By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News
I will preface this by saying, I am a black thumb. I have killed more houseplants than I would care to admit, as a result of both ignorance, and neglect, and I continue to rely on a plant app on my phone to remind me to water them with any sort of frequency. I am not an expert. That being said, I am pretty crafty and frugal, and in the spirit of budget and space-friendly urban growing. With a bit of foresight and creativity, I was able to grow a modest offering of veggies just utilizing only my balcony.
In keeping with a low-waste, the best bang for your buck mentality, my partner and I utilized a lot of our store-bought winter produce for our apartment-friendly summer “garden”. We started harvesting seeds from our bell peppers, jalapeños, chillies, Roma tomatoes, and cherry tomatoes. After I was finished with the produce, I got to work, spreading the seeds out on a paper towel to dry out for a few days before labelling and storing until early spring. When I began the process of planting our little seedlings, I used cardboard egg containers as the planters before transferring them into larger containers or pots. When I realized my “scraps” could set me up for summer harvest, I began saving and collecting seeds for family and friends who planted larger gardens too.
One of the biggest deterrents for me getting into gardening sooner was the perceived cost, and my lack of outdoor space. Indeed, there is also a time commitment to grow food, but I quickly learned with a bit of patience and creativity, I was able to set myself up with a lot of the basics for next to nothing. Cardboard egg containers were a really great seedling growing tool containers. Although gardening centres offer small paper seed starters for a few dollars, for me, I wanted to repurpose as much of my materials as possible. I ended up using a clear miniature greenhouse from IKEA and a cupcake carrier with a cover, to grow my seedlings, indoors, which kept the seedlings moist as they germinated and sprouted. After they were large enough to transplant I used soft plastic containers and tubs which formally held store-bought yogurts or dips, drilled small holes for drainage, and were the perfect intermediate growing vessel as the weather warmed up.
I found that a lot of gardening Facebook pages and garage sales often had larger pots for next to nothing or free, and allowed me to repurpose something formerly destined for the landfill. Another inexpensive and sturdy container for larger pepper or tomato plants were thick-walled plastic pails which are sometimes available for a small fee at grocery stores or swap and buy groups.
Even if you have no interest in growing something from seed, with a bit of foresight, there are a lot of other items which can be extended beyond their initial “life”. Some examples are spring onions or garlic shoots. Spring onions do not require planting; you can simply stick the roots into a glass of water and trim as you need. Be sure to change out the water every few days. The rooted ends will continue to produce stalks for weeks to come. Additionally, if you stick a garlic clove into a small planter with dirt, very quickly you will have shoots, a milder, fast-growing, offshoot that is perfect for garnishing dishes or eating raw. In a similar vein, lettuce heads will regenerate like magic if you put them into a container with some dirt and water frequently. Similarly, celery will regenerate if you cut the stalks and leave a few inches at the bottom, set it root-side down in a container of water or potting soil, and give it a few weeks for new stalks to grow up from the centre.
Hanging baskets and large pails give urban growers the flexibility and space to grow higher-yielding produce such as peppers or tomatoes without a yard. Although there are plenty of challenges associated with small-space urban gardening, one clear advantage is the ability to control where your plants sit in your space. Hanging or moveable pots provide the ability to reduce or increase sunlight by moving the entire plant. If your drought-tolerant or sun-loving plants need more hours of direct light, you can easily reposition them. Similarly, if you are scorching your tender greens, it is an easy solution to move them out of direct sunlight.
Even if you only get a few salads worth of produce, it is worth learning how to utilize small urban spaces to engage in a hobby that is typically perceived to be reserved for people with large yards.