Apartment Patio Gardening

Despite my past history of being a complete brown thumb (I even managed to kill aloe vera, which requires very little water), despite the fact that I live in the desert, and despite the fact that I live in an apartment with only a 36 square foot patio, I have recently developed an obsession with growing my own garden on my patio.

Yesterday I took a class in Square Foot Gardening at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve. Square foot gardening can be done if your patio is large enough. The layout is 4-foot x 4-foot boxes as opposed to rows, which does have many advantages. It’s less water, space, seeds, soil and work. The garden only require 6 to 8 inches of depth for most vegetables, and since it’s constructed in above-ground boxes, there’s no trampling on the soil which can have a harmful effect on your crops. For more information of this form of gardening, Mel Bartholomew’s comprehensive handbook All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space! is a good place to start.

Because of my space constraints, I’ve decided to go with a container garden. A blog I’ve found especially useful for ambitious gardeners living in apartments and condos is Life on the Balcony. This is a great resource for what works well given your location, the sun and shade situation on your patio/balcony, and which vegetables and herbs plant well together.

Super ambitious as I am, today I ventured to my neighborhood Lowe’s hardward center and purchased 3 bags of Organic Miracle Grow Potting Mix, two long containers for vegetables, and three medium-sized pots for herbs.

All ready to plant!

With fall and winter approaching, I’ve decided to grow spinach, finger carrots, basil, cat grass, and cilantro. The spinach and carrots I’ll plant next month, after the weather has cooled off a bit. This afternoon, I planted the seeds for the basil, cat grass and cilantro. Once the plants have sprouted, I’ll move the cilantro outside since it does okay in cool weather, but I’ll keep the basil and cat grass inside for the winter. Since basil is a summer plant, it will do better inside in the cool temperatures and I’m looking forward to some great winter pestos. The cat grass I’ll keep inside because I don’t want the neighborhood cats invading my garden!

To keep your garden organic, buy both organic seeds and potting soil.

To prep the seeds for germination, fill your pots up with the potting soil. Follow the directions on the seed packets, which indicate how far apart seeds should be spaced and to what depth they should be planted. Water the soil until water drips out the bottom of your pots to ensure the soil is watered all the way through. Cover your pots with plastic bags and place in a cool dark place to allow for germination. Depending on the type of herb, the seeds will begin to sprout in 1-3 weeks. Then the plants can be moved into direct sunlight near a window or outside. During the entire process, check the plants daily to see if they need watering. If the top soil is dry, it’s time to water. Be careful not to overwater, as this could kill the plant.

Basil, Cat Grass and Cilantro germinating in my closet

Other tips I learned in my gardening class:

*Label the pots with a pencil so you know what you’re growing in each container.

*Use a potting mix that’s a mixture of peat moss, vermiculite and compost for optimum growth.

*If you have your plants in painted pots, make sure it’s not a lead-based paint. The lead can get into you’re veggies, and instead of a nice organic veggie, you’ll be consuming a carcinogen.

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4 Responses to Apartment Patio Gardening

  1. Great post, Becky! Now I want to grow herbs in my house. I have some growing outside, but I don’t always remember to water them. I do better with indoor plants.
    I am in the process of canning 20lbs of pickles (they’re brining while I’m at work). Next weekend, I’m getting 20lbs each of peaches and apricots, and the following weekend I’m getting another 20lbs of pickling cucumbers.
    I was watched Julie & Julia while I was prepping the cucumbers last night. Now I want cook everything in Mastering the Art of French Cooking (except aspic).

  2. dreyadin says:

    Um… the “organic” in bagged compost means nothing more than literally carbon based materials. In no way are they meaning chemical free (in fact several like EKO actually are made with processed municipal biosolids + shredded tree materials).. and they are also in no way under any sort of quality control. Compost is not certified organic.. look close at the label. There is no such thing… deliberate misleading marketing ploy.
    Glazed pots retain moisture better than terra cotta pots (btw.. make sure the terra cotta is fired or they will crumble).
    Cat grass is basically a cereal grain.. usually oats or wheat. Cats will eat it (about as frequently as they nibble on blades of grass from the lawn), but I think you are confusing it with catnip/ catmint… which if the plant is bruised they will hunt it down to get their fix. Catnip in bloom attracts bees like crazy, is quite drought tolerant, and is prone to self seeding if allowed (like my yard.. when we mow all the neighborhood nip fiends come out of hiding to get their fix.) Cat grass though, even when bruised they won’t come hunting for it.
    Pencil rubs off.. so does regular pens.. Sharpies are the way to go.
    Generally you want to start seeds in a seed starting mix. Reason for this is that potting mix is not sterile and contains fertilizers. Damping off fungus is common and also feeds off of the fertilizers. It spreads very easily especially in warm damp conditions. If you have damping off issues.. sterilize all tools and containers used before reseeding again in seed starting mix.
    Container size matters, especially in arid locations. The better, bigger, stronger the root system the more stresses the plants can handle. There is something called moisture mizer that is a water retaining gel that helps if you are opting to try shallower containers. Those terra cotta pots will wick away moisture from every side and will pose a challenge, so you’ll want to check more than once a day to make sure it doesn’t dry out. Soil in raised beds and containers heat up faster than in ground… which can not only dry out the container more quickly, but it can stress the plants.
    Keep the spinach from drying out.. and the cilantro.. as they are both prone to bolt very very quickly otherwise.

    I hope this helps as it is things that I have learned over the years. Don’t fall for gimmicks.. there are many ways to garden, the basics are still the same. I had a friend in Chicago that would turn the whole fire escape and patios into a jungle every summer with his herbs, cucumbers, squash and tomato plants.. and he grew them all in 5g buckets he got from a restaurant for free.

    Best of luck to you!

  3. So excited to see another obsessed patio gardner in Las Vegas! Look me up on Facebook. I’d love to meet other area square foot gardners!

  4. MzDezy says:

    Good info, thanks for sharing!

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