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Urban Gardening: How To Grow Food in an Apartment

There’s a reason the U.S. experienced a shortage of seed, chickens, piglets, and other farm items over the past two years.

People are waking up to the value of being self-sufficient.

If you can grow your own food, then you’ve just created an amazing layer of resiliency for your family during a disaster.

Apartment Gardening (RentCafe)
Apartment Gardening (RentCafe)

A well-stocked garden means that even if the grocery stores are bare, your family still gets to eat.

But what do you do if you don’t live on 40 acres of prime rural land with space for beehives, chickens, fruit trees, field crops, and gardens? Can you still produce your own food at that point, or are you just toast? 

While there’s no denying that it’s easier to produce your own food if you have more space, the fact of the matter is you can grow your own food within an apartment setting.

Fire escape garden (First We Feast)
Okay, from a safety standpoint, a fire escape garden is not it. (First We Feast)

Not enough to live on, mind you, but enough to make a difference for at least a couple of days.

How exactly do you go about this though? What tools and, better yet, skills does it take?

That’s what we’ll explore today. We’re going to talk about what you can grow in an apartment, the best methods to do so, and lay out what supplies you’ll need to get the job done.

So, let’s take a look at some of the best methods for growing your own food within an apartment.

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What Plants Can I Grow in an Apartment?

Before we can tell you how to grow your own plants, we should probably talk about which ones do the best in an apartment setting.

We’ve narrowed our list to do some of the most popular and easiest to manage greenery.

1. Microgreens

Out of all the methods of apartment gardening, this is the one I utilize the most. Granted, I live on a farm, but this method affords me consistency throughout the year. So, I could easily put it into practice within a small living space.

I grow microgreens on my kitchen counter or on top of my fridge. Even better, I can get a crop of microgreens going within a week. 

For real, it’s that easy. 

Lentil microgreens
Lentil microgreens

But first, what in the world are microgreens

In essence, baby plants.

There are a number of plant varieties out there with edible sprouts packed with a lot of nutrition density.

These have been growing — no pun intended — popular at a lot of farmers’ markets lately. And I’ve even seen them stocked at some local grocery stores. 

Lentil microgreens 2
Nom nom nom!

There’s most certainly a steep price tag to these little delicacies though. Two salads’ worth often costs somewhere around $8.

I’m not willing to pay that.

Something Of a Poor

But, if you’re willing to put in just a little bit of daily effort (perhaps 2 minutes of work a day), you can easily raise your own microgreens for somewhere around $1 a salad. 

I typically grow broccoli and black oil sunflowers for my microgreens, getting them from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and High Mowing Organic Seeds.

Microgreen seed bags
Some of my favorites: Black oil sunflower seeds (left) and broccoli seeds (right)

Seriously, we’re talking about some of the best salads you’ve ever had in your life here!

I fill a bowl half and half with each and then toss in bleu cheese crumbles, candied pecans, craisins, some blueberries. Then I drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top. 

Ya’ll. It’ll make a salad snob out of you too. 

Broccoli microgreen seeds
Broccoli microgreen seeds

The key to doing this is metal bread tins.

I filled these up with dirt I got from Lowe’s — that way you know no other seeds are going to sprout other than what you want to eat.

Then I soaked my seeds for a day and sprinkled them evenly over the top of the dirt.

From there, I spritzed them with a bit of water every day as they grew. 

Black oil sunflower seeds
Black oil sunflower seeds

I’ve found that they seem to like the heat that radiates off of the top of the fridge.

As they grow, though, you want to keep them away from sunlight. This keeps the little sprouts pasty white and tender.

Otherwise, they’ll be a bit tougher.

I layer on a bit of newspaper or paper towels on top of the little guys. Within a week they’ll have grown tall enough to push up the covering, and you’ll know they’re ready to harvest. 

2. Indoor Fruit Trees

Growing your own food grants a lot of joy, and growing your own oranges — well.

If you look around your apartment right now, you may already have some type of small potted tree lurking around a corner somewhere.

But what if that little tree could produce food? 

Thankfully, there are options for such. There are a couple of seed companies out there that carry miniature fruit trees that easily fit within the corner of a room. Bonus, these won’t go through your roof.

Apartment Garden Alley 5
Growing fruit trees in pots on your patio is also an option! This one is a meyer lemon.

Miniature olives, lemon, lime, and even banana trees can be found over at Gurney’s for indoor growing.

This means that even if you don’t have a lot of yard space, you move fairly regularly, or you don’t live in a region with appropriate temperatures for certain fruit trees, you still can grow your own.

That’s fantastic!

They’re one addition to my home that I haven’t put into practice yet. But, I’ve been looking pretty strongly at growing my own coffee beans (yes, there are miniature versions of those bushes as well). 

