Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Container Gardening and Apartment Farming

     I have recently been asked how a person can prepare for hard times while living in an apartment or condo.  This particular relative wants to give growing a try but isn't ready to move out of the city where she works.

     If you plan to garden indoors in containers in your apartment’s sunniest window, I applaud you for not waiting until TSHTF to start growing your own food.  I cannot emphasize enough the need to learn your skills now while we still live in the comfort zone.  

Getting Started with seed:

    If you are starting your plants from seeds, use your old egg carton in a window sill.  I have used the inserts from Christmas candy boxes.  You just need a little soil and a container to hold it as each seed germinates and it's roots begin to develop.  To water the tender shoots, at this point, use a mister or any sort of squirter bottle set to spray.  You can make your own garden tools for small containers by bending spoons and forks, or purchase a kit like this one to the right.  Look for small garden tools at Walmart labeled terrarium garden tools or check your local Dollar type store.

Starting with plants:

     My Lowe's home improvement store is already putting starter plants on sale.  These vegetable plants may even bear flowers but most of them are just shy of flowering and fruiting.  Last weekend the vegetable plants were being sold 2 for $5.  If you buy six tomatoes and three cucumbers at the grocer, you are spending more than five dollars.  Planting your own vegetables and harvesting them can save you money and time.

 There is no shame in liking a bit of color in your garden.  You don’t absolutely have to plant only vegetables.  Strawberries give tiny little flowers that add red berries to your visual landscape later.  Sunflowers give a huge burst of color and the seeds are good eating.  Corn has a gorgeous top tassle that is impressive in a planter pot with a few sunflowers.  Squash blossoms in a bright yellow color and blossoms are edible.  But if you want pink and blue and pretty, plant the edges of the pot with your favorite flowers to enjoy until your crop comes in. 

 Marigolds contain pyretherins.  Pyretherins are the active ingredient in many bug sprays.  Planting marigolds around your fruits and vegetables can ward off any pests that make their way into your home with the starter plants you bought at the nursery.                                                                                            


 Starting plants in their container:

     Pick a container, I like a barrel or a terra cotta pot for the indoors.  You may like one of those big plastic buckets you bought for icing down your party beer!  It doesn't matter.  Pick a container.  Place a couple of those Teflon furniture moving pads under the container before you fill it.  If you have tile, you may want to use casters.  Big Lots sells a planter mover that is round, durable and has casters attached.  The thinking is if you have too much or too little light, you may want to move the container after it is planted and that is not the time to lift it or think about floor damage to a rental unit. 

 Use the things you have in the home wherever possible.  I used a broken terra cotta pot for drainage material in the bottom of a pot.  Maybe you have a lot of pebbles or marbles from a candle display.  Put them in the bottom of the pot and cover the hole in the bottom with a chipped or broken saucer turned down.     
Plant the center of the pot first, then surround the centerpiece with plants that grow under the same light and water needs.
Fill with a good potting soil with lots of drainage.  
Plant in layers.  Potatoes give nice foliage above the soil and potatoes below.

  You could surround tomatoes and peppers with herbs you use regularly.     
Squash and eggplant can be trained to grow up a trellis in the center of the pot.    


   If you have an aquarium, you have all the plant food you need.  Fish keepers know they are supposed to vacuum out the debris every couple of weeks and remove up to 20% of the water replacing it with clean water.  That debris is nitrogen rich plant food!  Use it!  Any dead fish should be buried where they can contribute to the circle of life! A fish emollient, liquid fertilizer or granulated, designed specifically for vegetables is available where ever you purchase plants.  Follow the directions for diluting so you don't 'burn' your plant's root system.

   You are building gardening skills.  Learning to grow flowers in a pot is a skill that can translate into gardening vegetables and fruits later.  Just learn to grow healthy living things.  Keeping the plants alive is the skill.  Experience and knowledge are the fruits of your labors.

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