One of the great joys of summertime is going out to your own tomato vine, pulling a fresh fruit from the plant and devouring it with a little drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Couple this with a few other select vegetables, and your summer meals will forever be changed. Of course, before you can harvest anything, you must plant it. That’s where Crucial Vacuum wants to help you. Over the next couple of months, we’ll be talking about how to set up a garden, dealing with common garden pests in safe and organic ways, and some great ideas for garden crops you might not have thought of. We’ll also cover how to store crops for the cold winter and getting a jump on next year’s garden. This week, we’re going to discuss the challenges and opportunities for creating a new apartment garden.
Not everyone has access to a yard or a plot of land where they can till and plant willy-nilly. For those of us who live in apartments, growing a garden is still doable, especially if you’re willing to think inside of a box. Before you start a bunch of seeds, however, you should plan your garden carefully. There are a few questions you should ask yourself:
- Where does my apartment get the most sunlight and how much is it?
- What herbs/vegetables would I use the most or save the most money on?
- What do I want to grow my plants in?
Let’s tackle these essential questions one at a time.
Sunshine Determines Everything
This is the most important factor in getting your new apartment garden up and running. If your apartment doesn’t get any sunlight, you’re not going to be growing many vegetables. Limited light is fine for the occasional ornamental, but vegetables require a lot of energy from sunlight. The best windows for direct sunlight if you live in the northern hemisphere will be those that face south. They will get the most light during the day. Southeast and southwest facing windows will work as well, while windows that face north will likely not get much direct sunlight. You should look for about six hours of sun per day for vegetables. Ones that produce fruit (tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, etc.) will need direct sun, while those that have roots (carrots, beets, turnips) or are leafy (lettuce, kale, chard) will grow well with some shade. If your apartment doesn’t get any direct sunlight and you really want to grow tomatoes, you can get growing lights and a timer which will replicate sunlight. It won’t be cost effective, but you’ll still get delicious organic produce.
What to Put Them In?
The second determining factor for starting your new apartment garden is deciding where and how you’re going to grow your crops. If you have a balcony or access to a fire escape, planting in wooden boxes is a great way to maximize space (Just make sure not to violate any codes with the placement of the boxes. Keep a clear path). You can make your own boxes from plywood or 2×4’s (directions: here) or repurpose other wooden boxes, such as wine or packing crates. Linsey Lewis at LLH Designs has a great tutorial on making planters out of wine boxes here.
Or if you’re looking for something easy and versatile, using gardening grow bags allow you to transport your growing plants with ease without damaging the roots.
There are all sorts of creative ways to grow and maximize space. Gutters attach to railings and can grow shallow rooted vegetables, such as lettuces, radishes, beets, and turnips. Ready-made window boxes are also great. One of the most creative repurposing ideas we’ve used are 2-liter soda bottles. You use them to grow herbs and hang them on the railings or even in vertical tiers. Lay a bottle on its side and cut a section out of the middle. Drill 1/8-inch holes in the opposite side to allow drainage. Fill with potting soil and plant. Use cord to suspend your planter from a balcony or hang multiples for a great looking vertical garden.
What to Grow?
Now that you know what you can grow, you have to decide what you want to grow. Here’s where you ask yourself what the goals are for your garden. Do you want to supplement your groceries with fresh vegetables? Are you looking to can or store produce for the long term? Do you use a lot of herbs in your cooking? These important questions will help narrow down the plants that you should be investing in for your new apartment garden. Keep in mind that different plants will also produce over varying lengths of time. You can and should plan to replant root vegetables at least twice over the growing season, as well as planning for late season squashes which are a wonderful treat in the fall and winter seasons. Lettuces are able to be harvested from throughout the growing season as long as you only take the mature leaves. And because lettuces grow from the last frost to the first, you can eat fresh salads almost all year round.
A great list of harvest times for different vegetables can be found here.
Hopefully we at Crucial Vacuum have piqued your interest in starting a garden in your apartment. Growing your own vegetables and herbs is a great way to save money and supplement your diet with healthy organic produce. It does take some time and commitment to get your new apartment garden up and running. Still, when you bite into that first meal made with ingredients that only traveled a couple of feet to your plate, all that work will be worth it.