Concealed Carry Around House
No more Starbucks runs? We’re down!

3. Mushrooms

Out of this entire list, I think that this is probably the most radical. However, radical does not mean impossible.

There are people out there who utilize this method to grow their own mushrooms on a regular basis. 

Personally, I grow shiitake and oyster mushrooms on logs out in a little shady patch of my woods.

This is great, but it takes about a year for the mycelium (the mushroom roots) to fully colonize the log before they’ll start popping out mushroom pimples.

Mushroom log 2
My oyster mushroom log!

A much faster method of growing mushrooms is to use bags filled with moist sawdust.

Mushrooms don’t like to pop up until their mycelium has colonized an entire area. So, a bag of sawdust makes for a pretty quick colonization process.

If sawdust is hard for you to access, spent coffee grounds make a good substitute. 

Apartment Gradening Coffee
Coffee grounds work too!

People who utilize the bag method often end up with mushrooms in about a month’s span.

They’ll continue to harvest mushrooms (around 8-pounds a week) until the mycelium successfully eats through the entire bag’s worth of sawdust.

The cool thing about this method is it can easily be a one-time purchase. By throwing a mushroom or some colonized sawdust into a new bag of sawdust, you can repeat the process forever.

Oyster mushroom log
We’re getting there!

The best mushroom species to try with this are oyster mushrooms. They’re incredibly easy to grow.

All you need is a closet and a humidity tent to keep your fungi from drying out. Tradd Cotter details a fantastic method for doing such in his book Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation.

Paul Stamets (the king of mushrooms) has another great book called Mycelium Running you should check out as well.

Tradd Cotter book
One of my favorite books to start growing mushrooms.

If you just want something simple, then there are kits available on the market. These may get you started in growing your own mushrooms sooner. 

As far as ordering goes, I typically go through Paul Stamets’ company Fungi Perfecti. That said, the U.S. is going through a mushroom spawn shortage at the moment.

You know, because there has to be a shortage of everything right now.

So snatch these up quick if you’re interested.

Snatch
Grab them before they’re gone!

4. Kale 

There’s a very good chance if you’re living in an apartment-type setting you have some form of a balcony, patio, or front porch.

One of the most decorative and beautiful edible plants out there is kale.

You can often find bushy clusters of this purple and dark green vegetable used throughout peoples’ landscaping.

Apartment Garden Alley 7
Purple kale is a seriously pretty plant!

Good news, it takes wonderfully to a container.

This means you could easily keep two pots of kale on your porch and people would just think that you’ve been studying Martha Stewart. 

They wouldn’t assume you’re growing food within your house.

Martha Stewart

Kale is very easy to grow and does well in the cold. With some home-baked bread, a dusting of Parmesan cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil, it makes for a fantastic addition to any meal.

I harvest mine by taking a serrated knife and sawing off the whole plant near the base. Typically I’m able to harvest roughly a gallon’s worth of the veggie per plant. 

And the great thing about it is it grows back!

It’s not uncommon whatsoever to get two to three harvests off of a single plant!

Baby Yoda A Lot

This makes this a sustainable means of continually growing your own food throughout the year while living in an apartment.

5. Lettuce

There’s really no good reason not to grow your own lettuce.

You can pick up a seed packet for all of $3 at your local store. It takes up very little space and is probably the easiest vegetable to grow. You can even start harvesting in 30 days.

Just about any container around your house will do, and it makes a fun little green addition to your kitchen counter. 

Lettuce growing buckets
Here’s the buckets I use to grow lettuce.

The only caveat I’ll add here is that you want loose-leaf lettuce, not head lettuce.

Head lettuce is a gigantic ball of bland nastiness that tends to have problems with bugs and disease.

In contrast, loose-leaf lettuce is hardy, tastes amazing, and will continue to grow even after you cut it. Like kale, I can often get two to three cuttings out of my lettuce before they decide to throw in the towel. 

As far as varieties for such, I highly recommend black seeded Simpson.

It’s a variety I grow every year, and its popularity with other gardeners as well proves that it’s a keeper.

4
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

5. Kitchen Scraps

Did you know that you can probably start a garden with the food that’s already in your house?

I mean, assuming you don’t subsist off chicken nuggets and Mountain Dew here…

But if you have something in your veggie drawer, you might be able to grow it!

Apartment Garden Alley 4
Growing old produce into new plants isn’t hard!

Celery, lettuce, and cabbage are among some of the easiest things to grow from scraps. All you need to do is cut off the stem (that chunky part at the bottom no one likes to eat) and rest it right-side-up in a shallow bowl of water.

