Tag Archives: apartment gardening

Book Review! Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen

This book is amazing!  I got it from the library, but am seriously considering buying my own copy:  such is the radness contained herein.  Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen also wrote The Urban Homestead, which I dug, and I think this book is even better, or at least a fantastic follow-up.  In the intro to Making It, the authors talk about how The Urban Homestead was basically a book of ideas, and they wanted to follow that up with a practical toolbox.  I’m all for this line of reasoning — we need broad and inspiring visions for the future every bit as much as we need the nuts-and-bolts skills for how to get from here to there.

Coyne and Knutzen have a pretty epic urban homestead from the sounds of things, but many of these projects will also be completely within reach for folks who live in apartments and are just starting to learn how to garden or compost or become do-it-yourself makers of stuff.  I like how approachable they make the process of learning:  the book is organised into five sections:  day to day, week to week, month to month, season to season and infrastructure.   Each individual project gives you a very clear idea of the time commitment you’re making by taking it on.  If you’re working from the day to day section, you can start with what the authors describe as “gateway projects that may addict you to a more homegrown lifestyle,” such as homemade oil lamps that take five minutes to make, simple homemade tooth powder, styling gel (just flaxseeds and water, amazingly enough!), and the like.  Week to week tackles anything from easy one-pot meals to old-fashioned vinegar-based sodas like the adorably named switchel to basic sewing skills.  Month to month will school you on indoor gardening, tinctures, cloth menstrual pads and many other handy things.  Season to season contains more ambitious projects like soap-making, saving seeds, and how to espalier.  Basically, this book will inspire you, but also give you the practical tools and instructions needed to turn that inspiration into concrete results.

If you’re feeling inspired already, but your copy of Making It hasn’t appeared o the library hold shelf, I would recommend checking out Coyne and Knutzen’s blog, Root Simple.  They are mega frequent bloggers, posting anything from cool random DIY links to more involved tutorials or descriptions of their projects.  Definitely worth adding to your list of places on the internet machine to check out from time to time.

My initial quick browse through Root Simple turned up some inspiring and varied projects that I wanted to share:  Our New Earth Oven and How We Built It, Ditching the “Flushie” for a Composting ToiletHow to Roast Your Own Coffee in a Stovetop Popcorn Maker, and 3 Things To Do With Citrus Peel are all pretty totally fascinating, clearly presented, and look really fun to work on.  

Re-growing vegetables

If you’re looking for a creative way to make your food budget stretch further and get a bit of gardening into your life, you might want to try re-growing your used up veggies!

I recently read about re-growing green onions on a windowsill, and was amazed at how simple the process is.  You just use the onions normally, leaving the bottom white part and roots intact.  You plunk the roots into a jar of water, forget about it on your windowsill for a week or so, and then come back to harvest the regrown green parts.  I gave it a try at home, and was stoked on how ridiculously easy it was.  This would be an especially great way to extend the life of your food in the winter when you’re often forced to buy most of your food at the grocery store rather than pluck it from your garden.

I was so excited about the success of the green onions that I started looking into whether this technique could be used for other plants.  Apparently there are a ton of other plants that can be re-grown this way — who knew?

Here is a rad tutorial on re-growing celery.  Like the green onions, you start the stalk sprouting in a dish of water, but after that you transplant it into a container, and it keeps on keeping on from there.  Mary and Tim of the blog 17 Apart who put together the celery tutorial also have amazing how-to guides on re-growing sweet potatoes and bok choy on your windowsill.

If bok choy and green onions aren’t exotic enough for you, you can even try re-growing a pineapple in a container!   This is a pretty posi way to enjoy tropical deliciousness while keeping the travel distance of your groceries reasonable.

Have you ever tried re-sprouting any of these plants or others?  I would love to hear about your experience with this cool technique.

Creative container gardening

I’ve been seeing a lot of amazingly creative container gardens around lately, so I wanted to put together a post to showcase some of them.  This is the time of the year when folks with an outdoor garden space start to feel excited and inspired to get planting.  For those of us in small apartments or houses without yards, it can be hard to get motivated to start new projects just because it’s spring — after all, the time of year doesn’t make a huge difference for container gardens.  The flip side of this is that, well, the time of the year doesn’t make a difference, and we can keep growing inside year round without having to spare a thought for frost or snow.

