Suggestions for veggies I can grow on a deck or inside?
January 9, 2008 3:02 PM   Subscribe

I'd love to grow some vegetables this year. However, I don't have much in the way of outdoor space OR sunlight. What are my best bets?

I live in a condo. I have a deck, but it doesn't get much sun. I do have some space inside, but not much, and nothing with oodles of sun - it's not dark at all, but I don't get tons of direct sunlight; most of my windows face east or north.

So what are my best bets for growing my own vegetables? I'm in the San Francisco Bay Area (East Bay); frost/snow is not an issue but summer heat can be. I need something that will happily grow in a container and in at least partial shade. Or, alternatively, one of those "Aero-Garden" indoor planters; my mom is growing cherry tomatoes in one of those now, but they've yet to ripen. Anyone grow vegetables or herbs indoors? I'd at least like to get a pot or two of basil going for homemade pesto!
posted by Rosie M. Banks to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Is it possible for you to set up one or two little grow lights? They do have legal uses and vendors.
posted by dilettante at 3:10 PM on January 9, 2008

basil has done really well in my windowbox garden - it's an interior courtyard window and doesn't get much direct sunlight. Mint has also flourished. I haven't had much success with tomatoes.
posted by dubold at 3:12 PM on January 9, 2008

I received an Aerogarden for christmas. The light is REALLY bright. The basil is the best growing herb so far. The cilantro didn't sprout at all. So, I just put some basil seeds in the pod.
I had to move and I no longer have a garden. I can't wait to make some pesto.
The problem with the Aerogarden is that it is pricey for just some basil and you can't' mix some of the kits due to the amount of time the lights need to be on. I really wanted to have tomatoes, basil and cherry tomatoes.
On the upside, they now have a new light kit that is higher so that you can grow larger (full size) veggies.
posted by nimsey lou at 3:15 PM on January 9, 2008

Most any kind of salad green will do okay. If you're growing them in pots, though, you'll want something that grows up, not out. Arugula, mizuna, red mustard will all work. Small varieties of bok choy will probably work, but tat soi and pak choi (which grow in rosette shapes and need some space) probably wouldn't.

Radishes you can do too.

You can buy carrot varieties that are supposed to tolerate pots. I can't remember the name of the varieties, but it'll indicate such on the package.

Mostly, don't overcrowd plants in pots. One thing you'll have to watch out in a low-light, high moisture environment (assuming you're in one of the foggy pockets of the Bay Area) is powdery mildew. It's exacerbated by high humidity and poor air circulation around the plants.

A grow light is also an excellent choice, and it's lots of fun. If you buy one, buy a timer for it as well for more control.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:23 PM on January 9, 2008

I'm not sure if you explored this option, but there're probably plenty of community gardens in your area. I'm in a relatively small town right now, and there are two within biking distance of my apartment. So i'm sure the bay area is loaded. Check it's usually pretty cheap (20-30$ for the entire season), you get a good bit of land (generally 5x20' or 10x20), and access to a water source. The one in my area even supplies a pile of compost and a shed of gardening tools.
posted by pilibeen at 4:21 PM on January 9, 2008

For containers without supplemental light, arugula is the first thing to come to mind, and then Tom Thumb butterhead lettuce, which makes charming little mini-heads. I've also had some good luck growing parsley, thyme, bay, and chives in containers without additional lighting. (Iirc, parsley needed a fairly deep container to accomodate its roots.) Right now I've got a pot of rosemary going, but it clearly would like to have more light than my windowsill can provide. For something more unusual, garden cress would be a strong contender. Territorial Seed sells a "Pot and Patio Lettuce Mix" you might like.

If you go the grow-light route, consider peppers -- they're beautiful little plants that produce a lot in a small space. Fingerling eggplants are pretty, too. (I've grown both of these in containers in sunny spaces with some success, especially the peppers.) I'd try "Spicy Globe" basil; it's pretty compact.

In addition to veggies, don't overlook the possibility of growing some fruit too. (I'm sure someone out there is thinking now, "But peppers are fruit!") Lingonberries do well in light shade, are small and pretty enough to be good houseplants, and have shallow roots; I think those would work well for you. I don't know if your deck's sunlight would meet their requirements, but there are some interesting columnar apple trees that have been bred to grow in pots in small spaces. And if you're willing to shine a light on it, I think it'd be worth experimenting with a dwarf variety of blueberry such as "Top Hat"; blueberries are really handsome plants.
posted by sculpin at 4:53 PM on January 9, 2008 [3 favorites]

Bean sprouts don't need any sunlight at all. Here are some kits for sale, but you don't really need one. You can also grow ginger pretty well indoors, since it's a shade plant. My neighbor once told me he grew potatoes by accident in his compost pile, so I imagine you can do it without much light, but haven't tried it myself.
posted by jujube at 5:01 PM on January 9, 2008

I've had reasonably good luck growing basil in a sunny window but outside works significantly better. I haven't tried growing any other herbs or veggies indoors.

A cheap and easy way to garden on a patio is with large plastic outdoor garbage cans - poke some holes in the bottom, put a bit of gravel in and fill the rest of the way with potting soil. You'll have enough soil depth to grow most plants and the soil wont dry out as quickly as it does in smaller containers.

You should be able to grow food year round on your patio - this time of year you can grow potatoes, fava bans, carrots, beets, parsley, rosemary, thyme, bay, peas, and any other shade-friendly cool weather crops you can find seeds for. During the summer you may be able to get tomatoes to ripen - it depends how hot it gets where you are and what varieties you grow.
posted by foodgeek at 5:04 PM on January 9, 2008

Response by poster: All good answers - thanks so much! The Pot and Patio Lettuce Mix sounds great. I will also investigate whether there is a community garden near me. I live in a small East Bay suburb but this IS the Bay Area, so there just might be one.

Incidentally, fog is not an issue where I live - I'm east of the Caldecott Tunnel, which means that I don't get fog, but I do get some stinkin' hot summer weather (in the 90's and above). Which means I should get started planting lettuce right away because it will bolt in late spring. Tomatoes grow very well in my area; the only thing stopping me is the relative lack of sun on my deck.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:53 PM on January 9, 2008

Even though there are already some great answers here, I just wanted to second the Community Supported Agriculture (or, CSA) idea. They can be very rewarding, and hanging out with those folks will help you out a tremendous amount! Here is one pretty good link. I know that google returns a ton of other leads in San Fran tho! Good luck, this is the future of food distribution!
posted by sneakyalien at 10:21 PM on January 10, 2008

I know I'm wandering even further afield from vegetables now, but if you like tea, you could very likely grow your own tea plant. (More on growing and processing. That guy suggests starting from seed, but I'd start with a plant, myself, unless I were planning to start my own tiny backyard tea plantation.) Tea's a kind of camellia, and like other camellias it prefers partial and even full shade. I know a few people who've kept tea plants in pots successfully.

You can also give coffee plants a try, but to tell you the truth, I don't think I know anybody who's gotten theirs to bear fruit. Certainly not much fruit. (Which is too bad, because roasting your own coffee is fun.) You might have better luck, though, than we have here in chilly Seattle.
posted by sculpin at 10:24 PM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I want to second ginger. I can't believe I forgot growing that! You can pick up any plump, likely-looking chunk at the grocery store and grow it in a wide, shallowish pot.

I didn't have a very good place for my ginger plant, so it never looked all that attractive and the growth was very slow, but the young ginger was memorably delicious all the same.
posted by sculpin at 10:31 PM on January 11, 2008

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