Are you frustrated at the seemingly ever-increasing cost of groceries? Lately, it seems like prices just keep climbing up and up, or supply just isn't keeping up with demand. There is a solution! Grow your own!
All of my life I have been exposed to gardening using different methods, from seeing my grandma grow in small containers on a windowsill to my whole family pitching in to plant an acre of potatoes by hand.
Growing up in rural West Virginia, it was, and still is for many, a common occurrence for families to have a garden to produce some of their own food. It is part of our heritage to provide for our families through the land, as the older generations passed down the knowledge that times could be hard, so it was important to do so, even when times are good.
Neighbors often worked together, pooling resources for planting, harvesting, and preserving, turning these tasks into social occasions.
As times and lifestyles have changed, so have our living arrangements, with many more people living in town with smaller yards or in apartments. However, the desire to feel our hands in the dirt and have the satisfaction of plucking the fruits of our labor for a fresh dinner has remained the same.
If you live in an apartment with only a small patio or balcony, or maybe not even one of those, it is still possible to have fresh salad greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, and blueberries, to name a few potential crops.
All it takes is a little know-how and elbow grease, and you can be on your way to being a master gardener.
A large variety of plants have been bred to be space savers, growing as short, squat bushes that will grow happily in a container or are tall vines that can be trained up a trellis, taking up vertical space instead of horizontal.
Where Will Your "Garden" Grow?
Choosing a location, or even a couple of locations throughout your space, is the first step in planning your garden.
Most vegetable plants need 6 to 8 hours of light daily, adequate water, and nutrient-filled soil to grow.
Balcony or patio
This will be the best spot for your container garden if you have a sunny patio or a balcony. I have a large standing planter on my patio that I use for herbs. It is next to my kitchen door, so I have easy access to rosemary, thyme, and sage.
Take advantage of all four surfaces, hang baskets from your roof, mount wall planters, and grow larger plants in pots or buckets on the floor.
Just don't forget that you need to be able to get through the maze to water and harvest, and those little plants will get larger in time!
When the weather changes in the fall, I transplant some of my plants into pots and bring them inside to help them survive cold temperatures. I put them on a sunny windowsill, on a wire baker's rack next to the window.
A bright window with a wide ledge is perfect for growing plants. Or use a plant stand or metal bookcase to hold your pots to create a vertical display.
You can even get creative and use an old ladder to put plants on and around.
No Window or Balcony Space
Let's face it, some living spaces are short on natural light, so blocking your one window might not be ideal. This is still not a deal breaker when it comes to plants. The solution is simple. Grow lights!
You can get a relatively inexpensive grow set up on Amazon or your local hardware store.
If you are on a tight budget, you can buy grow light bulbs and put them in regular lamps. Desk lamps are great because they can be turned to focus the light in a particular direction.
To learn more about grow lights, check out our post, "Can I Put a Grow Light Bulb in a Regular Lamp?"
Here is an example of a grow light stand with multiple adjustable arms.
What Can You Plant?
Now that you have chosen a location, you need to decide what you want to grow. There are all kinds of options, but our top 10 picks are as follows:
Tomatoes are one of the most prolific and easiest plants to grow in a container. There is a wide variety and many different colors and flavor profiles, depending on what you use your tomatoes for.
Tomatoes are easy to care for, require full sun (6 to 8 hours per day), need good drainage in fertile soil, and should be watered deeply once or twice a week or when the soil starts to dry out.
Tomatoes also grow well when planted with carrots and basil, so if you use a larger planter, go ahead and tuck some of these in there to make the most of your space.
There are two different types, determinate and indeterminate.
Determinate tomatoes have a bushier, more compressed growing habit, which makes them great for a container or a room with a low ceiling where you will be using a grow light.
Indeterminate are vining, which means you must trellis them as they grow. These types are great if you have a balcony and can install a tomato cage or trellis along a wall.
Burpee has a great new cherry tomato that is perfect for a small space, called the Veranda Red Hybrid. Once it starts producing, it will just keep on all summer long.
Cherry tomatoes are one of my favorite things to grow, as they are very prolific, and delicious in salads and to cook with. I even dehydrate them and pop them in the freezer, ready to rehydrate in some olive oil and use as sun-dried tomatoes in recipes.
I usually have two plants, which provide more than enough for a constant fresh supply for a family of four, with extra to give away or preserve.
If you prefer slicing tomatoes, the Big Boy Hybrid is a great choice. It will set loads of tomatoes, and the vines will spread like crazy, so be sure to have a trellis ready to go. You can also prune the plant to keep it tamed to a manageable size if needed.
2. Green Beans
Green beans are another veggie that can produce a lot of food in a small space. You can find either bush plants that will grow in a compact area or pole beans, which are vining and will need a trellis of some sort to support the plants.
They need full sun and warm temperatures to grow to their fullest potential, so growing them on a balcony or patio is the best option, although you can still make it work inside with a grow light.