Keep the water fresh and topped up, and you’ll start to see roots and new growth in a week or two.

Once the plant has some decent roots and growth showing, it’s ready to go in some dirt for another round of food-makin’!

Carrot tops grow similarly. While you’re not likely to get another carrot out of the deal, you’ll get a nice source of some yummy greens to add to a salad. 

Peppers of all kinds usually have seeds you need to clean out anyways, so save them!

You can sprout them on a damp paper towel or in a juice carton greenhouse, which makes a fun experiment with the kids, too. Once they’ve sprouted, they grow great in bread tins full of soil — just like microgreens.

Want more tomatoes than you’ll ever know what to do with? Plant the whole dang tomato in a pot of soil, and keep it damp-but-not-wet. Boom. All those seeds are sprouting and the fruit is nourishing those little seedlings.

Apartment Garden Alley 2
Allison’s overzealous tomato plants, with grow lights

You might also have some success with cutting up old potatoes into chunks (make sure each chunk has an “eye” on it) and planting those.

You can drill some drainage in a 5-gallon bucket and fill it with a few inches of soil to plant in.

As the plant grows, keep adding soil. This will force the plant to grow lots of roots, which equals more potatoes! 

Some potato varieties you’ll find in the store aren’t good at reproducing, or have been treated to stunt new growth. So, if at first you don’t succeed, try a new variety!

Some other things you can grow from your fridge or pantry:

  • Ginger
  • Beansprouts
  • Turnips
  • Herbs like lemongrass, cilantro, basil, and parsley
  • Pumpkins
  • Onions, shallots, and garlic
  • Pineapples
  • Sweet potatoes
Apartment Garden Alley 8
Besides, pineapples make some funky, trendy houseplants!

Small-Space Composting

Gardening in a small space is hard enough, but what about composting? 

Compost provides lots of nutrients for your garden endeavors. But it can also take up a ton of space and smell a little funky if you want a traditional compost pile.

Apartment Garden Alley 6
Hot Frog Living Composter

If you want to turn your kitchen scraps into super-nutritious plant food, there’s an awesome method that is friendly for small spaces: vermicomposting.

Vermicomposting is the process of using worms to turn food scraps into compost, called worm castings. Yes, you’re farming worm poop.

You can purchase special worm composters, but you can make one with a plastic tote, too. 

Apartment Garden Alley 1
These little guys do a lot of hard work!

All you have to do is save up your kitchen scraps and bury them in the worm bedding once a week or so.

There are certain things that worms can’t break down, like highly acidic citrus peels, dairy, and meat. But they love eggshells, used coffee grounds and tea leaves, and most other scraps.

After a few months, they’ll have eaten everything you’ve given them and made a lot of poop. So, you’ll have to sort them out and refill their bedding.

Apartment Garden Alley 3
Bonus use: when you grow old vegetables into plants, you can feed what’s left to the worms!

That leaves you with some lovely compost for your plants!

Didn’t get all the worms out of the castings? It’s cool. They can go in with your plants and they’ll take care of dying roots and such, all while makin’ castings.

Not to mention, the kids will probably love watching the worms do their thing.

Guerilla Gardening

Want to feel like a hippy version of Jason Bourne?

Guerilla gardening is the ticket –and something of a legal grey area as well.

Jason bourne
No, no… we said seed bomb!

Just toss a few seeds into an unused patch of land that nobody really frequents, and within a short span of time, there will be edible plants growing there. Nobody will be the wiser.

I personally know people who have done this in some of the woods near where I live – sowing chicory, in particular – coming back later to harvest their salads.

Urban guerilla gardening in action!
Urban guerilla gardening in action!

While you most certainly can’t do this on somebody else’s property, finding abandoned and forsaken places in the middle of the woods is unlikely to grant you any trouble.

That said, be mindful of your local laws if you’re thinking about this as an option. Do your research and make sure to follow all local regulations.

If you are thinking about this as an option, then you may enjoy reading Richard Reynold’s treatise on the topic. 

Conclusion

Growing your own food within an apartment can be done, it just takes a bit of creativity.

With a couple of pots from the Dollar Store, a bag of dirt from Lowe’s, and a $10 investment in lettuce and kale seed packets, you can easily get started in growing your own food in an apartment for all of $25.

That’s not bad.

Bob's Burgers Garden
This could be you!

If you consider how much food you’ll be able to grow out of this $25, this very easily pays for itself about two months after you begin.

And when it comes to mitigating our risk to disaster, that’s not only an incredible return on investment, but a great way to keep food in our bellies. 

Are there other tips we didn’t cover above? If so, let us know in the comments below! Not into the work it takes to garden? Check out our list of the Best MREs for your food prepping needs.

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