My dad’s gardening tips from last week prompted Regina Tan to ask if I’d discuss how to grow edibles in small, urban spaces. Instantly, I was transported back to the days of living in a tiny apartment in Los Angeles. My boyfriend (now husband) and I gained a nice size, albeit shady, plot right under our kitchen window when a plumbing issue arose and plumbers had to dig up the pipes.
Rory asked the landlord (a nice Korean lady) if we could grow stuff in the 3 by 5-foot area, and she concurred. That summer I grew yellow pear tomatoes, Japanese eggplant, basil, and squash. We went to Europe on vacation (the bachelor postman upstairs watered for us) and returned to a jungly garden of edibles.
You don’t need a lot of space to grow food to eat. In fact, Sunset magazine estimates that a 4 by 4-foot space (square meter) is enough. But you can grow things in even small areas, tucked into here and there. Wherever there’s a spot of consistent sun, you can grow something. Think of it as nano or guerilla gardening. Some ideas to consider:
If you have a large balcony or better yet, a patio (small, medium, or large) you can be more ambitious. When Rory and I rented a Santa Monica apartment, this is how I grew a bunch of stuff years ago:
The concept is brilliant because you’re using a single giant pot to grow upwards, downwards and in between. One big pot of soil retains moisture well (you water less often) and the plants have room to root downwards. Crowding the plants is okay! I often halve the suggesting spacing between plants.
Or, you can also stack two pots to create a small terrace effect. It’s attractive but make sure the top one is set level on the bottom one:
Indoor counter and ceiling: With no outdoor spaces, try using an Aerogarden. It’s pricey to get all the equipment but once you have everything, you can start your own Asian herbs from seed and cultivate them year round! Or, set your herbs in small pots on a sunny window sill or counter. Put a water-proof tray below the pots to prevent moisture from marring the surface underneath.
Walls and fences: Pocket planters are charming and you can plant them individually or in rows (vertical or horizontal). If you’re not handy, buy something like this from Wooly Pocket. It holds half a cubic foot so you can grow a decent number of herbs in it. Again, crowd them in.
Or, make your own from instructions from thekitchen.com.
Roof: My friends John and Mike live in a building where some of the tenants grow potted herbs on the rooftop. There’s a drip system so watering isn’t a major hassle. With no taller building nearby, their plants enjoy full-sun exposure. And if your dog doesn’t mind, how about growing food atop his/her dog house?
To survive the near-famine conditions of post-1975 Vietnam, an uncle of mine created a small farm of sorts on the roof of the building where he lived in Saigon. As long as there’s a flat space and sun, you can grow something to eat.
Share your small-space gardening ideas or experiences!