DIY: Apartment gardening

Window gardenA great way to enjoy home grown vegetables is to become an apartment farmer. Not having a yard is no reason not to have at least a few of your own, pesticide-free vegetables – as well as an interesting hobby.

The first thing you’ll need is a container. Window boxes work well. They are exposed to the elements (including weeds!) and don’t take up too much space. If you have more space available in the sunlight other possible containers include hanging baskets, pots, boxes, buckets, egg cartons (to start seeds indoors) barrels, wheelbarrows, vinyl swimming pools and old boots.

Make sure the container is cleaned with water and hydrogen peroxide to eliminate possible diseases. All containers must have a drainage hole punched in the bottom, so the roots don’t drown when you’re watering. To keep the soil from clogging the hole, and worse, coming out on the floor, put a small piece of fine wire mesh or sieve across the hole. This will ensure the water can leave, but the soil will stay!

After you have your container, and labeled it on the side with masking tape it is seed-planting time.

Decide carefully what you want to plant. Make sure to choose a young, healthy plant that will adjust well to the new soil.  It is possible to grow several different plants in the same large container, provided they have the same light and watering needs. This is called “interweaving”. Be sure to put trailing plants in front, and taller plants behind. Staggering plants in a zig-zag prevents them from crowding each other, and allows light to reach lower leaves.

Almost any plant will grow in these containers, but keep in mind that some plants are vining plants, like beans and melons, and need to be hung, which may make them an obstacle in your home. Remember, also, that weight can strain a hanging or trellised plant. Before you fill your container with potting soil, put a thin layer of Styrofoam peanuts in the bottom. This will make the plant much lighter. Place containers on some sort of elevation such as legs or bricks, with a drainage tray underneath.

When planting a seed, make a depression in the sand that is twice the diameter of the seed. Then place the seed in the depression, and cover it with soil. Purchase a good germinating mix and scoop it into the container. Decide the planting depth of the seed with the instructions from the container. After planting, water with a fine mist, and cover the area of the plant with plastic wrap until the seeds germinate.

Plants need fertilizer in order to grow. Do it every twenty-one days. Do not over-fertilize, as fertilizer is a salt, and excessive salt can kill a plant’s roots. Also, as an additive fertilizer, you can look to the kitchen trash: – egg shells, banana peels, potato scrapings and coffee grounds, as well as grass cuttings from the yard can help to fertilize your plants. Slow-release fertilizers are good for a container garden. After planting with a slow-release fertilizer, it will release nitrogen to your plant roots without burning them. A helpful fertilizer to add with little damage is a water-soluble kind, like Miracle Grow. This is harmless to roots and helps the plant grow even more.

Potting soil
Buy peat-based potting soil as it retains moisture while allowing proper aeration. A good potting soil should include additives such as vermiculite3 and hydro crystals. Organic potting soils kill odors, but another odor killer is crushed pieces of charcoal buried in the soil. When planting, ensure you have one gallon of soil per foot of plant growth.


  1. Fill the intended container about 3/4 full with soil mix.
  2. Moisten the soil, let the soil settle, and add more mix to fill the container to about 3/4 full yet again.
  3. Cover the plant for several weeks while the plant germinates.
  4. After germination, the plants will begin to leaf. Thin the seedlings by cutting off extra seedlings, to reduce root disturbance, and allow seedlings to grow independently.

Water and light
Your plants will need watering, usually once or twice a day. Put your forefinger in the soil up to the second knuckle. If the soil feels dry, the plants need water. As roots mature, they consume soil, and must be watered twice daily. Terra-cotta containers dry out more quickly than plastic. Nurseries often sell self-watering containers with built-in reservoirs. Some have drip irrigation systems on a timer. A bohemian acquaintance of mine hooked up an old garden hose in his garage, and poked little holes in it, and this irrigated his radishes quite effectively. Plants need food in order to grow.

Apartments don’t have much in the way of sunlight…and this is imperative to your growing plant. Incandescent light bulbs (the kind we read by) won’t work. For sufficient plant lights, you should look for grow lights, florescent lights, or mercury lights*. A florescent grow tube with broad-spectrum lighting hung a foot above the plant will allow for the eight to ten hours of daily “sun” that your plant needs.

* Try your local Home Depot, garden centre or use a web search engine to find a supplier you like. and both stock indoor gardening lighting options.