A Beginner's Guide to Apartment Gardening by Kirby Wetzel, September 30 2015, 1 Comment

As the self-proclaimed queen of hobbies (check out my Twitter byline), I aspire to do a lot of things well. I really took my alma mater’s mission statement seriously—a call to be well rounded individuals. I have knocked myself out learning to cook, bake, knit, run, run farther, run faster, sew, earn an advanced degree, ski, play the acoustic guitar, learn Spanish, stay up to date on the NYTimes Best Sellers List and garden. In my experience I've learned that, hey, you can’t be good at everything, so I’ve let a few go—looking at you, acoustic guitar. But one hobby that seems easy enough yet has thwarted me time and again is gardening.  

For the last two summers I have aspired to become a gardener. My living situation afforded me access to a backyard and I was going to make the most of it. Visions of homegrown organic produce danced in my head—it was going to be great! I was going to save so much money! It would all taste so much better because it was grown with love, etc, etc. Well, my first attempt was just so so. I was late to begin and planted tomatoes and jalapenos plants—in pots—a little late in the season. Even so, I had some success, made a few salads. Not bad for a newbie.

Fast forward to this summer. Fresh off my success as the world’s greatest grower of exactly one dozen cherry tomatoes, I bit off QUITE more than I could chew. I decided to plant watermelons and tomatoes from seeds and paid a fortune for organic strawberry plants that I had delivered from the Midwest. Well, in summary, I did not succeed. At. All. My plants bore no fruit. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I will note that my tomato plants were looking pretty good until they were eaten IN THEIR ENTIRETY by deer. Did you taste the love, guys?!

Well, never say die and all that. I’m not giving up. I’ve got a new living situation—but no backyard OR fire escape—or even a window box!  What can I say? I like a challenge. Here goes. I’m rounding up what the Internet has to offer in terms of advice for urban/apartment gardening.

First things first, according to Urban Organic Gardener, you are a) in luck and b) a step ahead of me if you happen to have any of the following: fire escape, balcony, handrails, walls, windowsill, front or backyard, side yard. Do you have one of those? Yes? Great, now pick one! Next, determine how much sunlight it gets per day. Just keep an eye on it on a lazy weekend day and write down the time you see sun on that spot and again when it is no longer sunny. This will determine what kind of plants you can grow.

Next, ask yourself what you would like to grow. Now, be reasonable, people! Your space is limited if you are attempting to apartment garden. Small tomato plants, lettuce and herbs are probably good choices. Personally, I never need as much lettuce or herbs as is contained in the packages sold at the store and so it goes to waste. If I can scratch this one off the ole grocery list for good, I’ll call it a win.

Speaking of lettuce, Anne at Accidental Locavore, introduced me to Green Towers, a start-up that offers solutions for sustainable farming, including vertical farming and subscription boxes to let you grow your own produce! Green Towers is a subscription service that sends customers a box with two garden trays of seasonally selected microgreens. You open up your box, water, set in a sunny spot, and in two weeks you have microgreens that you can snip as you need. Sounds pretty cool to me! And also, I’ve just decided that I aspire to be a person that eats things like microgreens. Mmmm, microgreens.

If you aren’t ready to commit to a service like that, why not try the science experiment route? Surely you remember this one from elementary school! Grow your own romaine, green onions, or herbs hydroponically. What’s that, you say? Put the end (read: root) of your romaine, green onions, and herbs in an inch or so of water, keeping the part furthest from the root above the water. Watch them grow and replenish/change the water as necessary.  

As for me, I plan to employ both the science experiment and tray methods of apartment gardening for the time being. I'll need some of these cute reclaimed wood planters. My lack of outdoor space is limiting, but, I’ll be keeping my eye out for the latest in apartment gardening techniques. I’m hoping for an advance that will allow me to try my luck at tomatoes again! Here’s hoping!