“I started my window garden for a few reasons,” says Alana Elliott. Once upon a time, the 30-year old dreamed of owning a small house with a small yard and a small garden.
Even though Toronto’s real estate market made that impossible, it didn’t stop her from planting seeds and growing vegetables in her 10th-floor condo.
“I have my small garden now, just not in a backyard,” she says.
According to Statistics Canada, more than 20 per cent of personal fruit, herb, and vegetable gardens grown in Canada are being grown indoors, and millennials are also itching to get their hands dirty in soil-based gardens.
Alana’s blended garden of basil, oregano, tomatoes, strawberries, broccoli, catnip, cat grass, garlic, and spinach offer decor and privacy in what she describes as an otherwise stark boxy condo with wall-to-wall windows.
She says the garden is all-in-one art and a less expensive alternative to drapes, not to mention the fresh vegetables it puts on her table.
“Last year, I was able to make tomato sauce entirely out of ingredients we grew in our window,” she says. “That was an amazing feeling.”
In addition to her southwest-facing window garden, Alana also has plants growing in her bedroom as well as outside on her very tiny, shady balcony.
“I think it would be amazing if more people in our building grew different things, and we could have our own condo-wide farmers’ market,” she says.
It could happen. In densely populated cities around the world, tiny rooftop and backyard gardens are popping up as millennials look for a closer connection to their food.
What’s more, demand by socially conscious young people for fresh food is outpacing demand as the food supply chain becomes more saturated with unhealthy, processed foods.
Never mind the fact that in the US from 2007 to 2012, the number of active farmers dropped by 100,000 while young people planning on working a large farm for a living dropped by 20 per cent.
Farming has gone from massive single plots in the Heartland to millions of tiny plots in urban centers. While most of these urban farmers don’t claim to be farmers, their acts of growing and being interested in growing is changing the face of agriculture.
Millennial Katie Breukers has also been growing indoors. In fact, for the past two years, her 900 square-foot Muskoka home, particularly her living room, has run like a well-oiled greenhouse, producing zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and a lot of sweet basil and mint, year-round. In the spring, she grows vegetable and herb plants to sell at her local market.
“There is nothing better than harvesting and using items that you produced yourself. I love teas, salads, and roasted vegetables,” says Katie.
On top of prices and quality, the 27-year-old wanted to know where her food was coming from, how it was grown, and how long ago it was harvested.
“I was always craving fresh vegetables and salads through the fall and winter months and was disappointed by the quality of produce available and the price that just steadily increases during the off-season,” says Katie.
And what millennials want has plenty of economic pull. They are currently the largest generation in North American history and as they begin reaching their prime spending years, their impact on the economy is expected to be noteworthy, as studies have shown they are generally dedicated to wellness, devoting time and money to exercising and eating well.
Currently, Katie’s living room is where most of her plants are kept. There is a large window and mini greenhouse frames and tables set up to accommodate her plants at every stage. She’s also incorporated T5 grow lights to supplement the plants when the weather in Muskoka is less than agreeable. A secondary space is set up in the kitchen, which is home to specialty plants, new cuttings, and seedlings.
While indoor gardening certainly makes sense in a world that is growing up instead of out, it doesn’t come without its own set of challenges. But with a little research, diligence, and TLC, any obstacles are easily overcome with plenty of resources online.
“It took a while to realize that the lack of predators indoors allows a variety of pests to multiply quickly,” says Katie.
In lieu of big box store soils, which tend to have pest larvae in the mixtures, she creates her own potting mixes based on the soil preferences of what she’s growing. She also recommends not overwatering plants and adding a layer of aquarium gravel to reduce the chances of unwanted guests in the soil.
Read More: How to Make a Perfect Potting Mix
For Alana, the main indoor pests are her two cats who nibble at the catnip while it tries to grow.
Watering is also time consuming, she says.
“I would love to just be able to take a hose to everything, but I have to slowly and carefully water every item individually to avoid overwatering and having the drainage water flow down our walls,” she says. “Indoor gardening is a labor of love.”
She says it can be disheartening not to yield any fruit after months of nurturing a plant.
“Last year, I had a grape tomato plant that produced so much, I was giving tomatoes away to friends and family. At the same time, I had a roma tomato plant that only produced three tomatoes all season. This year, I had two beefsteak plants that didn’t produce at all, but the lush tomato greens provided privacy and that amazing tomato plant smell, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time,” she says. Basil always does really well, so I’ve made quite a bit of pesto from our garden.”
Every year, she chooses a challenge plant, something that seems insane to grow inside. Last year, she tried cantaloupe, which almost worked until an unfortunate pruning accident snipped the only growing melon.
“I have learned to celebrate the small gardening victories,” she says. “I’m happy if something sprouts, happier if it matures as a plant, and happiest if it produces.”
Katie has also learned a lot her experience with indoor gardening. She says she has learned a lot through her experience with indoor gardening, especially patience; not trying to rush a harvest, and planting in cycles to ensure she has enough food to for the number of people she is trying to accommodate.
“Also, broccoli plants grow way larger than I ever imagined,” she says. “I had three at one time and they took up most of our spare room. You could barely move in there.”
Alana, however, admits if her livelihood depended on her crops, she would be long out of business.
“I have a crazy amount of respect for farmers,” she says.