Monday, March 12, 2012

5 Tips for Small-Space Gardeners

my mint plant
It's that time of year again.

All it takes are a few blue-skied days and a whiff of damp soil to turn me into a Crazy Plant Lady (my apartment doesn't allow cats.) If I ever own a home, I won't be there five minutes before I dig up the lawn and plant vegetables.

Gardening can be a spendy endeavor, though, especially if you live in a rental—not only do you have to buy plants or seeds, but often dirt and containers to put it in! Failure is expensive.

I'm a trial-and-error gardener (grow sweet corn in a pot? Why not?) so this growing season I'd like to swap stories and tips about windowsill and doorstep gardening with you. I make enough mistakes to school a multitude, so hopefully you'll be able to learn from them, too.

Here are a few tips to get your own gardening adventure started.
  1. Think about sunlight. My apartment gets indirect sunlight at best, so I try to stay away from expensive plants that require full sunlight. I have one windowsill that gets decent light, so most of my plants have to fit there.

  2. Start cheap to build confidence. When I was starting out, I went to GoodWill and bought two red buckets for a dollar, punched holes in the bottom, and had instant planters. Did you know that if you keep the root ends from your green onions, you can put them in water and they'll start growing again? Free instant plant—you can eat them as they grow!

  3. Avocado plant in the making
  4. Pilfer and recycle. You can also try to root other clippings and seeds. I have a huge, healthy philodendron grown from three clippings from an overgrown plant at my workplace. . .And there's an avocado pit sitting on my windowsill half submerged in water to see if it will root. (It's not looking promising, but I'll let you know if anything comes of it.) If your experiments are free to begin with, it's less of a drag when they fail. And there are a surprising number of fruits, vegetables, and other plants you can grow just from leftovers.

  5. Egg cartons are your friend. One of the first gardening experiments I made a few years back was to plant some radish and kohlrabi seeds in a large pot. One type of plant came up, but I never found out which it was because they got hailed on and died when they were about two inches tall. Today, I planted a bunch of seeds in a recycled egg-carton filled with potting soil. I wrote down what I put in each section, so now it will be easy to see what's working and discard anything that doesn't come up.

  6. Herbs are cool. If there's an herb you often cook with, it can be very rewarding (and easy!) to grow a pot of it. Most say they require full sunlight, but I've been having success with mint and chives even on my windowsill which gets only a couple hours of direct sunlight a day. They were the first plants I ever managed successfully in pots, and the chives are an ever-green treat in eggs or on fish.
What am I growing right now?
  • a big, happy philodendron named Harvey
  • a bucket of mint, a bucket of chives, and another of green onions
  • a planter with aloe and a few other succulents
  • 3 hyacinth bulbs (trying to force them, but they somehow were frozen by my refrigerator so we'll see...)
  • an avocado pit – trying to root it in water on the windowsill
  • and an egg carton with snapdragons, hollyhocks, sugar snap peas, kohlrabi, and radishes
I planted my egg carton just this afternoon, so I'll let you know in a couple weeks if anything sprouts. Some of those are pretty ambitious plants to be trying to grown in pots on a shady doorstep! But I had a bunch of ancient seed packets in storage, so I figured I might as well throw them in dirt and see if anything happens—better than leaving them in the cupboard where they definitely won't grow!

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  1. High five to crazy plant ladies!

    Right now my kitchen windowsill has an egg carton full of jalapeno seedlings, an egg carton of chives, a jar of green onion roots ('cause I saw that online, too, and had to try it. I put them in there last night... they've already started noticeably growing and it is not even noon!), some macadamia nuts in damp napkins that I'm dubious about, an avocado pit in a yogurt container, a sprig of rosemary I got to root and planted in another yogurt container, and some mint I got to root in a jar of water. I plant everything.

    Did you know, I have a four or five year old apple tree in my yard I started from a seed? And two orange trees I started from a seed? A a baby pomegranate tree I started from a seed? I'm currently experimenting with almonds as well.

    1. Wow! That's quite the repertoire! :) Have you ever gotten any of your fruit trees to bear fruit?

      And how do you start nuts??

    2. Oh my! Did you use seeds just from fruit you bought at the grocery store? Did you use organic fruit?

  2. I am not sure how much space you have, but my boss gave me a great tip when my potato crop failed last season. I just have to share it!

    She said to take your potato eyes and plant them in 4" of soil/hay in a black plastic bag. Make sure you roll down the edges of the bag when you do this. In about 2 weeks when the seedlings start sprouting, add about 4 more inches of soil and roll up the bag a little. Continental doing this about every two weeks when the sprouts emerge until you reach the top of the bag. At that point let the potatoes grow like normal until you are ready to harvest. The best part - just cut the bag down the side and pour out the contents when you want to harvest! No digging! Plus you can reuse the soil for another crop.

    Another coworker of mine is trying this same type process using a 50 gallon trash can she had around her house. Hopefully it will work!

    Thanks for posting such great ideas here on your blog.

    1. Wow, thanks for sharing, Kristin! I'd imagine you'd want the bag somewhere sunny, though, right? For the sprouts? Or would sun on a black bag make it too hot for the roots?