Growing a garden in an apartment or other small space is the ultimate test of plant growing ingenuity. When most people think of growing something indoors they think they need a nice sunny window to put the plants in. While a bright sunny window is nice to have it is by no means the only way to grow a garden in an apartment anymore.
With the advent of low cost, long lasting LEDs you can grow a garden just about anywhere without it costing a substantial amount of money. Just as an example you can see in a picture below where I grew cherry tomatoes and salad greens all winter long in an otherwise very dark room. This room hardly got any daylight into it and certainly none on the wall where I put the pots.
If you want to grow a garden inside then what you want to do is maximize efficiency in the following ways,
When it comes to growing food inside I find it is best to start with your light setup. You want something that is adjustable in height so it can be raised or lowered according to plant height. It is important to keep lights just above the plant you are growing because this will get the most light to impact the plant leaves. Even with today's LEDs you still need to be close to the plant to offset the fact that light bulbs are not the Sun.
Light systems can be purchased commercially like this one or you can make your own from DIY parts. The commercial bought systems are not cheap but they come with all the bells and whistles and come with bulbs specifically tuned to produce light in the wavelengths plants need for photosynthesis.
A DIY system is not for the faint of heart and I do not recommend them unless you are comfortable with doing your own wiring. That wiring can be as complicated as actually wiring up an entirely new light system or just modifying an existing one. The one seen in this photo below was my approach since I could get the parts for a very low cost. It consists of an old bathroom vanity light wired up to be plugged into a wall receptacle instead of being hardwired.
Just to reiterate if you are not confident in your ability to do electrical wiring or you live in a location that doesn't allow it,
DON'T DO THIS and I am not liable if you do and something bad happens.
If you assemble your own grow lights you can either do something like I did you can use what I call a shop light setup. Doing it this way can be nice because you can get the same LED technology in these and they are built in a way that puts light where you want it. You can also get these with a receptacle plug pre-installed so that means no wiring for you which can be a stress reliever.
When you buy the bulbs make sure to get ones that are at least 100 watts and in the daylight part of the light spectrum. These bulbs will put out a bright white light instead of the softer more yellow light usually found in most home lamps.
An example of what I mean for the standard A21 bulb is below.
The choice of what to grow your plants in can have a dramatic effect on the cost of the setup and the ongoing effort to make it work. In terms of expense the bottom of the shelf is just regular potting soil you would use in a pot. Most potting soils are soil less and are instead a mixture of organic and inorganic parts. Some of the most common potting soils are made from peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite which are all great at holding water and nutrients for the plant to use.
The next step up is to use a hydroponic system that flushes a nutrient rich water over plant roots periodically. This system requires something for roots to anchor on like, clay pebble, coco chips, pine shavings or just plan old river rock. These systems are nice because they tend to be lightweight unless you use rock and you get very good production when compared to a potting soil setup. They do come with more expense because you have to supply extra nutrients, buy pumps and timers to regulate water flow and they use more electricity than a potting soil system.
The step up from that is aeroponics which is basically hydroponics that does away with the growing medium altogether. It used fine misters to spray plant roots with a fine nutrient rich mist. It can work great when it works but this system is highly dependent on nothing going wrong. A power loss or a water supply failure causes the roots to dry out in minutes and you can lose a crop just as fast. So aeroponics is not for the faint of heart or for people that like to set it and forget it.
To put these systems in terms of ease of use and likelihood of failure I would put them in the same order as expense. The addition of a water/nutrient holding medium in the first two systems reduces the chances of total failure. You have more time to catch and fix whatever is going wrong in the system.
What I would do
If I was a new indoor gardener I would set up the following system. I would use a soilless potting soil with a built in catch basin to hold extra water. I would place them under pre-purchased shop lights because of the ease of setup and the ability to raise and lower the lights easily.
If I had the room I would multiple shelves of produce from floor to ceiling with 3 feet between each shelf. This should give enough room for most plants to grow while providing clearance for the lights.
The plants I selected would most likely be any or all of the following,
I picked them because they continually produce and they don't need any pollination to produce.
Hopefully, this gives you some ideas or inspiration to start growing your own indoor garden this winter so you can enjoy fresh produce all winter long.
