Apartment vegetables
May 14, 2006 9:30 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone know any resources on growing vegetables while living in an apartment?

I want to grow quite a few vegetables this spring and summer but I live in an apartment (I'm going to transfer them to my parents large lawn when they get too big). Are there any online resources or books dedicated to growing vegetables in these kinds of conditions? Or does anyone have any tips. I have a balcony that gets a lot of sun but only for maybe 4-6 hours of the day, so I know there'll be limitations, but I still wanna try.
posted by Holygrail2 to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You could try Granny's Garden Socks and hang them on the outside of the balcony.

My brother-in-law grows really good vegetables with tiny slivers of light in the driveway of his house in the city. He just saves every container for re-use until he has a table full of cut-up milk cartons, etc., mixes up good potting soil, waters and fertilizes and covers with clear plastic when it's cold. You only need about 8" deep of soil for the finite-sized green stuff that sticks up above the ground (root vegetables and big sprawling squashes need more).

I would advise caution about transplanting veggies "when they get too big," as they do in fact get too big to transplant. When they're a few inches tall with just a few leaves their root systems are relatively compact and handle transplanting as long as it's done with some attention. By the time they're big though, their root systems can really sprawl, including microscopically, and there's no way to transplant them without shredding their roots.

Personally, I'd just keep 'em growing on the balcony. Try some determinate tomatoes and bush beans and tons of leafy greens. If, as it seems, you live in the Pacific Northwest, you live in heaven for lettuces, spinach, cole crops (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.), all of which like the cool conditions. Put up some plastic covers for mini-greenhouses and you can eat good veggies for 3/4 of the year or more.

Grab Steve Solomon's bible of NW veggies and a Territorial Seed catalog -- you'll have materials for a lifetime. Have fun!
posted by argybarg at 10:02 PM on May 14, 2006

The Gardenweb Forums are great! I'd look into the one on container gardening first.

I would suggest
- Peas
- Cucumbers
- Salad Greens (lettuce, spinach, mesclun)
- Broccoli
- Maybe a cherry or grape tomato (tomatoes typically like more sun, but give it a shot)
- Strawberries
- "Pole" apples - these are hybrid apple trees that look like big sticks. Very few branches. They do well in containers.
- Blueberries (look for a "patio" variety)
- Hops

And yes I know some of those are fruits ...

I don't think that you stand a chance with peppers = not enough sun.

You could also try some edible flowers if you do salad greens - nasturtiums, pansies, violets.
posted by Ostara at 10:05 PM on May 14, 2006

I suggest Square Foot Gardening. It's geared more towards putting stuff in the ground, but it's still a good resource/book on limited-space gardening.
posted by O9scar at 10:17 PM on May 14, 2006

Go hydroponic.
posted by flabdablet at 10:35 PM on May 14, 2006

Second recommendation for Square Foot. You can easily use it with planter boxes.

I built planter boxes for our condo, back in the day. About 16" wide, varying 8-14" deep, and 12' total length (3 planters, 4' long). We grew everything from strawberries to habenaros to carrots. By using vinyl siding the same shade as the rest of the building, I was able to dodge all potential complaints about its appearance.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:05 PM on May 14, 2006

This is a book in the UK. For your own area have a serach for "container gardening". My experiences: Ugly but cheap containers are those polystyrene boxes that fish come in. Any attempt to improve the micro-climate will pay dividends; try reflective surfaces to improve light and cloches to improve temp and water retention. Please check the balcony can take the weight. Keep a diary so you know what works and what doesnt. Sow salad every two weeks in modules and transfer to bigger containers when you get four real leaves. Learn what is meant by "cut & come again". Cheat; look in posh shops for "living salad" or for herbs in a pot and then plant out. Small cherry tomatoes taste better than the big thick skinned ones. Seed is cheap. Try to move towards peat free compost though germination is more difficult. Get ahead with a heated propogator (nice birthday present?) Ignore all advice and just experiment.
posted by priorpark17 at 11:18 PM on May 14, 2006

I would advise against tomatoes. Not enough sun and they are serious dirt hogs. Legumes do really well in pots and grow insanely fast, and who doesn't like fresh peas or fava beans?

A small herb garden, maybe a few onions or garlic, and a green or two can go a long way towards better eating. It's amazing what a constant supply of fresh herbs does to one's cooking skills.
posted by aspo at 11:22 PM on May 14, 2006

I will guarantee that tomatoes on a sunny deck will thrive. There are innumerable patio-compatible tomatoes. Many of them will be of the "cherry" variety, with names like "Sweet Million" and "Sugar Snack" (or is the latter a carrot? I don't fully recall...)

