Updated on 03.15.07

How To Start A Simple Garden – Even In An Apartment

Trent Hamm

There are few things more enjoyable for a frugal person than to eat food you’ve grown yourself, picked, and brought almost straight to the table. Unfortunately, with today’s busy lifestyle, most of us don’t have time for a large garden, as they require a lot of maintenance work, so we replace this by visiting farmer’s markets or, even worse, buying vegetables and herbs at the grocery store that have been sitting there for days.

The truth is that one can have a small garden anywhere. All you need is a bit of time and the desire to grow some vegetables and herbs in your domicile. It’s quite easy, too. Here’s what you can do if you’ve never tried it before.

Start small – very small. This is especially true if you live in an apartment and don’t have much space anyway. Get one or two small pots and just grow everything in those. The first year I grew my own, I had a cherry tomato plant in one pot and some cilantro in another one; the pots sat near the window in a guest bedroom that also had a single natural light in there, too.

Focus on a very small number of different plants. What vegetable do you most enjoy? For me, it is usually cherry tomatoes, so I like growing two or three cherry tomato plants each year; during their harvest, I’m in heaven. I also grow a couple very hot pepper plants (habaneros) and some cilantro almost every year, giving me nearly enough material to make my own salsa. The advantage here is that things aren’t too complicated and it’s easy to tend to them.

Choose a place with adequate sunlight – or get some natural light bulbs. If you have a window with room for potted plants nearby, this is the place to use. Even if you have a window, I also recommend a lamp with a few natural light bulbs that do a good job of replacing sunlight.

Research your plant and buy an appropriate pot. For example, I had one small cherry tomato plant in a single flower pot, and then a flat bottomed, larger pot full of cilantro (and in future years other herbs). These two took up the top shelf of a small bookcase and provided a good harvest of cherry tomatoes and a ton of cilantro.

Use good soil. I reuse it for years, but the first batch you should get should be good stuff. Stop by a gardening store, tell them what you’re doing, and ask for their recommendation.

Get a handful of worms. These can usually be had at a bait and tackle shop. The worms get down in the soil and do a good job of breaking down some of the organics in the soil for easier absorption by the plants.

Set a clear watering schedule. Find out how much water the plants need (again, a simple internet search will tell you what you need to know), and plan a clear watering schedule. This makes it easier to keep up with what you need to do. I often water the plants using water I used to boil vegetables, as that would otherwise be waste water.

Weeding. Surprisingly, weeding is almost nonexistent with such a situation, especially for the first year (you can reuse the soil for years, esp. if you have worms). This is a big advantage of a “potted” garden.

Enjoy it. For the effort you put in (which isn’t that much), the enjoyment of an abundance of truly fresh vegetables at harvest time is well worth it.

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  1. Nishant says:

    This article made me chuckle. I did start small, very small actually. I got a bonsai tree for my desk last year and unfortunately could not keep it alive. We had an ant infestation in our house during that period and they started eating my plant. We used boric acid to get rid of the ants, and my wife poured it onto the plant as well. Before long, all the leaves fell off and it dried out. Maybe it is time to try again.

  2. Ali says:

    A good resource for our tiny garden has been Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. He also has a website. Last year we grew about 3 lbs of broccoli in a one-foot square space (we ate some and froze some). I found it to be very practical advice and not as dry as lots of other gardening books I’ve read. Plus, with a tiny garden, it was easier for my preschoolers to help out–even if I had to replant the seeds once or twice. They loved it. This year we already have broccoli, peas, tomatoes, spinach and carrots planted in two small squares totaling 16-square feet each.

  3. I would never have thought of putting worms in an indoor plant bed. Smart.

    I’m more an outdoor, dig up the back yard gardner. This post is confirmation that it’s time to get out there and show the kids what daddy used to do to de-stress before they came on the scene.

    I’m subscribing to your feed. Check mine out too. you sound like an “actionist”.

  4. Christine says:

    Mmm. I have decided that next year I’m growing tomatoes and chives in my dorm room.

    Luckily I talked to my future roomate and she doesn’t mind.

  5. Kevin says:

    We don’t exactly have a garden, but we do have several plants we try to keep alive. It’s a great thing — something green really makes the place look a tad bit better.

  6. Derek says:

    Interesting thought on the worms. We do a lot of pot growing of tomatoes on our patio. I might grab some earthworms are the first big rain in the spring (if I can be the Robins) and throw them in the pot.

  7. katy says:

    I’m a huge fan of container gardening – last summer I had tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, and jalapenos all in pots on the roof of my apartment. In fact, I still have one bell pepper and one tomato plant alive indoors! This year I’m looking get a plot in a nearby community garden so I can expand my harvest. Gardening is a great hobby and an excellent way to practice frugality.

  8. Seth Miller says:

    I bet this is just another reason you are looking forward to moving in to a house.

  9. Mike H says:

    Great idea!!

    In your opinion, if we have a small porch area with plenty of room for this, would you recommend using part of the porch, or doing it inside? There are both covered and uncovered sections of the porch, if that matters.

    Thanks for the idea.

  10. I’ve read conflicting advice on the worms-in-pots thing.

    Yes, they help break down organic matter. However, they also create little tunnels through your soil. This is good in the garden, where you want air and water to penetrate deeply. But in a pot, it means the water flows straight through and out the holes in the bottom, without really soaking into the soil properly.

    An alternative (what I do) is to keep a worm farm to get rid of your kitchen scraps, and then use the “worm water” (diluted) and worm castings to fertilise your pots. Works great!

  11. Becky says:

    I spotted a struggling little worm outside near one of my flower pots last year and decided to put him in there. Those flowers did absolutely AMAZING. I’m definitely going to try the same thing this year.

  12. Tara says:

    I wish the internet had been around when I was a kid. Then my Mom would have had access to info like this and wouldn’t have been as credible with her “our yard is too small” excuse. We had a standard sized city plot, btw. Plenty of space for a small garden, if she’d really wanted to.

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