Anyhow, for the lawn-less, the balcony-less and the transient folks, here are some amazingly creative and cool looking options for planters.

When I first saw this photo, I got so distracted by the gorgeous candy colours of the planters that it went completely over my head that they were old toilet tanks.  You might not be able to find the same amazing array of vintage tanks that this woman has, but I’m sure you could track down some plain old white ones and they would make amazingly sturdy and and functional planters.  I would try Used Victoria or the Habitat for Humanity Restore, and I bet you’d come up with lots of free or mega cheap options.

I’ve seen a few different variations on pallet planters (everything from how to re-purpose the lumber to build a standard container garden, or just plain plunking the pallet down in your garden and planting into it), but this one is my favourite because of its ingenious use of vertical space.  Fern Richardson, who created the planter in the picture above (as well as creating a great looking book about small space container gardens, that is available at the library) has a full tutorial about how to transform a pallet into a garden.  One word of caution:  please make sure that any pallets you scavenge have not been pressure treated.  The process of pressure treating  puts some seriously nasty chemicals into the wood, and you definitely don’t want them leaching into your food.

If you’re gardening indoors only, check out this fantastic tutorial about creating a kitchen herb garden that hangs right in your kitchen.  Even when I have lots of outdoor garden space, I try to make sure that I plant my herb garden close to where I cook.  Otherwise, I find I just don’t bother to make the trek out to the other end of the garden to grab a few sprigs of parsley (especially if it’s raining or dark out).  This project is a fantastic solutions to that problem, and is a great way to make sure your tasty culinary herbs are exactly where you need them:  in your cooking space.

Bottom line, you can get as creative as you want to with container gardening, so don’t feel limited by a lack of money, building skills, or space.  Container gardens can be in any kind of container.

For some great books on container gardening and lots more inspiration, check out the public library.  I’m particularly fond of The Edible Container Garden:  Growing Fresh Food in Small Spaces by Michael Guerra; Apartment Gardening:  Plants, Projects, and Recipes for Growing Food in your Urban Home by Amy Pennington, andThe Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible:  How to Grow A Bounty of Food in Pots, Tubs, and Other Containers by Edward Smith.

Embracing Gardening in Small Spaces

Thanks to everyone who attended last Saturday’s Portable Permaculture workshop.  The image to the left shows participants braving the cold evening to mix up a batch of potting soil for our container gardens.  It was really inspiring to hear about all the creative small space gardening and permaculture projects everyone had on the go, and exciting to share ideas about our epic future plans (home greywater systems!  tool share collectives! backyard ducks!).

I also wanted to share this great book I found at the Victoria Public Library:  it’s called Fresh Foods From Small Spaces:  The Square Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting and Sprouting, and it is an amazing resource for those of us measuring our garden space in feet rather than acres.   It has great tips for maximizing your food production while minimizing the amount of space you need and amount of stuff you need to buy.  There are DIY projects like an improvised self-watering container, info on sprouting and delicious recipes to use the finished sprouts, instructions on cultivating oyster mushrooms indoors, and even ideas for survival during resource shortages.  In short, you will be a far better nourished and informed person for having read this book and I highly recommend snagging it at the library!

Urban Permaculture: Small Space and Portable Solutions, Saturday March 3rd, 4:30-6 pm

Fascinated by permaculture, but wondering how you can possibly implement all those great ideas in an apartment that changes every 8 months? Drooling over other people’s giant backyard food gardens, and wishing you could grow more food on your balcony or windowsill? Wondering what this permaculture thing is anyway? Then this workshop is for you! For so many of us young people who are passionate about living sustainably in the city and growing our own food, it can sometimes feel impossible to implement it all in our transient lives and small, temporary living spaces. This workshop will tackle this conundrum as we work together to discover ways to implement permacultural principles and grow food in the small, and ever changing spaces of our lives. We will be doing some hands on work with container gardening and sprouting to get you started, and all participants will leave with a planted container that will grow food as well as a jar of seeds that will grow yummy sprouts.

Cost: $5

Location: the straw bale building at the Greater Victoria Compost Education Centre, 1216 North Park St

Please email slugs.coordinator@gmail.com to register.