Small space gardening, apartments, condos, etc

While at the market this week, a lovely lady approached me and asked me about growing food in an apartment. While this is not the first time either Heather or I have been asked this question, this time was certainly a little different. How so you ask. This time I have a newsletter to fill and this seemed a perfect subject for this weeks installment of a newsletter. Since we are not limited much by growing space I have taken it upon myself to scour the internet in search of a great and concise answer to the question, “How can I have a garden in an apartment?”.

tinytim
A Tiny Tim dwarf tomato plant.
A determinate container tomato
A determinate container tomato

Tomatoes: One of the great questions of limited growing would be what to grow. Most limited resource growers want to grow tomatoes, and I think this is a great thing to start with. With only one or two plants you can have all the tomatoes you might wish to have with possibly enough left over to can a few or dry some as well. Be sure and leave your container tomato plants in a location that they will get the very most light possible during the day. Tomato plants are self pollinating (mostly) and can be pollinated with a small breeze (a small fan set on low is nice) or by gently shaking the plant several times a day. Tomatoes will grow very well in large containers. Most of my research indicates tomatoes do best in a 5 to 10 gallon container, I would argue that bigger is better as the tomato root system of a large plant can be quite large as well, or go for a smaller plant like a tiny tim or other dwarf type tomato plant. With very large tomato plants (most indeterminate types) I would recommend using a small to large trash can, and will also require a tomato cage above the soil line to hold the tomato plants shape. Tomato plants a very diverse and varying. With a little trial and error you can have fresh, home grown tomatoes throughout most of the year, even with very little location to plant in.

burlapsackpotato
burlap sack potato growing

Potatoes: Potatoes are a good, limited resource crop in the simple fact you get a lot out of a potato and they store very well in a cool and dark location. There is a lot of information on the net about sack planting, but most of what I have found are trying to sell you something. Potatoes will grow well in large burlap sacks or large buckets or trash cans like a tomato plant. Fill the sack or bucket about half way with soil or compost and lay the seed potatoes in the soil. Several may be used. In a 5 gallon bucket plant 4 or 5. A large burlap sack could accommodate even more. Cover the seed potatoes with about 2 more inches of soil and add more for the first few weeks as the plant grows. The only real downside I can see to limit area growing of potatoes is that potatoes take a long time to mature and be ready, unless you’re just after new potatoes which are just young potatoes.

Other crops: Radishes I think merit mention just in the fact that I love radishes, and they are ready quickly. With proper soil and watering you could have a crop of radishes ready to eat in less than a month. Beans would be good as well but you should make sure to look for a bush type bean and not a vine bean. Plant 4 or 5 in a large container or several smaller containers. Leaf lettuce would be better than a head lettuce since leaf lettuce keeps giving and head lettuce is done once you pick the head. Bell Peppers do well in containers and aren’t as resource hungry as tomato plants. Herbs are also excellent to either add to your existing plantings as companion plants or in their very own containers as a small herb garden section. Also some herbs are perennials as long as they don’t get frozen. This area tends to get too cold for most herbs to survive until the next growing season, but, if they’re planted in a container they can be pulled inside for the winter.

One of our favorite suggestions is to plant container plants of tomatoes, peppers, and herbs like cilantro and basil to make your own homemade pesto and/or salsa.

Fertilizing: 

All vegetables need Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and (K)Potassium, for growth, flowering, and fruiting.

When container planting, be sure you use only 1/2 as much fertilizer as recommended on your fertilizer container. Just as the roots don’t have as far to go, neither does the fertilizer and is in a more concentrated area in a container planter. Here is a nice breakdown of natural, organic fertilizers:

  • Fresh Worm Castings, with live worms, for some nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, but mainly to speed nutrient cycling—the breakdown of organic materials—in the potting mix.
  • Alfalfa Meal for early-season nitrogen, some phosphorous, and some potassium.
  • Feather Meal for mid- late-season nitrogen.
  • Greensand for potassium. Greensand also helps hold moisture in potting mixes. Manganese dioxide crystals on the grains absorb moisture, but greensand also encourages the growth of beneficial fungi in potting mixes, which increases nutrient cycling and water retention in the mix.
  • Oyster Shell Flour or Dried, Crushed Eggshells for calcium.
  • Kelp Meal for potassium and trace minerals that boost plant immunity.
  • We also inoculate the roots with myccorhizae, symbiotic fungi that help plants assimilate nutrients from the soil, much as gut bacteria help humans assimilate nutrients from their food.

Indoor Compost: 

You’ll need two containers — when the first one’s full and processing, you start filling the second one, and by the time that’s full, the compost in the first one’s ready for use and can be emptied out.

A smallish (10-20 gallons) plastic or galvanized iron garbage can with a lid will do. Drill 10 or 12 holes in the bottom with a 3/8-inch bit, find a tray to stand it in, and put a couple of 1/2-inch slats under it for aeration.

A 15x15x15-inch wooden box made of 1/2-inch ply (untreated) will also do well. So will a 20x20x20-inch box. Again, drill holes in the bottom and stand it in a tray with slats under it to allow an air supply, and put a hinged lid on it. Treat it inside and out with vegetable oil.

Use uncooked fruit and vegetables, no meat, fish, dairy, or oils — at least at first. Once you’re more experienced you can decide this for yourself.

By themselves, kitchen scraps are too wet to compost — the moisture content averages 85%, and compost should be not more than 65%. So you need dry bedding to mix it with. This can be straw, dead leaves, strips of newspaper (avoid colored inks and glossy paper), cardboard or cartons, sphagnum peat moss, coconut coir, or a mixture. You can also use some sawdust (from non-treated wood) — mix it with other bedding materials. Keep a bucket of bedding handy by your bin. Also keep a coffee-tin full of ordinary soil next to the bucket, and some wood ash is useful.

First, put a few inches of dry bedding in the bottom of the container. Scatter the daily supply of kitchen scraps on top, and cover the scraps with about the same amount of bedding, or a little more. Scatter some soil on top, and a little lime or wood ash. Keep going until it’s full. It is best to stir it up or move it about from time to time, once a week or couple of weeks to add air inside the mass.