Apartment garden: the seedlings!

16 February 2011

Even though we had a thriving porch garden last year, I feel super lame for never posting about it! Whether documented or not, it was a goal from my first 101 that was a rousing success, which has us eager to get our green thumbs dirty again this year. And promise, I’ll share the adventure with y’all this time! Let’s start with our seedlings, which we planted a few days ago. Here they are, perched on the ledge in our shower!

Too cute! We chose the shower ledge for a few reasons: that particular window gets tons of light, it’s easy to keep them moist, and the cats would have a heck of a time getting up there to attack them (a very important consideration).

Interested in starting a small-scale vegetable garden of your own? I’m happy to pass on a few tips, though we’re certainly not experts. Before we began last year I learned a lot from reading this article (and this one and this one), and then, of course, I learned even more from trial and error. That being said, here are a few things to take into consideration.

1. Take stock of the space you have available. We have our balcony — if you need a refresher, see here! It’s long and skinny, but there’s plenty of room for a row of pots. There isn’t, however, room for Brandywine tomatoes or cucumbers. We tried both last year, and were disappointed because they never really produced anything of note. This year, we’re trying peppers — poblanos, bells, and jalapenos — which we learned from our work in our community garden grow well in compact spaces.

2. Evaluate your sun situation. And be realistic about it. Last year, we convinced ourselves we had more sun than we actually did. Since sun is so important for veggie production, you’ll inevitably be disappointed if you overestimate the amount of sun your space gets (we sure were!). Red iceberg lettuce, cilantro, and basil all did fantastically with the amount of sun they got, so we’ll be planting all of those again.

3. Buy seeds and supplies. We bought some of our seeds from Seed Savers Exchange, which specializes in rare and heirloom varieties. They worked out great! We also bought a few packets from Lowes. The remaining supplies? All from Lowes: several plastic pots, the seedling pots and starter soil, two bags of organic potting soil, a box of fertilizer, and a watering can. We spent about $90 the first year on supplies, but only $45 this year. I estimate that next year, we’ll spend about $20 (the pots accounted for the bulk of the expense both years, and you only have to buy those once!). If you are a savvy shopper and scout around for bargains, I’m sure you could buy your initial supplies for less than we did.

4. Start your seedlings inside and early for the largest crop. Do a Google search for average last frost in your area, which should give you a pretty good idea of when you should start.

5. Make it fun! We’re planting dahlias simply because I wanted pretty blooms with my vegetables.

So here we are: week one. Empty pots outside, seedlings inside.

I’ll update you on our progress next month, but in the meantime, tell me: do you grow herbs or vegetables? Are you working with an apartment balcony or porch, or do you have a much larger space? Any tips to share?

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February 17, 2011 3:22 am

I love growing herbs…I loath growing veggies and fruit! Just not really my thing, I really enjoy the smell of the herbs, but don't care for the work involved. Go Garden Grow!

Andrea Jean
February 17, 2011 4:33 am

So excited to see this post! I'm starting my first vegetable garden this year and I was just about to do some online research about starting a garden after making my blog rounds tonight!

I'm so excited! Thanks for your tips!

February 17, 2011 2:44 pm

Charity — ha! I have to say, John does most of the work of daily watering (even when it's 100 degrees outside – ick!), so I get off pretty easy in that regard. But yes, herbs are awesome!

February 21, 2011 3:08 am

I've been growing hot peppers in my nyc apartment window for the last few months. The cold has not been helping! The best tip that I've had so far (from my super green thumb father) has been putting plastic bags over the pots during the first few weeks to make a mini greenhouses. So far no peppers but lots of leaves. Hope your plants thrive!

February 21, 2011 3:42 am

Ooo that's good! Today, actually, we were depressed because we hadn't had any sprouting, so we made little saran wrap tents over them — fingers crossed we see some green soon!