Having a garden is not just for those who have large plots of land that they can till up and plant seeds in. Even someone with no more space than a deck can have a bountiful container garden that can produce just as much and in some cases more than a garden planted in plain old dirt. This is possible because you can tailor the soil medium for maximum growth and place the pots where they can get the perfect amount of heat and sunlight.
There are a few things to consider when establishing a container garden.
There are two basic categories of containers you can use for planting a garden on a deck.
I seperate them out because pots come premade in many different styles, materials, sizes and can be moved once full. While planter boxes are typically built on site and are too large to easily move once they are full of soil.
You can get pots these days in many sizes and materials. They can range in price from cheap plastic to more expensive terracotta and ceramic. In my deck garden I mostly use terracotta pots for the following reasons,
Plastic pots can have some benefits as well as being cheaper than terracotta in most cases and are better at holding moisture for people who water infrequently.
When it comes to container gardening for most plants bigger is always better. This is because the more soil or other growing medium you provide the better the plant will grow. I dont grow anything in a pot smaller than 12 inches now and most of my pots are actually bigger than that.
Smaller pots can be quite successful for herbs but keep in mind that if you vary your pot size too much it can play hell with a watering timetable. Small pots on hot days in the sun can need water multiple times a day while larger pots suffice with one watering a day.
If you are starting from scratch I would try to pick a once size pot to use so that you can better predict what you watering needs will be. If you want to vary from that once size go bigger since that will in most cases need less watering than the smaller one.
If you have the space and a good sunny location for them planter boxes are the way to go in my opinion. They will cost a bit of money and time to build and install but the benefits are worth it if you are serious about having a deck garden. Planter boxes are much better at holding water and providing larger spaces for plants to root into. This will result in stronger plants that need less frequent watering to establish and maintain good production.
There are many shapes, styles and materials to build planter boxes out of treated/untreated lumber. Plastic panels, metal watering troughs, old fridges (seen it) pretty much anything you can think of using. I made mine from untreated lumber coated in many coats of raw linseed oil.
What to plant
You can plant anything you want in container gardens but there are things that will do better in a traditional garden. In my experience the following garden plants are good for pots,
If you have large planting boxes than maybe you can spread out into other crops like,
You can go two ways with watering your container garden.
You can water by hand every day or you can set up a timed irrigation system.
Both systems have their pro’s and con’s. If you hand water it will most likely happen everyday even if it rains since rain typically can’t get enough water into the pots. It puts you out in your garden everyday which is great for monitoring plant growth and when it comes to harvesting but it does take time everyday.
A timer controlled irrigation system is great for those of you with busy lives. It will water your plants automatically once it is set up and all you need to do is check it once a week to make sure it is still working right. This way has a lot more upfront cost and setup time but it is nice to be able to relegate watering duties to a timer.
So now that you have my take on what you need to know to start a container garden it is time for you to give it a try yourself. The options and ways to do it are endless so you need to figure out what works best for your situation. If you have any questions about this, send me an email and I will help you out as quickly as I can.
For more information on how to start a container garden check out some of my other articles here on the Green Living Library.
What is spring so far am I right….
If you live in the Midwest of the United States like I do you most likely have had your fill of the this intense spring weather we have been experiencing.
This weather which includes snow just a few days ago for me has been a huge cramp in my planting schedule for this spring. Normally by this time of year I have my entire garden planted and I have moved onto mowing grass and keeping up on other projects that always take up my spring. At this point I only have my onion, beets and spinach in the ground which is okay I guess since they can take all the cold crappy weather we have been having.
But this late start got me thinking I have just essentially been robbed of about 20 days of my growing season and it left me with all sorts of questions like….
How is that going to affect my season?
Will I be able to grow the long season crops that I want to?
What should I grow to take advantage of what time I have left?
Do I need to consider season extension this fall?
Yes lots of questions….
Short Season Crops
A spring like this calls for the planting of cool season and short season crops. These types of crops typically take 50-90 days to grow and produce a crop and some will keep producing as long as you keep harvesting.
Plants to consider would include
Double Cropping/AKA Companion Planting
When you are dealing with a shorter planting season one thing to think about is double cropping or companion planting. There are alot of crops out there that you can grow in the same space at the same time which or course means you can grow more in the same space.
