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.
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 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.
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.