The Apartment Homesteader #5 Apartment Gardening: Reaping Abundance in a Small Space

Apartment Gardening

Today we’re going to set to work on the self-sufficiency task of apartment homesteading. Let’s talk about your Apartment Homestead garden!

There is something so simultaneously spiritual and physical about digging in the dirt, planting seeds, nurturing them to grow and prosper, and reaping the harvest of your hard work a few short months later.

But it does take work and determination, especially when you are an apartment homesteader.

Why Apartment Gardening?

As apartment homesteaders, we have to bring potting soil into our apartments instead of simply tilling up a piece of our land for the garden. We have to take cleanliness and visual appeal into consideration as we plan our apartment gardens, because we have landlords and neighbors to contend with. We have to troubleshoot issues of lack of sunlight at certain times of the day, and we have to find ways to bring the garden inside when we don’t have enough space on our patios.

In short, apartment gardening takes some creativity and determination in order to truly reap the benefits.

But we certainly have good reason to attempt to grow our own food and be on our way to self-sufficiency, even while we are still apartment and condo dwellers. Those reasons include avoiding the pesticide contamination of non-organically grown produce, saving money, and learning how to be self-sufficient for the future.

And, even if you’re a non-apartment dweller, keep in mind that you can use some of these techniques to extend your growing season by bringing the harvest indoors!

Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen

The Environmental Working Group keeps track yearly of the amount of pesticides used to grow certain fruits and vegetables. The foods with the heaviest pesticide contamination go in the “Dirty Dozen” column. The foods with the least amount of pesticide contamination go in the “Clean 15” column.

Here are the lists for 2017:

Dirty Dozen

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Cherries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Potatoes

Clean Fifteen

  • Sweet Corn
  • Avocados
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Onions
  • Sweet Peas
  • Papayas
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Eggplant
  • Honeydew
  • Kiwi
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Grapefruit

I know we can’t all afford to buy only organic produce from the store, but with these lists in mind, we can at least be careful to purchase the Dirty Dozen organically and be a little less strict with how we purchase items from the Clean Fifteen list.

But, even better than simply buying organically produced items on the Dirty Dozen list, we can grow our own! The items in bold text on the Dirty Dozen list are the ones we’ll talk about growing in a patio, container, or indoor garden in our apartment homestead. We’ll also talk about growing other items, such as herbs and salad greens.

Remember, it is highly unlikely that you’ll be able to grow everything you need to live off of in an apartment. (If you are able to do that, please comment below and share your methods with us!)

But you can grow a variety of herbs, vegetables, and fruits to get you part of the way there. And, if you can grow some of the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables in your apartment, you’ll save money by having to buy fewer of them at the store!

Seeds vs. Seedlings

Some of the garden items below are easiest to grow from a small plant that you purchase at a local farm. But growing from seed is entirely possible and you may decide to go that route.

Whichever route you choose, be sure to find a seed or plant source that grows using organic methods. You don’t want to start your apartment garden with seeds or plants soaked in pesticides. You’re trying to get away from that chemical yuck!

Look for certified-organic seed sellers. Local is always better for you and for the environment.

Herbs to Grow While Apartment Gardening

There are two different types of herbs you can grow in your apartment homestead: medicinal herbs and cooking herbs. Often times, a single plant variety will serve both purposes.

We won’t get into the specific medicinal uses of each of these herbs here, but look for a future post on how to create your own “apartment apothecary”!

These are some of the herbs you might decide to grow in your apartment homestead garden:

  • Mint: Great for cooking and has medicinal uses (both)
  • Basil: Both
  • Thyme: Both
  • Oregano: Both
  • Chamomile: Use to make a medicinal tea
  • Echinacea: Medicinal
  • Feverfew: Medicinal
  • Johnny Jump Up: Medicinal
  • Lavender: Use to make a medicinal tea and for other medicinal purposes
  • Lemon Balm: Medicinal
  • Marigold: Medicinal (Pretty, too—and it helps keep pests away!)
  • Parsley: Both
  • Rosemary: Both
  • Sage: Both

There are so many ways to grow herbs in your apartment garden, but here are two of my favorites:

Grow individual herb plants in large-mouth mason jars. Plant and clearly mark one herb plant in each mason jar and display them on your kitchen counter. Most of these need some sun, so try to place them near a window. They look really nice hanging or sitting in a window sill!

