For some of us where we live plays a large role in what we think we can do in terms of growing our own food. Let me assure you that you can start growing some of your own food no matter where you live, apartment, condo, duplex, single-family home, no matter where you live you can utilize your space in a way so that you can grow some of your own food. I’m going to focus on small spaces here and in particular how to start a garden in an apartment.
Gardening can be very meditative, you’re able to get your hands dirty while caring for and watching something grow before your eyes. Committing to growing something is your first step, and this can be as simple as growing a few potted herbs in your window sill. When you’re living in a small urban space you really need to think creatively to optimize what you have available, if you’re having a hard time coming up with ideas for your space don’t be afraid to ask someone what they are doing.
Ultimately gardening is supposed to be fun, you want it to feel right for you and your home, but you also want to enjoy the experimentation that goes along with gardening. If you’re just starting a small garden it will all be an experiment in the beginning and that’s OK, because the worst that is going to happen is your plant doesn’t grow or dies, and you’re out $3 that you spent on said plant. When things fail in gardening it’s easy to adjust, you choose something else to grow, change the location if you can or you do more research and try different care techniques. I’m going to share a few tips that will get you started and headed in the right direction.
One of the first things you need to consider is the space you have available. Some of you might have access to a small deck or patio space, others might be able to use window boxes, and still others may only have window sill space inside.
When thinking about the space you have available you should take into consideration how much light the area you plan to use gets. If you have a lot of sunlight in your space you shouldn’t have much trouble growing most vegetables, if you get less than 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight you may want to consider plants that can still thrive in indirect light like salad greens or purchase a grow light. There are lots of different grow lights available, here is a bamboo table-top version I’ve reviewed, this growlight is especially nice for small spaces.
You will want to think about what you are going to use for dirt, if you’re gardening in an apartment you will most likely be using containers, if this is the case I would recommend using a good quality potting soil. You should be able to find a good quality organic soil at your local garden center, providing your plants with a high quality soil will ensure you get a good quality, better tasting vegetable. Consider adding a specially formulated fertilizer for vegetables to your containers, plants in containers tend to use the nutrients already in the soil quickly.
The next thing to consider is the type of container you would like to put your plants in. There are many options that you can buy but remember, if it holds water and dirt you can use it as a planter. If you’re thrifty consider using old tin cans, or plastic tubs, if you’d rather buy something new the three primary options are:
- Terracotta – These are readily available and generally inexpensive. The one problem I have with terracotta is that they absorb water. Terracotta is porous so you will need to water anything in these pots much more than you might think since the pot itself will be sucking up much of the water you add.
- Glazed Ceramic – These are some of my favorite pots. They are more expensive than terracotta but since they are glazed they don’t absorb water so you won’t need to worry about your plants drying out quite as quickly. These are the most decorative pots you will find, there are so many options you are sure to find something that suits your taste.
- Plastic – Plastic pots are great in that they don’t absorb water, but they are plastic and are less durable than the other options. They can crack in extreme cold conditions and may become brittle in lots of direct sunlight, they are still a solid option though.
After you’ve thought about what you have for space, it’s important to consider how much time you have to commit to your new endeavor. It’s important to be honest with yourself, if you over commit you may have more failures than successes, which could discourage you in the future. But, if you start small with just a handful of containers you are setting yourself up for greater success and motivation to continue growing your food in the future. If you start small and really enjoy what you’re doing you can always add to your little apartment garden.
Use Your Space Creatively
Since you’re likely living in a small space you will need to think creatively about how to utilize it. If you have some patio space or a small balcony you can likely use some pots placed on the ground, but also consider using your railing space. There are some great options for hanging planters, you can also use a few window boxes outside if you attach them properly. Be sure to check with your landlord before attaching things to the building, they will need to be done properly to accommodate the weight of wet soil.
Another thing to consider when creating a small space garden is vertical space. Building shelves as part of a privacy wall could be an option, or purchasing some shelves might be more up your ally. Using vertical space is a really great way to utilize what otherwise is just a wall.
Pick Your Plants
One of the last things to do when you’re planning your apartment garden is what you’d like to plant. Generally I like to recommend starting out with plants that are low maintenance and hardy, especially for the beginner gardener. But gardening is also supposed to be fun and experimental, so why not also pick something that you just really want to try out. Go big, the worst that can happen is that your plant dies, or you might be really successful. My biggest experiment was a lemon tree, that I started from a seed, from a store bought lemon. I’m not sure that it will ever produce lemons but the tree grew which is really exciting and it’s almost 5 years old now. Here are some ideas to consider when choosing your plants.
Hardy, easy to grow:
Herbs – basil, parsley, cilantro, thyme
Greens – kale, chard, arugula, leaf lettuce
Edible flowers – calendula, marigolds, pansies, nasturtiums
More challenging plants:
Tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, spinach
Growing Your Own Food
I hope I’ve been able to inspire you to take advantage of the space you have, no matter how little, to start your very own small space garden. What are some of the plants that you have tried to grow in your apartment? Were you successful or were there a few things that just didn’t make it? I’d love to hear all about your apartment gardening endeavors in the comments below.