Just like our favourite community gardener, we believe that every home needs a food garden. Yes, that includes apartments! Rooftops, balconies and even windowsills can become farming spaces.
Growing a food garden is one of the most purposeful and important things a human can do. The effort you put in directly helps you thrive and allows you to nourish others. Patiently caring for your plants until you can harvest your very own crop brings a special sense of accomplishment. Read on to discover how to design your apartment food garden, from planning the growing space and choosing crops to creating a care routine.
Step 1 – Plan your Food Garden
The first step in planning an outdoor garden is observing the growing conditions in the space you have at your disposal. A container garden is no different. Some plants are tougher and more forgiving to novice gardeners, but all have specific needs that must be met. As you begin to plan your garden, consider these basic growing requirements:
The right amount of sunlight
Most fruiting and flowering plants need six to eight hours of direct sun daily. In apartment buildings, balconies and rooftops are likely locations. If you only have access to a windowsill, choose plants that need less sunlight or add a grow light.
The ideal type of soil
Plants depend on their soil for water, air, and nutrients. Plants in containers need a well-draining potting mix, which efficiently circulates air and water to keep roots healthy.
Just enough water
Potted plants often need a lot of water, so easy access is essential. Watering cans can work on a small scale, but you might want to consider a hose that can be attached to your kitchen water supply.
Containers with good drainage are critical to healthy, long-lasting container gardens. Water that pools in a pot can drown a plant. Bearing this in mind, many ordinary objects can be upcycled into planters.
Strong wind can rip leaves and topple unbalanced containers. A wind block, like a screen or railing, will offer added protection. Pots that are wide and heavy enough will also help to anchor the plants.
When choosing a container, consider how heavy it will be once filled with soil and saturated with water. Make sure your apartment garden spot can handle the weight.
Suitable humidity levels
In hot weather, you may need to provide extra humidity for plants growing on windowsills. You can place a tray of water nearby or spritz the plants with a fine mist.
Step 2 – Choose your Crops
Think about what you enjoy eating, and then choose a few types of plants to try out for your apartment garden. Seeds are cheap and offer a lot of variety, but seedlings will get your garden established sooner. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Many herbs grow well in containers, but they won’t get as big and bushy as they would in the ground. Mint, chives, parsley, lavender, basil and thyme are top choices for apartment gardens.
Leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach and arugula grow fast and have shallow root systems. As long as they get plenty of water, they’re also not too fussy about their growing conditions.
Tomatoes grow well in pots, but they can get big and top-heavy. Ideally, the container should be at least 75 centimeters (about 30 inches) in diameter. Some of the miniature varieties will do well in a hanging basket though.
A window box of strawberries is as gorgeous as it is yummy. To produce their best fruit, these plants usually need at least six hours of sun daily and soil that is consistently moist, but not soggy.
Step 3 – Create your Food Garden Routine
As in so many areas of life, consistency is the key to success in gardening. There are certain regular tasks that your apartment food garden will require, including:
Watering is by far the most important gardening task. The soil in containers dries out quickly, especially as your plant grows. The smaller the container, the more critical it is to monitor the moisture level of the soil. Test the soil by poking your finger three to five centimeters below the surface. If it feels dry, you need to water. Be equally careful not to overwater though – plants can drown too!
You will need to feed your plants regularly, based on their individual needs. The easiest option is to use a soluble fertilizer that can be added when you water. If your potting mix already contains fertilizer, this will delay the need for extra feeding.
Pests and diseases have a way of finding plants, even when they grow indoors. Examine your plants whenever you water or harvest them. If you notice signs like discoloring or holes in the leaves, move the plant away from the others until the problem is resolved.
Learn when your plants are at their peak for harvesting and pick the fruits of your labour without delay. In some cases, harvesting actually encourages the plant to produce even more food.
Every responsible farmer must keep food waste to a minimum. Have a plan for harvests that might exceed your immediate needs. You could share with neighbours or a local food bank, but you could also preserve produce for later use.
Every gardener needs support and advice, whether it’s from a passionate online group, a friendly local garden centre, or a neighbourhood gardening club. Volunteering at a community garden is also a great way to meet and learn from other growers. With regular attention and expert backup, you can expect your small garden to provide homegrown goodness – perhaps even enough to preserve or share with others.
We’d love to know about your food garden plans! Let us know in the comments.
If you’d like to know more about the importance of food gardening and want to make a real-world difference in the race to achieve Zero Hunger, sign up for our free course here: The FOOD Project [Virtual Volunteering]