Keep them watered and pick beans regularly to keep them producing until frost.
My family loves fresh green beans, so I tend to overplant them. Three trellised plants in an 18-inch pot can provide enough beans for one person all season long!
3. Salad Greens
Salad greens, like leaf lettuce, arugula, or even just a mix of greens, are incredibly easy to grow indoors on a windowsill. They can even be grown all year round, as they prefer cooler temperatures.
A long planter, or a stacked planter, is great for these. Plant a few plants every week or so on a rotation to keep up your supply of fresh salad. Don't pull the plants when you harvest; just cut the leaves about halfway down the plant, and it will grow back!
Carrots are really easy to grow as well! They do require deeper, loose soil to grow long, but I plant them at the base of my tomatoes to save space. They are wonderful companion plants.
Carrots are available in a wide variety of shapes and colors. Step out of your comfort zone and try a rainbow mix for a more colorful harvest!
To learn more, check out our post, "How to Grow Carrots Indoors [A Beginner's Guide]."
A crisp summer favorite, cucumbers are another excellent option for a small garden space, as you can choose bush types that can grow in a small container or vining types that can be trained up a trellis.
There are small pickling types or long slicer cucumbers that are great for fresh eating.
Grow them from seeds to save money, as they are very easy to get started.
If you love peppers, you can definitely add them to your patio or indoor garden!
From spicy jalapeños to sweet and crunchy red bells, there are countless choices when it comes to peppers. Peppers grow in bush form but can get tall, so be sure to plant in a larger 3-5 gallon pot. They may even need a stake for support at their tallest.
They love the hot sun, so be sure to give them 6-8 hours of direct light, whether from the sun itself or a bright grow light.
Patio blueberries are a fun way to get your breakfast antioxidant fix! Blueberry Dwarf Tophat is a variety that only grows to about 1 1/2 ft tall, making it perfect for small spaces.
Blueberries like acidic soil, so you must purchase fertilizer for acid-loving plants.
If you have these plants outside, it is a good idea to use a net to cover the plant to prevent birds from eating all your berries. I learned the hard way that birds are relentless in their love of berries. If they are not netted, you can forget about having any for yourself!
What is better than fresh, sun-ripened strawberries? Not much!
Did you know that 75% of the strawberry crops in the U.S. are grown in California? And that they recently saw an overabundance of rain and flooding that could potentially impact the strawberry supply?
Save yourself the stress of doing without but hanging a strawberry container or two (or more!) on your balcony wall or adding a stacked planter to a sunny corner.
Strawberries grow on spreading, vinelike plants, so they thrive in all sorts of planting situations!
Fresh herbs can make the difference between a meal that is just so-so and a culinary creation. Thankfully, they are very easy and pretty to grow on a sunny windowsill.
Add a row of pots that include rosemary, sage, thyme, and cilantro, among many others.
Starting some herbs from seed can be challenging, so starting with a plant from your local nursery is best. So long as you care for them properly and prune them judiciously, your herb plants will provide season after season.
If you want to grow a wider variety of herbs than just the basics or are limited on window space, check out our post, "How to Make an Indoor Vertical Herb Garden."
For more ideas for plants that you can grow, read "15 Vegetables That You Can Grow Indoors in Winter."
Best Containers for Your Garden
When you are trying to maximize your growing space, it is essential to choose containers that work for your specific situation, as well as the plants that you choose.
I have used all sorts of containers, including recycled cans, bottles, and food-grade buckets with holes drilled in them. You are only limited by your imagination.
A 5-gallon bucket from your local hardware store allows for plenty of depth to support larger plants. Planters and pots can be expensive, so save your empty coffee cans or the like and use them!
Herbs, strawberries, and leafy greens do not need deep containers, as their roots do not delve too deeply. Any container at least 4 to 6 inches deep will be more than sufficient for these plants.
Herbs will grow larger if they are in a larger, deeper planter but do just fine in smaller ones.
Other plants, like tomatoes and green beans, grow larger, so they need to be planted in planters or containers at least 18" in diameter, providing plenty of space for nutrient-rich potting soil to feed your produce.
Soil and Fertilizer
Choosing potting soil is one of the most critical components of your garden. This will provide the nutrition that determines how well your plants produce.
Organic Miracle-Gro Potting Soil or something similar is an excellent choice that is all ready to go into your containers.
That said, you can create your own potting soil by mixing one part each of vermiculite and perlite with two parts peat moss.
For more information on choosing soil, read our post, "Which Soil is Best for Terrace/Patio Garden?"
Enjoy Your Harvest!
While you won't completely eliminate your trips to the grocery store, growing some of your own produce can help.
Gardening also reduces stress and provides a sense of accomplishment, not to mention that home-grown veggies are much tastier than store-bought! So get creative and enjoy the 'fruits' of your labor! What plants have you grown at home? Let me know!