Indoor Gardening Tips for Small Gardens
“I’d garden but I live in an apartment,” “I can’t grow my own food, this house is too small,” and “this city is too packed for me to have enough space to grow anything properly” are all common reasons people think they can’t grow their own flowers and vegetables. Yet people have grown herbs, vegetables, and beautiful flowers in closets and on window sills for a long time. If you've a mind to garden, there’s a place and a way to do so. And now that you aren’t limited to a box of soil, the options available to you are even greater than they were before! Hydroponics equipment has been designed, often by necessity, to fit in small or harsh environments, and it is this strength that will benefit you most in your small-space frontier. Let’s take a look at a few of the options you have for growing in tiny spaces. 5-Gallon Bucket
This is, by far, the quickest and easiest setup to build for a closet hydroponics system (or even a windowsill planter). Direct water culture (DWC) systems use a minimal amount of parts and keep all of your plants close together. Nesting a planter or several net cups in the lid of your bucket (large plastic storage containers work well too, though we recommend using containers that utilize food-grade plastics for health and safety) gives your plants’ roots easy access to the nutrient solution contained in the bucket. Place a few air stones in the base of your bucket and run the air compressor regularly to keep the water oxygenated. You can mount or place your bucket near a window or use a grow lamp if you’re growing in a closet. Either way, you now have roughly 2-square feet of growing space, which is plenty of room for herbs or vegetables such as tiny tomato plants or peppers.
Vertical Grow System
Putting in multiple five-gallon bucket systems is like sprawling out in an airplane: uncomfortable. So, you should take a page from civic engineers and build up instead of out. Vertical systems typically use a nutrient film technique (NFT) or drip system to allow for nutrient flow. Vertical systems can be built as tiered shelves (think of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon), in dramatic spirals, or as a simple zig-zag of channels. These systems are often designed to use planter boxes, small drain pots for a drip system, or long runs of PVC channeling. Vertical grow systems have the most variability in terms of set-up, plant type, and amount of available space. Unfortunately, they also tend to cost a lot more since more parts are required than you’d see in a five-gallon bucket rig. You could also build a tiered set of boxes with an ebb-and-flow system, with the upper tiers feeding the lower ones with the run-off, similar to stepped rice paddy fields. A vertical system is great because it fits in small spaces, such as closets, but can also be mounted near a window or even outside on a porch or balcony.
Hitting the middle ground between the utilitarian five-gallon bucket and the flashy vertical grow system, you’ll find the ubiquitous-yet-elegant window garden. Mounted to the sill or simply placed on a table near a window, these gardens have similar size restrictions to the DWC bucket, but they are usually far more attractive. Drip systems using soil-less mixes such as vermiculite are common, as they’re typically quieter and less obtrusive and can use quieter water pumps. Herbs and leafy plants, or root vegetables such as carrots and beets, are perfect for a drip system like this. A flower planter is not a bad idea if you want to add some color to your apartment with living flowers. It’s also not a bad idea to keep a small grow lamp nearby, for overcast days, or if you’re growing plants when the days are shorter.
The differences between aquaponics and DWC are sometimes blurred, but it’s the closest you’ll come to a self-contained eco-system anywhere. This system is excellent for leafy plants and flowers instead of root vegetables, but vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and even melons have been grown successfully in an aquaponics rig. Aquaponics mixes what’s already an attractive feature, fish, with growing plants. Koi and goldfish are commonly used, though you can use bass or tilapia, too. This system works similar to a DWC in that your plants are nested in the lid with a reservoir beneath. No synthetic nutrients are necessary for your plants; plants and fish form symbiotic relationships, as the plants clean and filter the water while the fish provide nutrients for the plants. This means that you’re only responsible for feeding the fish and ensuring your plants get enough light to grow strong and healthy. An aquaponics system allows you to grow food and flowers without creating an eyesore in your apartment or den, a fantastic hybridization of form and utility.
There are plenty of options for growing plants in confined spaces. Whether that means a closet or deck in your home, or a room or balcony for your apartment, you have choices. Any one of these systems would be a boon to your own personal living, and could boost your home dishes with home-grown products. Are you concerned exclusively with space, or is budget more of a worry? Are you up for a more advanced challenge, or would you rather take a simpler path? The answers to these questions will help you decide which system is right for you. With so many choices, we’d love to know which one is your favorite. Let us know in the comments, or send us examples of your own space saving garden through Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or Instagram!