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Vegetable Gardens for Apartment Living

written by: knsinger•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 4/29/2009

Indoor vegetable gardens are not as hard as they may sound at first blush. For the gardener who enjoys a creative challenge, growing vegetable gardens inside an apartment can be enjoyable and rewarding.

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    Gardening in an Apartment

    Apartment dwelling has its advantages, but one of the major disadvantages that apartment dwellers often bemoan is the lack of a yard for gardening. For those who like to live green by growing their own vegetables, living in an apartment seems especially difficult. But apartment dwellers ought not fear: there are still plenty of creative ways to grow a vegetable garden inside an apartment.

    Growing on the Apartment Patio

    If the apartment has a patio that gets at least four or five hours of direct sunlight per day, the apartment patio will be the best place to get a garden started. Apartment patios usually have some sort of railing around them, as well, which makes them great for growing vegetables that need a little structural help – tomatoes, pole beans, and cucumbers can all utilize the railings and trellises of the patio to grow. By utilizing the patio railings for the necessary structural support for these vegetables, the need for a supporting cage is eliminated and using the space already available is maximized.

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    Creative Vegetable “Pots"

    Since growing vegetables in an apartment require containers anyway, save money on pots and use materials already available. The creative gardener sees large empty juice bottles, empty milk jugs, and clamshell pre-washed salad containers as opportunities for growing vegetables. By cutting off the top and punching a few small holes in the bottoms of these containers for drainage, they immediately become excellent containers for growing vegetables.

    Grow Salad Greens in Salad Containers

    Clamshell pre-washed salad containers, for example, are the perfect size and shape for growing salad greens. To transform these rectangular plastic boxes into lettuce pots, make gashes in the bottom for drainage (or punch small holes), then put in two inches of soil and sprinkle in about 25 lettuce seeds. The seeds should be barely covered by the soil, and once they've been planted, give them a generous amount of water. Put the salad box lid back on, and put the containers under a grow light or in a sunny spot in the apartment. When the sprouts start to break the surface of the soil, remove the lid and place it underneath the boxes to serve as a drainage container. If using a grow light, give the salad greens about twelve hours of light per day.

    Grow Sprouts in the Kitchen

    Another creative container for indoor vegetable gardens is a hemp bag for growing sprouts. All sorts of sprouts – from alfalfa sprouts to adzuki bean sprouts – can be grown quite easily and in just a few days, right on the kitchen counter. To use a hemp bag for growing sprouts, thoroughly soak the seeds first, then dump them into a wet hemp bag. Hang the bag somewhere to drain and dry. If glass jars are more readily available, soak the seeds and place them in the jar, and cover the jar with cheesecloth. In just a few days, the sprouts will be ready to eat.

    Herbs Are Easy to Grow Indoors

    A good place to start with an indoor vegetable garden is herbs. Herbs don't need much space in terms of their containers, and they are happy to grow inside in a windowsill. While popular indoor vegetable garden herbs include chives, basil, and rosemary, garlic and cilantro are both relatively easy to grow, too. Herbs need containers that are about six inches in diameter, and when planting more than one herb plant in a container, make sure they are planted at least an inch apart.

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    Using Grow Lights

    What to do if the apartment simply doesn't get enough sunlight to grow an indoor vegetable garden? When the apartment windows just don't face the right way, or the sunlight they do let in isn't strong enough, an indoor vegetable garden can still be accomplished by using grow lights.

    What is a grow light? A grow light is a high-output light bulb that provides plants with enough warmth and light to imitate the sun. While using a grow light for an indoor vegetable garden is definitely second choice after the sun, in some apartments using a grow light is the only possibility. Grow lights can be found at hardware stores or can be purchased online from a variety of vendors. LED grow lights, which use less electricity, are becoming increasingly popular for the green-conscious, but overall the reviews on these lights are not as good as traditional metal halide grow light bulbs.

    Using No Light At All

    Another “vegetable" that is easy to grow indoors and requires no light at all is the mushroom. Mushrooms, including shiitake mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, and reiki mushrooms, are fairly low-maintenance once they get started, and can easily be grown inside in room temperature with very little light – in fact, mushrooms are happiest when they don't have too much light. With a log “planted" with mushrooms, some moisture, and a shady spot indoors, gourmet mushrooms can be grown at a fraction of the expense they cost to buy.

    Apartment dwellers don't have to live without a vegetable garden. In fact, the creativity required for growing an indoor vegetable garden can be lots of fun for the gardener who is up to the challenge.

    Resources and Further Reading:

    Pleasant, Barbara. “Grow a Quick Crop of Lettuce Indoors." Mother Earth News: January 19, 2009.

    Alterman, Tabitha and Pleasant, Barbara. “Kitchen Counter Gardening: Try Sprouts." Mother Earth News: February / March 2009.

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    Sample contents.