The economy is in the toilet (See: this week’s top post). You want to grow your own food and maybe save a little money on your grocery bills, while driving less and reducing your carbon footprint. But you live in a tiny, cramped studio apartment with little natural light and a neighbor who wakes you up at 4 every morning with a really disturbing coughing fit you can’t help but hear through your paper thin walls. Plus you got depression.
Well, slow down there, buddy. We can’t help with your neighbor’s smoker’s cough, or your emotional problems (actually, maybe we can), but we can help you with your indoor gardening.
Fresh Food from Small Spaces: The Square-Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting is a practical, comprehensive, and fun guide to growing food in small spaces. The AP’s Dean Fosdick talked to author R. J. Ruppenthal about container gardening, using vertical space, and cultivating strawberries, mushrooms, kefir, and more.
Here’s an excerpt:
Urban dwellers short of garden space have options when trying to stretch the family food dollar by growing their own produce. And it’s not such a bad thing that they must think small.
Large yields can be had from tight areas. It just takes some planning.
The darkest closet, for instance, can serve as an indoor mushroom patch. Kitchen countertops can be used for growing culinary herbs. Strawberries thrive when planted in multitiered pots near south-facing windows.
Here’s how to get more production from small spaces:
- Succession planting is important if you hope to enjoy a continuous harvest. “Always be thinking about the next crop and get it started someplace else,” Ruppenthal said. “Cycle those things into the growing garden.”
- Take advantage of reflected or artificial light. “That doesn’t mean putting up aluminum foil as much as it does taking advantage of the sunlight that reflects off windows and south facing walls,” he said. “Also, when there’s been a porch light or patio light left on at night, I’m always amazed at how much that contributed to plant growth at places where I’ve lived.”
- Include some companion plants, which can be as attractive as they are edible. “If you add flowers, that might attract bees to help with vegetable pollination. The right varieties might also repel some of the bad insects.”
- Consider growing berries or small fruits that can cope with cramped spaces and low light. “People might not normally think of growing a raspberry plant or lemon tree in their apartments, but it’s amazing how much one small bush or tree can produce over time,” Ruppenthal said. “You’re talking about a month’s worth of fresh fruit for an entire family.”
- Self-watering boxes are great for urban gardeners. “Tomatoes and carrots just go wild in those things, which keep plants warmer and wetter than when they’re grown in the ground,” Ruppenthal said.
- Direct some plants straight up or down. “Thinking vertical is a must if you’re hoping for some cucumbers or pumpkins or squash,” said Greg Stack, a University of Illinois extension horticulturist who works with gardeners in the Chicago area. “You also can grow beans and peas, grapes and berries on trellises, balcony rails, hanging baskets, on supports or along fences. Plant them in pots, and then train them to climb.”
It also might help if you converted a few neighbors into gardeners, Ruppenthal said. “Encourage them to use their own spaces productively, and you can trade or barter for the things you don’t have and want yourself.”