Grow an “herb wall.” Plant herbs side by side in long, rectangular, wooden boxes that are lightweight and can easily be hung on a wall with studs. I’ve also seen some clever uses of old shipping pallets to make a wall planter.

Analyze your apartment space and decide what herb-planting method will work best for you . . . then share it with us!

The Apartment Homesteader Herb Garden Schedule

  1. Decide which ailments you would like to treat with natural, organic herbs. Do a simple Internet search to see which herbs may help improve those ailments or your overall health. Also make a list of herbs you use regularly in the kitchen.
  2. Look up the growing recommendations for each herb you want to plant, and make note of the supplies you’ll need. (Or, check out Marjory’s herbal how-to here!
  3. Find a local, organic seed or plant seller and purchase your plants. Also purchase (or repurpose!) your materials to “build” your garden.
  4. When your herbs are ready to harvest, decide how to preserve each herb and reap your herb garden abundance for months to come. You’ll probably use some fresh and save others for later use. Most herbs can be easily dried simply by hanging the cut stems for a few days. Some people also chop up fresh herbs, place them in ice cube trays, add water, and freeze them for later use!

Container-Friendly Vegetables and Fruits

In addition to herbs, you can also grow a bunch of your favorite fruits and vegetables in your apartment garden!

Here’s a list of some of the plants that are easy to grow in small spaces—in pots, in wall gardens, and on your patio in garden boxes:

  • Microgreens
  • Garlic Greens
  • Tomatoes
  • Salad Greens
  • Bell Peppers
  • Carrots
  • Radishes
  • Green Beans
  • Kale
  • Scallions
  • Strawberries
  • Rhubarb
  • Ginger
  • Winter Squash
  • Watermelon
  • Asparagus
  • Peas
  • Artichokes

Pick two or three of your favorites from this list and research planting and growing recommendations for those plants.

Start with the ones that are easiest to grow. (And bonus points for growing some of the produce on the Dirty Dozen list!) Consider planting one tomato plant, two bell pepper plants, and two different salad greens in your first garden go-round.

Just like with your herb garden, each plant will have specific instructions for optimal growth. Also, make sure you look into how much soil space each of the plants you want to try requires when mature. Then, purchase or build your pot or garden box to accommodate them.

The Apartment Homesteader Vegetable Garden Schedule

  1. Decide which fruits and vegetables you want to try to grow in your apartment garden. Pick stuff you like to eat and wouldn’t mind eating in back-to-back meals.
  2. Look up the growing recommendations for each item you want to plant, and make note of the supplies you’ll need.
  3. Find a local, organic seed or plant seller and purchase your plants. Also purchase (or repurpose!) your materials to “build” your garden.
  4. When your produce is almost ready to harvest, make a menu schedule. Find a multitude of recipes that use the produce you are growing and eat as much of it fresh as you can. You can also find recipes and methods to can, dry, or otherwise preserve your produce for eating in the future. There are some stellar tomato-preserving recipes out there!

Pick a Garden Design You (and Your Neighbors!) Will Love

I was clicking around on Pinterest the other day and came across some truly awesome patio garden designs.

One of my favorites used cinder blocks and garden fabric. This pinner stacked the cinder blocks in different ways to expose square openings in the blocks and then attached garden fabric to the inside of the exposed openings. He then filled each “cinder block pot” with soil and planted what he wanted to grow in them.

I also love the raised garden bed designs floating around. I give it bonus points if the gardener uses repurposed materials during building! Make it fun, make it fashionable, and make it sustainable—just like everything else you do as an apartment homesteader.

The same goes for your indoor garden and any container gardening you do. It might seem a little “hipster” or HGTV-wannabe to do so, but making your garden fun and fashionable (think “Pinteresting”) will inspire your friends and neighbors to create their own fun and fashionable apartment gardens. Making self-sufficiency and sustainability look cool encourages more people to pursue it.

What to Plant if You Don’t Get Enough Sun

If your apartment doesn’t face the right way for optimal sunlight, don’t fret! You can still grow a multitude of plants, but you need to get even more creative with your choices.

