Monday, November 17, 2014

Small Space Gardening!

Earlier this year I moved into a second story two bedroom apartment. It is perfect for my husband and I with plenty of room for books, a good kitchen, and lots of beautiful views. The only drawback is the garden space - a small deck space for potted plants and start thistle everywhere else. It was clear that we would have to get creative if we wanted anything besides African Violets in the window sill. I had to start thinking about gardening differently and it has made all of the difference.

A small space doesn’t mean you can’t have a garden. Many people who have hundred of acres are unable to use what they have well. The best part of having a small space is learning to make the most of every nook. The old addage of "Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do with out" rings true here! We have used wall and ceiling space, culled out the extra bits, and enjoyed living a simpler, clutter free life. When it came to gardening, I was ready to rewrite my opinions on what had to be a certain way. 

When you plant anything and care for it you have a garden. 

You don't have to have rows, grow the right plants, or even have it all outside!  When looking for a good gardening apartment, keep an eye out for lots of windows and southern exposure. That will help out in the winter when most growing grinds to a halt. Small apartments are perfect for live-in green houses. With lots of light and a little extra warmth you can keep harvest all through the cold dark winter months. Nothing like green growing things to push the winter blues away.  

We started with shallow rooted greens in our windowsills and after some trial and error figured out a few simple changes to the traditional garden methods. We are using as many alternative methods as we can - containers, pallets, raised beds, and straw bales. As Anne Shirley would say we have been given a lot of scope for the imagination. Each of these methods has pros and cons. 

We mix the plants we want to the method that fits.

Pallets can hold trailing plants like strawberries and squash as well as containers of shallow rooted veggies. Straw bales are good in case you have to move and raised beds can double as cold frames. 

1. Container Gardening
     Terra cotta pots are beautiful and porous which makes them good for both sunken clay watering vessels and lettuce greens. Recently my husband repurposed a wood pallet into a pot rack to hold my next flat of seedlings. The best part is that as the pots drain they will 'rain' on each other keeping the greens moist and lovely.  Different sized pots can hold anything from lettuce and brussel sprouts to beets and onions.
Also, I grow herbs in containers in my kitchen.  I am going to try leeks this year by planting them at the bottom of a big pot and hill them every few weeks, until the pot is full. You can use them indoors or outdoors and with a dish underneath save water by using creating a small reservoir.  Container gardening gives you so much freedom - to create, to move, and to give your porch some curb appeal! 

2. Grow Vertical
     My kitchen doesn't have a lot of drawer space, so we hung up all of our utensils and dishes on pegboard or a ceiling rack. There are so many ways to hang herbs on the wall or  strawberries from the ceiling. I use a cute herb rack from Home Goods for instant fresh flavors.

This doesn't just apply to the full grown plants. I grow my seedlings in a bookshelf with grow lights hanging from the shelf above. So far I have everything from kale and chard to St. John's Wort popping up. Don't negect the higher spots in your apartment. Hot air rises and if you have enough clearance, the top of bookshelves, extra dresser space and hanging baskets are perfect for those warm weather veggies. 

3. Communicate 
     Just recently I got permission to put a raised bed in below our apartment! We also have a compost pile and a worm hive. I am hoping to turn our raised bed into a cold frame for winter crops, but all of this would have been impossible if I hadn't picked up the phone and asked. 
      Gardens give a property more value and purpose. They look good and that is an asset to your land lord. We keep everything cleaned up and make sure nothing smells funny. By fostering our relationship with our realtors (and giving them seasonal goods) we are opening more oportunities to expand on the property and maybe get chickens!
       This summer we are going to use straw bales and five gallon buckets to grow corn, tomatoes, eggplant, and more of summer's bounty!

4. Compost
     We have talked about composting on Homestead Revival before. Right now I compost in two different places. We buried a rubermaid container about six months ago and inside we started a worm hive.

 By having two at the same time, I can mix vermiculite and compressed compost with a little peat moss to make a good seedling mix. In our raised bed we have horse manure and seasoned goat and chicken manure. Our  goal is to rebuild the soil where ever we live, so double digging and mixing in the good stuff is worth the extra effort. We won't live here for long, but we will leave it better than when we came.  This next year I want to cover our raised bed area with newspaper, straw, and wood chips, so it composts into beautiful dirt and defeat the star thistle. 

Small spaces have so much potential! Enjoy the space you have and fill it with as much beauty as you can. On Friday we will talk about using larger spaces well. 

What do you like about your space? 


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