Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Gardening with Limited Space

You love your city life. The proximity to everything you need and want, the city lights, the skyline. But maybe you want a taste of the country life, fresh veggies or herbs that you grow yourself! It may seem out of your grasp, but it's within your reach!
I once had an agriculture teacher who grew up in an apartment in town. While all of the other kids were raising goats, pigs, and lambs as projects for the county fair, he was struggling to figure out a good FFA project to do. The solution? Growing vegetables in his bedroom window!

What do I need to grow plants? 

You need light, soil, and water. Oh and a place to put them. Some folks also like to use fertilizer, such as miracle grow. This is fine, but I prefer to use nature's soil (yes, that means composted chicken poop!) If you have a pet rabbit or guinea pig, their poop is awesome as well!

Where can I put these plants?

I always start my plants in the big bay window in our living room. They receive the morning light, and then limited light throughout the day. Then, as they get bigger, I plant them in larger pots and eventually plant them outside. If you live in a suburban environment, this method will work perfectly fine! However, a fully urban setting probably won't allow you yard space to plant a big outdoor garden! Don't worry though, there are other ways!

Terrace garden

In this method, you plant in large pots and put your veggies on your terrace. They can really beautify the space, while also giving you fresh veggies and herbs!
I found a great blog about having a garden in the city - particularly terrace gardening!

Sun room

If you happen to have a sun room (a room with glass walls) This is a perfect place to grow plants. It's like a little greenhouse! Just like the terrace garden, plant in pots and arrange them in a way that suits you and the plants!

Saving space

Whether you have a small suburban backyard, a terrace, or a sunroom, it is important to save as much space as possible while still growing a decent amount of crops. 

Pallet Garden

One of my favorite methods of this is the pallet garden! Staple some plastic to the back of it, really pack in the dirt, plant, and then lean the pallet against a wall or fence! I like to grow smaller plants, like herbs, or vining plants in these gardens. Here is an excellent full tutorial on how to make a pallet garden: http://www.growingagreenerworld.com/creating-a-pallet-garden-step-by-step-instructions/

Mini Greenhouse

Ever wanted a greenhouse? You can make a tiny one for less than $30! A basic greenhouse is made of a square base (I prefer wood for this) and flexible PVC to create a "dome" shape, then plastic is stretched over the pipe. This type of greenhouse is light enough to be moved around. It is also cheap and simple enough to be torn down and reassembled each year! 
Here is a very useful article on a DIY mini greenhouse: http://www.dandelionking.net/do-it-yourself-greenhouse.php

How do I fertilize my garden?

You have a couple options when fertilizing your garden. How you do so depends on whether or not you want your crops to be considered "organic" or not. Personally, I prefer compost, because it is free!

Compost

If you live in an apartment or condo, you may think that composting is just not possible, but that's not necessarily true. Check out this article about indoor compost, and it's increasing popularity in Canada, and this post about personal experiences with indoor composting. If you're doing an indoor composter, do not attempt to compost meat. No amount of air freshener will fix that mistake. Stick to veggie scraps and poo from the pet rabbit/guinea pig/hamster. If you are doing an outdoor composter, there are mixed opinions on the matter. You can, but if you don't have a big yard or you have close neighbors, you may want to rethink it. Meat also may bring in animals to your yard. Most of my kitchen scraps go to my chickens, whose poop then goes into the compost pile. However, if the meat is spoiled and therefore inedible by even chickens, I put it at the bottom of the compost pile to decompose without horrid smells. We've done this for years and it's never been a problem! However, keep in mind, the bottom of my compost pile is buried under a couple feet of soiled straw and grass clippings. Remember to wash your hands after tending to composting materials (especially poop)!

Commercial Fertilizer

If you are growing organic, skip this completely. Realistically, there is little evidence to show that commercial fertilizer will actually hurt you at all. Studies suggest it has no effect on the body to eat plants that have been grown with commercial fertilizer as compared to organic food. So don't feel bad if you don't want to have a composter in your kitchen, it's not for everyone! A popular fertilizer than people use for flower gardens is miracle grow, and that will work fine for your run-of-the-mill garden veggies. Large companies and greenhouses generally use stronger commercial fertilizers, which I avoid because my skin does not agree with it, at all. Personally, I don't use fertilizers anymore because I have a free option, compost. If you use fertilizer, make sure you mix it properly and store the container properly. 

What plants should I choose?

What you should plant depends on what you want from your garden and what you have space for. 

Small apartments and condos

Veggies/Fruits - small tomato varieties, such as cherry tomatoes, are good options, and can be grown in a hanging  planter, like a bucket with a big hole drilled in the bottom, or a topsy-turvy planter! You can also grow a few single green bean (bush-type) or pea plants. Peppers are generally small plants (under 2') and can be  grown in a decent sized pot. Strawberries are excellent small plants as well, you could probably have one in your windowsill! 

Herbs - herbs are a pretty easy plant for small spaces. Most don't get extremely large, and make your house smell delightful. I enjoy growing basil, oregano, lavender, mint, and catnip (kitties just love it)!
You can use them fresh and raw to cook with, or you can dry them and crunch them up. You can dry the old-fashioned way, by hanging them up, or you can use a dehydrator. 

Suburban Home

Most likely, you can have a few plants outside, so you have a bit more freedom!

Veggies/Fruits - Tomatoes (whatever type you wish), green beans, wax beans, possibly potatoes, and peppers are  all good options for the average backyard garden. Corn should  generally be avoided, as stalks can be over 6' tall with some species. If you do wish to grow corn, choose a variety that have a shorter stalk. I've planed Ruby Queen Hybrid corn several times (suppose to be 7' tall) but each time grew just 3-4', yet with fully sized cobs! I have no idea why, as my other corn doesn't do this. As for fruits, you can do well with some properly-maintained berry vines. Many berry vines naturally have thorns, but you can get the thornless variety for easy harvesting - which I strongly suggest if you have children! Remember to trim them each year after they turn brown. Poorly maintained berry vines can quickly swallow up your backyard!

Herbs - Pretty much anything they sell in the lawn & garden department. You can even keep them inside if you want!

Happy Gardening!

I hope your garden does well, and all the veggies, fruits,  and spices taste absolutely delightful! May you and your family eat delicious, healthy food that is right at your fingertips! Above all, have fun with your garden, however you choose to raise it!