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How to start your own apartment garden

Locally grown food just got closer. If you crave the flavor of home-grown carrots or cucumbers, the taste can be yours, even if you don’t have a backyard. You can grow a garden just as delicious (if not as plentiful), with no more space than your apartment provides. Take advantage of that balcony you never use or that empty corner in your living room and start growing your own edible garden.

The benefits of growing your own food are endless, says Ramona Clark, executive director of Boulder-based gardening organization Growing Gardens.

“When you grow your own food, you know exactly what went into it and you develop a relationship with the plant,” Clark says. “You harvest it at its best, and you get all the nutrition. The store’s food might be two or three days old, and when you make your own, you’re eating it that day. It’s the healthiest food you can put into your body.”

And luckily, almost everything you can grow in the ground can be grown inside — just not all at the same time.

WHERE TO START

Creating a miniature garden begins with containers, which range from 6-inch pots to gigantic whiskey barrels. Selecting the proper barrel size all depends on the plant. Alison Peck, owner of landscape design company Matrix Gardens, suggests choosing the biggest container possible.

“Life will be easier if you plant in large containers,” Peck says. “To be healthy, plants need a healthy root system, and it will be easier if they have a lot of soil to stretch their roots out into. Smaller containers stress plants out. A small container can dry out in two hours on a sunny balcony.”

Choosing the right vegetable depends on the microclimate of your garden, Peck says. Southernfacing decks and windows get the most sunlight, so hot weather plants like tomatoes, squash and peppers will flourish. But if your apartment is shrouded in darkness, plant vegetables like lettuce, which do better in the shade.

Get creative with different plants, like citrus dwarf trees, which, Peck says, grow to be about 3 feet tall, have long lives and are resilient to changing temperatures. Also, the citrus scent will leave your home smelling delightful.

PREVENTING THIRSTY PLANTS

Container gardens do require more babysitting to maintain the delicate balance of temperature and hydration.

“You need to keep an eye on your container, because you have to make sure the soil doesn’t get too dry or too hot or too cold,” Peck says. “When you’re gardening in the earth, you have all this soil, and the roots can reach out to get water, but in a container the plants depend more on you.”

Remember, the sometimes scorching Boulder sunlight will require watering multiple times a day.

“If you have a lots of hot-weather plants like tomatoes, basil and rosemary, since they have less soil, they need a lot of water, and, so they don’t roast, that might require watering twice a day,” Clark says.

For that reason, self-contained watering containers come in handy. Julie Hauser, owner of Indigo Landscape Designs, recommends getting creative and making your own. Line your container with a piece of string or candle wick, then drill a tiny hole in a bucket and string the yarn through. Fill the bucket with water and hang it like a potted plant. The water will run down the string, keeping your plant moist all day, or for a weekend away.

But don’t forget to include drainage holes in your container. Otherwise, you’ll drown your plants.

“The roots of the plant will sit in water,” Hauser says. With soil closer to the air, there’s more evaporation and the soil appears dry, “so you’ll water it again, but the roots are drowning. ”

UTILIZING YOUR SPACE

Balconies, apartment corners or window sills might only give you a few feet of area to work with, but don’t fret; there are plenty of ways to work around a lack of space. Instead of branching out, why not branch up, with vertical gardening? You can drape plants like tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and beans on a tall trellis, saving you valuable floor space.

Also, choose plants that take up less room. Instead of planting tomatoes that grow on vines, plant a tomato bush, says Peck.

Companion planting will save you room, too. Tomatoes and basil don’t just work well together on pizza; they also love sharing the same pot. Hauser suggests getting a container big enough to handle more than six plants. But choose plants that will get along.

“You want to make sure you plant plants that are compatible and have similar requirements in terms of heat and watering,” says Ashley Giles, manager of garden center Sturtz & Copeland. “You can’t plant Mediterranean herbs, which like it drier and hotter, with tender leafy herbs that need more water.”

Ask for some guidance before selecting your seeds or seedlings.

GROWING INSIDE ADVANTAGES

Growing a garden in your apartment is usually a decision made out of necessity, but there are some ben efits that make up for it, including an extended grow season. Colorado’s schizophrenic weather cuts the growing season down to only a few months, but luckily, gardening inside can trick a plant into thinking it’s spring all year long.

“Your indoor environment is technically a summer environment with warm, even temperatures,” Giles says. “In theory, you can have a garden year-round.”

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