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Not everyone is a gardener.  Not everyone has a green thumb. So this diary isn't going to be for everyone. But if you're feeling a pinch in your grocery budget and you'd like to try your hand at growing some of your food, and you have a few inches of space to spare where you can set plants to grow (a bookshelf, a window, the top of the refrigerator...), I can give you some tips on how to do that and what is best to grow in micro-spaces.

Let there be light. Or Not.

Not everything needs light.  Or lots of light.  Some low light edibles to grow include mushrooms and sprouts.  Add a decent grow light that has a good balance of red (for fruiting and flowering plants)  and blue (for leafy plants) spectrum lights, and you can add cherry tomatoes, carrots, beets, tiny peppers, radishes, a mix of fresh greens, and even garlic and onions, along with mints, rosemary, sage, basil, oregano, and even stevia.

These lights are inexpensive and suitable for growing edible plants

If you have a sunny window, or can use a reflective mirrored "persicope" to increase your lighting, or have access to sunny balcony or the roof of the building, you can grow much more. People in Third World countries improved their lighting situation with clear soda bottles filled with water.  

Now, you might not be able to poke holes in your ceiling to install a light like this but there are higher tech versions that can be used to funnel light via windows into dark rooms.  I can't find the link I saw a while back about solar tubes that can be installed in windows, but they work much like these that go through the roof of the house.

Of course, buying grow plant bulbs is perhaps the easiest solution. They aren't as expensive as they used to be.

So, that addresses lighting needs.

Space and Containers.

We all feel cramped in the smaller homes, especially if you live in a tiny New York walk-up. There are hidden places to grow food, even there.  On top of a refrigerator, the window sills, and even the walls and the ceiling themselves can become places for growing food. Grow bags, wall pockets, and more can be used for growing edibles.

Wall Pockets are one of my favorite ways to grow in small spaces.  You can buy them or make them yourself.

Heavy fruiting plants can have the fruits tied up with nets (the ones you can get at the market that hold oranges or cherry tomatoes, for instance - or the mini-bel cheese) or with pantyhose that have runners and can't be worn anymore - cut to the needed length and tie them up to support the fruits or vegetables.

Vining plants can be trained up netting - the fish netting you can buy for ornamental use in the home decor section of some stores works well.

Guttering can be hung from the ceiling and filled with a good quality potting soil and planted with edibles - hang a grow light and voila! Salads on demand. 2 Liter soda bottles can be used to make self-watering planters, and hung like curtains in a window to maximize the light and growing space.

Tupperware containers, egg cartons with half egg shells, any container that can hold food can hold plants to grow and eat.

The bathroom is a good place to grow edibles that love moisture - they love the steam from the shower, and can hang from the shower curtain rods, in the window (if there is one), along the edge of the tub, on the back of the toilet, around the mirror...

Hanging planters of any sort can be a great place for growing cherry tomatoes, strawberries, bush beans, herbs, or even smaller cucumbers. Vinelike veggies that tumble over the side are especially effective at using vertical space, such as malabar spinach which provides a spinach like leaf to eat and a sweet strawberry like fruit, cucumbers, some summer squashes, okra, tomatoes, peas, even small watermelons. These require decent lighting to bear fruits, but a sunny window or supplemental grow lights will work.

You can get quite creative with containers for your plants, and with where you place them.


Most of these take some time to set up, but once set up, they mostly just need watering, which can be done if you keep a watering can nearby to water when you pass the plants. You can water while watching TV, or while dinner cooks, or while showering, or washing dishes, or vacuuming, or performing other household tasks.

Harvesting is just a matter of plucking what you need right then.

What to Grow

Mushrooms prefer the dark.  If you like fresh mushrooms, growing them is a matter of benign neglect. You might be able to grow enough mushrooms to trade for tomatoes or zucchini or pumpkins...

Here is a great place to get information and kits on growing mushrooms.   You don't have to buy mushrooms in order to grow them, but it is easier to do so. now carries a large variety of mushrooms starter kits, spores, and inoculants, just do a search for mushroom kits.

Sprouts are also a low light plant to grow and eat.  Like mushrooms, they take very little care to bring big rewards. You can grow all kinds of sprouts - radish, cress, bean, alfalfa, broccoli, peas, wheat, and more.  Check out the Sprout People for the best sprouting seeds and information on growing sprouts.

Outside of mushrooms and sprouts, the following plants do well indoors under grow lights or with minimal lighting.

Tomatoes:  Cherry Belle, Tiny Tim, Small Fry, Sweet 100, Pixie, Golden Pear, Grape, and Romas.
Radishes: all of them, really
Carrots: Danvers Half Long, Tiny Sweet, and fingerling varieties
Beets:  Little Egypt and Early Red Ball
Peppers:  Thai, Long Red Cayenne, Sweet Banana, and Yolo Wonder
Lettuces:  buttercrunch, Tom Thumb head, oak leaf, red sails, drunken woman, speckles, blushed butterhead, skyphos, breen, nevada, mottistone, and celtuce
Spinach:  Bloomsdale, Savoy, and Indian Summer
Micro Greens:  tatsoy, Arugula, Mizuna, mustards, turnips, kale, purple orach, cress, chia:
Dwarf green beans
Edible podded peas and snow peas
Herbs:  cilantro, globe basil, mints, parsley, oregano, dill, thyme, chives, sage, rosemary, lemon verbena, savories, catnip, lemon balm, fennel, pot marigolds, chamomile, and tarragon.
Did you know that tomatoes can grow year round if grown indoors? It makes a beautiful replacement for that inedible tropical foliage plant you might be growing for decor. Keep them pinched back and keep it pruned inside, and you'll have fresh tomatoes all year round. Tomatoes that grow year round will develop a thick trunk and have flowers, green tomatoes, and ripening tomatoes all the time.  You will have to hand pollinate them - a tiny paint brush or a small fan to blow the leaves so they pollinate themselves can work.

Larger Spaces

And if you have a patio, balcony  or a large enough space with at least 10 hours of sunlight a day, you can grow:

Eggplant should have at least a 5-gallon container, with only one eggplant per container. They do best with full sunlight and fertile soil. The first eggplant should grow in 75 to 100 days after planting (2.5 - 3.5 months).

When planting potatoes or other tubers, keep them at least 6 inches apart and 4 inches from the container's sides. Leave space at the top of the container so more dirt can be added to cover the potatoes as they develop. Potatoes also need plenty of sunlight and sufficient drainage, so a patio or balcony works well for them.

Citrus plants are also easy to grow indoors - like the eggplants, they need space. Calamondin Orange, Improved Meyer Lemon, Ponderosa Lemon, Eureka Lemon, Persian or Bearss Lime, Eustis Limequat, Rangpur Lime, Otaheite Orange, Nippon Orangequat also do well as indoor container plants. They need humidity (a humidifier works well) and between 5 and 10 hours of sunlight or high energy discharge lighting as a supplement. They need well drained soil with a pH between 5 and 8, and regular watering - the top inch or two of the soil can dry out, and they shouldn't be left in standing water, so empty the saucer if it fills.

So, with some ingenuity and a bit of time spent setting things up (a weekend, perhaps?), you can be gardening in really small spaces.

Originally posted to Noddy and Itzl on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 01:50 PM PST.

Also republished by Practical Survivalism and Sustainable Living.

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