An example of this is the three sisters planting system attributed to the Native Americans in the USA. They would plant corn, climbing beans and squash in the same area and all three species complement each other and can be grown in the same space without interfering with each other.
Finally the big kahuna thing you can do to make up for this short season is the plan some sort of season extension device for the end on the season to try and get back some of this days in the fall. Season extension comes is three evermore expensive flavors for the home gardener.
Low tunnels are basically little mini greenhouses created by installing metal or plastic hoops over the garden bed and then covering them with plastic. In the fall they work best for low growing and confined crops, think salads and root vegetables. Most everything else is too big or spread out by this time of the growing year to work. They are great season extenders for pretty much everything in the spring since everything is small that time of year.
Like I am sure you guessed from the the name high tunnels are like low tunnels except they are much bigger. These are made in much the same way as low tunnels with larger stronger hoops and more supports. These can be used almost like actually greenhouse but they are not a durable or as easy to control temperature. The advantage of these over low tunnels is that they can contain pretty much every crop you can grow and with a larger area protected they are less prone to large temperature swings.
Finally you have greenhouses which come in lot of different varieties and purposes. The upside to these is you can really control the temperature in these much better than when compared to the the tunnel structures. This downside to them however is that they are relatively permanent structures and they will be in that spot for a long time. You can work around this depending on your situation but for most part you are stuck with wherever you build it.
The moral of the story
With that good luck on your gardening endeavours and I hope the summer turns out to be better than this spring has been.
For more information like this check out other articles here on the Green Living LIbrary
The data is in organic food can feed the world assuming the following,
· Everyone become vegetarian or vegan
· We reduce food waste by 50%
· 100% reduction in land used to grow animals.
Wheeew that seems to be a bit of a problem since the consumption of meat is going up as more countries reach a higher standard of living. What we need to do and what we’re doing are two lines on a graph getting farther apart as more time passes. But all is not lost so do not fear It is my position that organic farming can feed the world when combined with technology, development of new crop varieties and a frank assessment of how food is grown around the world.
Depending on who you ask there is no way that organic farming can feed the 10 billion+ people that are predicted to be alive by 2050. (Looking at you Big AG) But the really stupid thing about that statement is we aren’t feeding the 7,701,039,711 people that are alive right now and it has nothing to do with how much food we grow. We grow enough food to give everyone on this planet enough to eat right now but as of 2016 around 11% of the world doesn’t get enough food to meet basic calorie needs. They don’t get fed because of the following,
· They can’t afford it (all hail the almighty dollar)
· They lack the knowledge, ability or money to grow it themselves
· We waste 1/3 of all food grown
· Regional conflicts cut off supplies of food
The same people that will say that organic cannot feed the world will also trot out the studies that show that on average organic farming is 20% less production than conventional farming. While I do not dispute the accuracy of that research I fail to understand why it matters. I say this because the reasons people go hungry has nothing to do with how much food is grown.
Take food waste for example globally with we waste 1/3 aka 33% percent of the all the food grown. Now some of this waste is unavoidable, bad weather ruins a crop or it is destroyed by fire or infested with rodents etc. But a lot of it is wasted especially in the western world because it is not pretty enough and it’s thrown out before it even gets to the person who will eat it. Food waste is a problem we can tackle with better application of technology we already have like better weather forecasting, harvest, storage and transportation equipment and education to individuals and groups on how to grow transport and process food.
The unfair comparison of conventional to organic yields
I want to talk a little bit more about the often cited 20% shortfall of yield when comparing organic to conventional agriculture. Comparing the two systems I believe is inherently unfair to the organic system of growing food. While both systems grow food for the consumption of humans/livestock that is where the similarities typically end and the differences begin to emerge.
Laid out in the table above you can see some of the widely accepted goals of the two systems. When you look at the broad sweep of goals espoused by organic agriculture it’s no surprise that the yield is less than conventional Ag. When the only thing you worry about is yield then of course you are going to have a higher yield.
This difference is made even starker when you look at the recent history of conventional agriculture. Most of the effort to improve agriculture has been geared towards supporting and improving a system that has the singular goal of improving yield. Crops were developed that produced higher and higher yields but only with the addition of chemical fertilizers to boost growth and other chemicals to control insects and diseases.
