Getting Fresh: Square Foot Gardening Tips for Apartment Dwellers

The following is a guest post by Lisa Shoreland.

I’ve been renting various spaces for almost five years now, so I know what it’s like to have the local grocery store’s produce section as your go-to source for “fresh” fruits and veggies. Sometimes, you have to wonder what exactly goes into those unnaturally pink tomatoes. More than once, I’ve left a grocery store without any produce, only to find that the next vendor is no better – and while the farmers’ market is great, it’s not always available. So what’s the solution?

Square foot gardening is my answer to the challenge of growing fresh produce in a limited amount of space. If you’ve never heard of it before, it’s the simple practice of growing plants in square-foot areas of soil – either in the ground, in a box raised just above ground level, or even on a table or other elevated surface. It’s the perfect way for an apartment dweller to keep a garden, and the best part is that this little square of dirt can yield more fruits and veggies than you can handle. The following tips can help you get started on this project and keep it up through the summer and early autumn months so you can enjoy a truly fresh harvest.

Preparing Your Container

You can either build your own square foot gardening container or find and modify an existing container. The box needs to be capable of holding six to eight inches of dirt and should have holes or some other way of draining excess moisture. Square wicker baskets work well for this purpose, or you can punch holes in the bottoms of square planters. If you build your own box, use untreated lumber for the sides and a plywood bottom so no harmful chemicals can seep into your soil. Make sure the bottom of your box has plenty of holes for drainage and that you place it in a spot that gets at least partial sunlight. To start out, you might want just one or two boxes, but you can always add more later as space permits.

Using the Right Soil

For square foot gardening, I recommend a combination of one part vermiculite (a natural mineral that acts as a soil conditioner), one part peat moss, and one part compost. All of these components can be found at your local hardware or home improvement store – simply mix them together and fill your box or boxes with six to eight inches of “soil”.

Watering & Irrigating

If you’re around to water your plants consistently (more than once a day), you don’t have to worry about irrigation unless the weather in your area is excessively hot and dry. Use a watering can to give your plants a drink in the morning and afternoon or evening, but don’t over-saturate the soil because this can drain out all the nutrients. If you can only water in the morning, fill a used water bottle and poke a small hole in the middle of it. Dig a small half-inch-deep trench in an unused portion of your garden and lay the bottle in it horizontally with the hole facing down. This will start a slow, steady drip of water into the soil that will last for hours.

Planting & Raising Seedlings

You can plant seeds right away or grow seedlings indoors, depending on the harshness of your weather and the greenness of your thumb. It’s simpler to start with seeds, but if that doesn’t work, you can always switch to starting seedlings inside. Just bring the box indoors and make sure it stays warm without getting overheated, and you should start seeing some green. Plant your seeds according to the package instructions – for example, if the package says to leave a foot of space in between plants, you can plant one seed or seedling in your square foot garden. If it says to leave an inch between plants, you can have sixteen in your garden – it depends on the size and roots of each type of plant, so this is something to look at when you’re deciding what to grow.

Rotating “Crops”

As soon as your square foot of gardening space is empty, you can start another type of plant. This gives you the opportunity to enjoy a variety of produce, flowers, herbs, and other plants as long as the weather in your area can sustain growth.

Bio: Lisa Shoreland is currently a resident blogger at Go College, where recently she’s been researching scholarships for minorities as well as how to deal with getting student loans with bad credit. In her spare time, she enjoys creative writing, practicing martial arts, and taking weekend trips.

Photo: Public Domain

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