Phenomenal Growing Possibilities in Itty Bitty Living Spaces
If you have ever grown a houseplant, you can grow greens. Chris Bond goes through some of the different locales and tricks to try to make the best of what you have.
While idyllic, a grand garden or lush, rolling fields are not required to grow greens. Almost anyone in almost any space can grow some food. Obviously, having a yard or access to a community garden is a more traditional solution, but if you live in an urban area or in a home with no usable yard, fret not. There are ways to grow greens in even the tiniest and somewhat obscure places.
The “Easy Options”
These options are so commonplace, so tried-and-true, that they can be overlooked, but they still work and are a great way to start growing some of your own greens or other vegetables in small spaces. They’re listed here in no particular order.
Growing by the Windows
All greens need light to grow. Fortunately, greens do not require as much light as other crops and the amount of filtered light that comes in through the average window will often provide the necessary light for growing greens. This may not, of course, be true at all times of the year or if you happen to only have a north-facing window. In these circumstances, additional grow lights will be needed to supplement. Still, having said all that, a window box or a few pots with successively planted lettuce or other greens placed inside a window can provide enough food for a regular salad, garnish to a meal, or can be mixed into a wide variety of soups and stews. Kale and chard are particularly good for this, and they are also cold tolerant for those drafty windows. After all, it is often much cooler by the windows than in the interior of the house in the colder months. Still, window-side growing may have to be suspended for a few months per year if it gets too cold.
Growing in the Bathroom
Bathrooms are often the most humid room in the house. Use this extra moisture to help nourish plants. Lighting is often a prohibitive factor with bathroom growing, but the addition of a supplemental grow light could make the bathroom capable of providing the quickest crop turn-around of all possible rooms in the house. Without that light, however, the same moisture and warmth that makes the bathroom a viable grow space will invite any number of fungal problems to your indoor grow. So, keep the light at the forefront of thought if opting to grow in your “head.”
Growing on the Walls
You hang art on the wall, why not food? After all, growing vertically has been done for centuries (Hanging Gardens of Babylon, anyone?). Don’t underestimate the amount of available square footage of growing space on your walls. So long as all the plants’ light, water, and nutrient needs are met, there is no reason that you could not be growing greens on your walls year-round. For best results, selecting walls that face southeast, south, or southwest. You will, of course, need to make sure that there is sufficient support to do so. If unsure that your walls are structurally sound enough to take the weight of hanging pots of plants, the same principle can be achieved with shelving units.
Growing in Your Furniture
Yes, this one takes a bit of creativity to imagine, let alone create, but it can be done. Though this is the most difficult on this list to achieve, it really just takes advantage of the same principles that allow a terrarium to survive. Imagine: a Plexiglass, polycarbonate, or even glass chamber with soil, greens, and sufficient ventilation built into a fully functioning coffee table, dining room table, or dining room chairs. Not only would this be a highly efficient use of space, but think of the conversation starter it would be. This is not as far-fetched an idea as it may seem. A simple search engine perusal of images will provide countless examples of folks who have incorporated growing plants into their furniture pieces. This option is often better for handy individuals or those that can afford to have their furniture built custom.
You can attempt to hydroponically grow greens in any room of the house where you would put an aquarium. The principles are very similar. As with any other indoor growing environment, greens grown hydroponically need light, water (obviously supplied in a hydro system), and nutrients since they will not be able to pull any from the soil. There are as many different hydroponic systems as there are hydroponic growers. A good place to start is with an aquarium, pump, and floating system to get your feet—or rather, your plants’ roots—wet.
This is the next level up from keeping a pot of spinach or basil on the kitchen counter. Several companies make aeroponic growing devices that are usually all-in-one solutions and can be used to grow food anywhere. They do this by providing light, water, and a place for your plants to grow. Such devices generally take up a very small footprint, and while they are usually set in the kitchen, they could be put anywhere around the home. Note that aeroponics is probably the least cost-effective method of growing your own greens on this list as the cost of such devices usually take quite a while to pay for themselves. There are, however, numerous DIY plans to be found on how you can build and use a similar device.
Growing on the Balcony/Patio/Porch
Most people favor colorful annuals and hanging baskets when growing in these outdoor spaces attached to dwellings. That is fine if aesthetics are what you want, but that same space could just as easily be dedicated to growing your own nutritious greens. You don’t have to sacrifice color, either. Many greens provide awesome, even striking colors. For example, rainbow chard is not only healthy and a prolific producer, but it is beautiful too. You could also take advantage of the numerous edible flowers available. A pot of red Russian kale surrounded by brightly colored pansies can make a statement as well as a meal. Trailing nasturtiums with their orange, yellow, and reddish edible blossoms and edible leaves can easily grow up a trellis. Lettuces, beet greens, and other braising greens come in a wide variety of colors that can make your landscape and your plate interesting to look at.
Growing in Cold Frames
This one does require access to outdoor space, but this can be successfully done in even the smallest of city lots. Cold frames are made by placing old windows (be mindful of lead paint), glass doors, Plexiglass, or any other opaque material at an angle on a south-facing wall of a structure, or they can be made to be free standing with bales of straw as walls. Placement up against a house is preferable to a garage or other building as there is a lot of heat that escapes from an occupied home and a cold frame can capture some of that. Cold frames can consistently produce many pounds of cold-tolerant greens throughout the winter (or at least for several weeks later that could be harvested in soil alone) and several weeks before planting would be possible in the spring. The keys to successful cold frame growing are choosing cold tolerant crops (greens are ideal for this) and having as insulated a structure as possible facing the sun. The beauty of cold frames and their ability to heat the soil and grow space many degrees warmer than the surrounding space also means that they need to be monitored frequently and will need ventilation so that the greens inside do not get too warm. This is not a recommended method for novice growers, but is something that can be attempted on any scale when you have a little bit of growing experience under your belt.
There are by far many other options for growing greens in tight spaces than just those listed above. Every living space can be re-examined with an eye towards efficient food production. Ceiling hooks meant for pots and pans can be repurposed to hold hanging baskets bursting with greens and herbs, right in the kitchen where they will be used anyway. A dining room table centerpiece could just as easily be a pot of living herbs that each diner can pluck off to season their own meals as needed. Curio cabinets and hutches can become living galleries of glorious greens that change with the season and with each harvest. There is literally no limit to the number of spaces in even the smallest of living areas where greens and herbs can be grown and enjoyed.
Written by Chris Bond | Certified Permaculture Designer, Nursery Technician, Nursery Professional
Chris Bond’s research interests are with sustainable agriculture, biological pest control, and alternative growing methods. He is a certified permaculture designer and certified nursery technician in Ohio and a certified nursery professional in New York, where he got his start in growing.