Where is the industry that supports the development of crops that can naturally deter insects and resist disease without chemical inputs? Well it doesn’t exist because the same companies that develop the wonder seeds are the same ones that sell the chemicals. There is not much profit in selling hardy seeds when you can sell not so hardy seeds and chemicals to make them better.
Organic Yields are not as low as they seem.
So while opponents of organic farming love to trot out the 20% smaller yield number it’s really not always that low when compared to conventional farming. For example many studies have shown that soybean, field peas and other legumes show equal yields to conventional farming. For other types of crops the yield gap can be reduced to 10% by using cover crops and rotating what you grow in the field. This means that for a measly 10% loss in yield on some crops we could grow our food in a way that enhances soil, sequesters carbon, empowers local family farms and provides us with chemical free all natural food.
The other claim that everyone would have to go vegetarian is not without some merit. It takes a lot of land, water and other resources to raise the amount of meat that is currently consumed in the world. As much as I love a good burger I know that as an American I eat way too much meat and that I really need to eat more veggies fruits and other plant based foods. Not only is my meat heavy diet bad for the planet it is also been well documented that it is bad for my personal health as well.
10 Billion People
The big scare at the center of this whole debate of course is the number of people that are expected to be here in 30 more years. The ironic thing about this is that the rate of population growth is actually shrinking rather dramatically. It is down from 2.09% per year in 1968 to around 1% right now. That being said there are certain areas of the world that are still have a rapid growth rate and of course these same areas are already some of the hardest hit with food issues. But if things keep improving with education, technology and maybe even social justice worldwide we could get to place where we don’t even reach 10 billion and the population naturally falls over time to a number we can easily feed. That is playing the long game and is most likely not something that you or I will see but it is a possibility.
Feeding the World Organically
Feeding the world in an organic way is not only possible but most likely needed if we are to continue to grow enough food to feed everyone. We cannot continue to degrade the soil and damage the biosphere that supports us if we expect to continue to survive as a species.
A Brief History
The Mason jar the humble container used for canning and preserving food is capable of being used for so much more than just canning. They were created by a fellow named John Landis Mason back in the 1858 and were among the first types of jars used to preserve food. There were earlier examples of canning food in jars to preserve it but with the advent of the screw on ring and lid really caused the practice to take off.
So spring is finally upon us again and you are starting to think about what needs to get the garden planted this spring. There are several things you can do right now to get the process going long before the weather is warm enough outside for the early spring crops.
Check out this article from Atlas Obscura that talks about the agriculture practice of food forests. I have talked about them a bit here at the Green Living Library but this article really brings the whole concept into light.
Assuming you are not the most unobservant person that has ever existed you are most likely aware of the trees that surround you every day you live your life. There are trees in the yards, lining the streets, in the parks, and everywhere you look you will most likely see a tree. You have also most likely seen some of the havoc that trees can cause in communities like,
When you look out at the typically suburban lawn what do you see?
Some see a beautiful manicured space that is great for playing on lounging on and gives your house great curb appeal. Whiles others like me see a mostly wasted, severely underutilized space that could be put too much better uses like growing food and creating pollinator habitat.
If you are anything like me you get quite a bit of paper delivered to you through the mail. All that junk mail, magazine subscriptions and useless ads for things you should never by. If you are lucky you would be able to recycle all that paper so it can be turned into something else down the line. However you may live in an area that doesn’t do paper recycling so that really leaves you with the option of throwing it in the trash. But if you are actually reading this article on this website then you are probably like me and you hate throwing things away that could have other potential uses. One of the best uses I have found for that waste paper is turning it into long lasting fire starters. Now I am sure you already know that paper burns really easily but it also burns really quick which can sometimes hinder how well it performs as a fire starter. Keeping lose paper around can also take up a lot of space that could be better used for other things. So any easy way to get around these dual problems is to turn all that extra waste paper in paper mache fire starters. This is really easy to do but it does take some time and just a few things to make the process easier.
Hello my name is Josh Larson and I am the creator of the Green Living Library. Here on the blog you will find updates to content found in the Green Living Library as well as stories from those living the sustainable life already.