Here is a list of herbs that grow well in the shade:

  • Mint
  • Chives
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Tarragon
  • Golden Oregano
  • Lemon Balm
  • Thyme
  • Angelica
  • Anise

And here are vegetables that grow well in the shade:

  • Salad Greens and Leafy Greens
  • Cauliflower
  • Beets
  • Peas
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Radishes
  • Swish Chard
  • Beans

Or make your own sunlight by purchasing a sun lamp. Just search online for “plant growing lamps”—you’ll find a bunch of options to choose from.

Restarting Plants From “Scraps”

Another really cool way to live a truly sustainable apartment homesteader life is to restart some of your garden items from scraps!

Check out this long list of produce you can restart from your organic table scraps:

  • Leaks
  • Spring Onions
  • Scallions
  • Fennel
  • Lemongrass
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Celery
  • Bok Choy
  • Cabbage
  • Ginger
  • Potatoes
  • Avocadoes
  • Bean Sprouts
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Pineapple
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Pumpkins
  • Mushrooms
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Turnips
  • Cherries
  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Lemons
  • Hazelnuts
  • Chestnuts

Remember, once they get going, many of these will need more room than a pot provides, plus a warm climate or heated greenhouse to grow properly. Take that into account before you go through the work of restarting a lemon tree in a northern climate.

Community Gardens

If gardening in your apartment is simply not an option, look around your city for community gardens to join.

You’d be surprised how many community gardens there are around you. For a small fee, you’ll be allocated a small parcel of the garden and you can plant what you want to plant.

Make sure you ask about the garden’s policy on the use of pesticides. If the rest of the gardeners douse their produce in chemicals, you may want to look elsewhere for a garden space.

Once you’ve found your community garden plot, plant a handful of medicinal herbs, a tomato plant, some leafy greens, beans, a row or two of potatoes, a few pepper plants, and any other vegetables you can’t live without.

If for some crazy reason there aren’t any community gardens near you, start your own with other apartment homesteaders! Start a Meetup group for people in the area interested in homesteading and gauge how much land you’ll need to grow a community garden.

Ask your landlord about possible locations for a community garden in the area, or seek out churches and community groups to see if they will sell or allocate a small parcel of land for garden use. You never know what kind of neighborhood green initiative you might start by simply asking questions and offering some encouragement.

What if You Don’t Have a Green Thumb?

Do you lack the gift of growing? Don’t worry; do research. Find local homesteaders and inquire about working in their gardens or in other areas of their homesteads in exchange for free produce.

But don’t just work. Ask questions. See what knowledge you can glean from established homesteaders who grow their own food.

Before you know it, you could be well on your way to becoming a green-thumbed expert in the field of apartment-homestead gardening.

There are so many ways we apartment homesteaders can practice self-sufficiency, even when we don’t have any physical land to grow on. With some creativity, research, and a little determination, we can become abundant apartment homestead gardeners.

Share your apartment garden projects below! We’d love to hear from you!

 

References:

http://www.hgtv.com/outdoors/flowers-and-plants/herbs/15-herbs-that-grow-in-the-shade-pictures
https://www.thespruce.com/growing-vegetables-without-full-sun-2540014
https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/#.WdTouNOGMfE
https://www.rd.com/health/conditions/medicinal-herbs/
http://mashable.com/2015/06/07/plants-you-can-grow-in-apartments/#NnTSQaEnHGqV
https://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/10-fruits-and-vegetables-you-can-grow-in-a-tiny-apartment
http://blackthumbgardener.com/1-plants-you-grow-from-kitchen-scraps/
https://www.diyncrafts.com/4732/repurpose/25-foods-can-re-grow-kitchen-scraps
https://bonnieplants.com/library/grow-tomatoes-pots/
http://www.contemporist.com/make-modern-outdoor-diy-succulent-planter-using-cinder-blocks/
http://www.diyhowto.org/diy-raised-garden-bed-ideas/
http://www.pinkwhen.com/how-to-make-an-herb-garden-from-a-pallet/

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Kathrin Herr


Contributor

Kathrin Herr is a small-town Iowa lady with a love for land and the written word. As an editor—The Writing Mechanic—she loves working with authors to write and publish their memoirs and novels. As a homesteading enthusiast and dreamer—writing as one of the Hungry Homesteaders—she enjoys learning different subsistence, sustainability, and conservation techniques. Kathrin dreams of visiting all 59 national parks and writing her memoir, Salvation and Displacement in the US National Parks, and of building and monetizing her family homestead.


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