You do need to use a largish tub for them. And you will need to be very good about watering them; they will be huge plants supported by a small root system. So long as you give them plenty of water, sunlight, and enough food, they'll do extremely well.

I speak with about ten years' worth of patio container gardening.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:51 PM on May 14, 2006

After a decade of balcony farming on 4-5 hours of direct light we just grow pot herbs like basil (thai and broad leaf) sage, chinese chives, mint, thyme and shiso. We tried and succeeded with everything from tomotos to okra, but in terms of utility, I can have seven months of all the fresh herbs I can use, or I can have a very few vegtables in the same amount of space. Since fresh herbs are more expensive to buy (by weight) and harder to obtain, we just grow herbs now.
posted by zaelic at 1:54 AM on May 15, 2006

Check out You Grow Girl - both the book and the website have great tips for growing plants in small spaces like rooftops, fire escapes, and small yards.
posted by xsquared-1 at 3:29 AM on May 15, 2006

I once grew tomatoes indoors in my very sunny apartment, but I would have killed for a balcony. 4-6 hours of direct sun is a lot and there are plenty of things that you can grow.

The bible for container gardening is McGee & Stuckey's Bountiful Container. They'll teach you how to grow multiple things in one container and how to harvest and rotate year-round so you get the maximum use of your space. Unless you want a farm-sized harvest you might be able to grow all you need on your balcony.

Also, there are many veggies that should be direct-sown and not transplanted. Carrots, peas and many others don't survive being moved well (McGee & Stuckey will let you know which ones). Your best shot might be to use peat-pods if you really want to plant in your parents' yard.
posted by Alison at 4:13 AM on May 15, 2006

I would also caution you that you may need to water every day- things dry out faster on balconies and the plants definitely don't take care of themselves.
posted by pomegranate at 6:24 AM on May 15, 2006

Sunlight and overheating are the limiting factors, imo. Our balcony had a reasonably long day (circa 6-8hr) and one corner of it could easily hit 50C (obviously, one doesn't place plants in that corner!)

The plants were all watered twice a day. They needed a lot of water to survive those temperatures. But the harvest? Amazing.

My planter design may have accidently helped a lot: because I wanted the bed no deeper than about 14", but the planter was about 2' high, there was a large volume of air under and inside. This helped keep the roots cool.

I'd talk about the nightmaresque horror of Tomato Hornworm, but it's not really germane to the topic.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:10 AM on May 15, 2006

Last year we grew tomatoes upside down. We used a smaller set-up than those instructions. I sawed some 5 inch wide plastic tube into 18 inch long sections. I kept the dirt from coming out the bottom with pantyhose lightly wrapped around the tomato base. then I drilled two holes at the top and used a wire coat hanger to hang the thing. I wrapped pieces of an old woven beach mat around it so it would look better. It worked great we watered once a week. fertilized a few times. It was great fun.

we turned them periodically for even exposure.

saves space
you don't have to stake up the plant
off the ground I don't think tomato worms could get to them?

we also grew peppers in pots last year. and we have a very short growing season. we started with plants we bought at the farmers market that were suited to our area.

As far as watering, everyone keeps telling me that more plants are killed by overwatering than anything else. So don't over do it.

I second garden web forums. great resource.
posted by cda at 12:41 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

I third the recommendation for Square Feet Gardening. Be sure to buy the new edition, which just came out a few months ago. It has many improvements, many of which reinforce the idea that you can grow a relatively low maintenance garden anywhere- including a balcony.
posted by tfmm at 2:30 PM on May 16, 2006

Have you tried growing them upside down?
posted by spunk at 4:01 PM on May 16, 2006

You can buy a lot of good quality, fresh vegetables at the grocery store, but good tomatoes are expensive and my local megagrocery seldom carries local, fresh tomatoes, so I focus on growing them myself. Cherry tomatoes do well in containers (5 gal. buckets w/ drainage holes - free), and even beefsteaks will do well in a big container. I plant herbs with the tomatoes, you could also plant greens. Looks nice and adds to the salad, but requires more water and fertilizer.

Lots of good advice online, and you can get pamphlets and tons of great free (you already paid for it in tax dollars) information from the Extension Service. They'll be in the phone book, maybe under Federal programs.
posted by theora55 at 7:35 AM on May 17, 2006

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