. It attracts pollinators, is a living mulch and has edible flowers, leaves and seeds.


Worm farm in a pot

In the middle of a large pot, sink a mini worm farm. You can feed the worms directly and the worms take the nutrients to the plant roots for you. You can simply use a large lidded yoghurt container with holes drilled in the base. Bury it in the centre of the pot, put in a little soil, add a handful of worms then start feeding them.

Use grow bags or sacks

Fabric grow bags are an interesting lightweight and affordable alternative to pots. I have a collection of old sacks and chicken food bags that are good for this, but I have also seen grow bags for sale. These grow bags are better outside than the balcony as they seep.

Old potato sacks can be reused as grow bags – chicken feed bags also work.
A type of grow bag available – shopping bags also work in this way.
Not pretty – but a simple concept. If you need to buy in soil anyway, why not use the wrapping it comes in.


Potato tower

A temporary potato garden can also be made in a tower of wire netting. A potato tower is a great way to grow backyard potatoes in a small space without digging up the soil. Keep adding compost and mulch as the plants grow. When the tops die back – undo the tower and harvest the spuds.



Sprouts and Microgreens

You can have a constant source of greens all year round even if you have no garden at all. Right in your own kitchen you can have a mini desktop garden. Microgreens are the shoots of vegetables such as lettuce, beetroot, rocket, celery etc that are picked just after the first leaves have developed.  I love sprouting too – particularly mung beans, alfalfa and buckwheat.  They are so quick, easy and nutritious.



Turning your scraps into food for the soil

In a small space it is possible to set up a worm farm, compost bin or tumbler. They are compact and can move with you when you need to.  Collecting your food scraps and sprinkling it with a bokashi mix can really reduce the smell and activate your scraps for composting.  Have you considered a community compost system.  The city of Sydney even has some helpful guidelines on how to manage one.

Caloundra community gardeners separating the worm castings and collecting worms for a new worm farm


Growing on the verge

Verge gardening is growing in popularity. People are taking their gardening endeavours to the streets and claiming some public space in common areas for edible landscaping. It’s a way to grow food together and build community. A nearby town, Buderim, has a great example called Urban Food Street, so does Sustainable Chippendale in downtown Sydney.

Join or form a community orchard group

Cities can be places of abundance with fruits and vegetables growing in many of the underutlilised spaces. Public parks and community gardens can become community orchards – places where people can grow, tend and share locally-produced fruit. Some cities such Seattle are actively encouraging this. Often the harvest from one backyard fruit tree can be too much for a person or family, so sharing a range of plants makes good common sense. The Urban Orchard Project in Melbourne links over 200 households to do just this.

A gorgeous community food forest Evan and I stumbled across walking about Ljubljana, Slovenia many years ago.


Join or form a community garden

If there is simply not the space or right aspect at your place, consider joining a community garden, growing on the verge or helping at a local school garden. There are so many resources to help you on the Australian City Farm and Community Garden Network website

I love gardening with other people. I learnt so much this way. Big jobs just seem to disappear amongst the laughter of working with friends in the garden. Sharing the work, sharing the produce, sharing ideas, sharing knowledge created greater abundance and a sense of amazing possibilities of what we could achieve together.

Some of the lovely participants from a recent workshop I led at the city farm – some just beginning their gardening journey. City farms and community gardens are great places to learn.

We started Northey Street City Farm over 20 years ago now – and as a small community group we not only filled a public park with herbs, vegetables, fruits and perennials – we regenerated a segment of urban stream, planted a woodlot, developed a bush tucker corridor, created a vibrant community hub that continues to thrive today with an organic farmers market, permaculture nursery and fabulous education programs. There are no fences – people can wander, smell, taste, feel, enjoy and learn from the space.  Now there is also market gardens and an allotment garden section – no fences still! Fabulous.

Our involvement in setting up the permaculture educational gardens at Northey Street City Farm inspired the way we developed our garden here at Crystal Waters – which we offer too as an educational space.

These are just a few of the many many ideas for growing food in small spaces and temporary situations. Please share your favourite temporary permaculture ideas.

Living a simple life and having a thriving edible garden helps us to live a healthy life, reduce our impact, diminish the waste we produce, scale down the debt we are in and simply connect to nature, the seasons, our community and our selves.

4 Responses

  1. africanaussie
    africanaussie at |

    What a comprehensive post – so much of what you talk about I am doing in my small permanent garden. I am presently venturing more into microgreens as up here in the tropics you need to grow and harvest fast beofre the bugs find them!

  2. Endah Murniyati
    Endah Murniyati at |

    Interesting idea. Thank you for sharing.

  3. John Mcnicol
    John Mcnicol at |

    Hi you must have a challeging time with those little critters as i was farming in Qld for 10 years and found that growing in tube shade house was great and having the good insects like praymantis and ladybirds for control of pests,besides that their are ma y other ways of controlling.Im now in Western Australia growing in South Hedland at a rental property with very little insect problems .Ive invested into worm farming and being very contious about what to throw into bin and what to feed my worms.Their main food is coffee residue and they love it ,but also shredded paper and all decomposed vegs horse poo and anything that will break down in a short time.They are very good breeders also a d any time i turn over new soil i introduce my worms to it.I do miss the cooler climates but have settled here and will ha e a challenge on my hand when the heat comes.

  4. Suze Dunmow
    Suze Dunmow at |

    I live in UK in a small suburban area of bungalows for the over 60's. I have been composting even in London on my large patio balcony, and am continuing here, now that I have a garden. (always a dream/hope of mine). I am now starting to grow my own veg, building my raised beds to a height so that I can sit in my chair and garden. I have a general compost bin, and have just put together a two section, wooden slatted bin for the green waste. The soil here is pretty poor, so am having to do a lot of improving. Reading your article, I have now bought two Bokashi bins and am looking forward to using them. I am also grateful to your link to community composting, as I might try and see if any of my neighbours might be interested. They are not a very eco minded lot, but I will think on it, and maybe give it a try. I would love it to work. After going to workshops, and my local City Farm in London, I fell in love with composting. 🙂 Thanks for your site, all the info. I have lots more reading to do on your site. Thanks again…