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No Yard Urban Farming?  RSS feed

 
Katrin Kerns
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Okay, question for Michael Judd.

Is there anything in your book that would help people who live in apartments? There seems to be quite a lot out there for small scale farmers and even for people who have at least a side yard, but I have run into a distinct lack of information on how to do much more than a few hanging planters for people who do not have yards at all. I admit that this has and does continue to frustrate me on a regular basis as I live in a third story apartment with very little growing space. Even though I have a balcony, it's only 4ft wide by roughly 15ft long, and even though it faces southwest, most of the sun I get is blocked by trees and an adjacent building. Even with those difficulties, I am actually working on trying to turn my balcony into a micro food forest, but I expect to run into a lot of issues while I work out all of the details. Though I am at least documenting all of my ups and downs in an online blog in the hopes of helping out others who want to live in a more sustainable fashion without a yard to do so. You may find it here if you're curious. http://organicwithattitude.tumblr.com/.

Some of the issues that I run into is the seeming assumption that all is optimal. In most of what I read, the author seems to assume that you have at least good sun exposure even if you don't exactly have a southward facing yard. What I would really like to see more of is authors who come at things from the other end of the spectrum. Like say advice for improving lighting in a low cost yet effective way when you do not have good exposure, or if you do have a southward facing exposure but it's blocked by trees or other structures that you can do nothing about. If you live in an apartment that is above another, how do you deal with water drainage issues for plants on a balcony so that it's not dripping onto your downstairs neighbors and causing frustration? Or keeping your upstairs neighbors plants from dripping on you but maybe trying to do some kind of catchment to collect their water runoff to use for your own plants.

Honestly, it seems like the only people who write books on how to do things are the ones who have all of the best setups for it, so they write for others who also have all the best setups.
 
Jennifer Whitaker
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Katrina,

There are lots of books on container gardening and there are plants that don't need much direct sun. If I remember I think beets and beans are some. Maybe Kale... Trying to remember but I would first identify which ones need less light and then seek out how to grow them in containers. As far as keeping the water from dripping down on your neighbors below, I suggest using those clay pots designed for you to pour the water into and it disperses the water slowly. Either that or use those planters that you water the bottom and it never leaves except thru the plant.

Love the website idea!
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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For sunlight you could try increasing your exposure by capturing and reusing the light you DO get several times. Get a couple of pieces of something that reflects light: reflective car visors, some shiny sheets of metal, white plastic, Mylar strips, tin foil ... and play around with bouncing light off these surfaces and onto your planting areas (kind of like what photographers do to get a good shot). You'll have to experiment to find the right angle and surface to use. I'll bet you can harvest the sun pretty effectively with a little experimentation.

You might also try wicking beds as opposed to pots. You can DIY one like the below out of recycled materials.



 
Lucas Harrison-Zdenek
Posts: 90
Location: Southeast Michigan, Zone 6a
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Maybe you can look into a hydroponic setup. There is no water overflow there. As far as sunlight goes, reflective techniques are great. If your apartment allows you to paint and you have any surrounding walls, you could paint them white to increase the reflected light in the space. For that matter, any large white surface will reflect light well. In addition to container gardening, I've seen a lot of options for vertical gardening on balconies. People reuse old pallets and fill them with soil and grow greens between the slots.
 
Katrin Kerns
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:For sunlight you could try increasing your exposure by capturing and reusing the light you DO get several times. Get a couple of pieces of something that reflects light: reflective car visors, some shiny sheets of metal, white plastic, Mylar strips, tin foil ... and play around with bouncing light off these surfaces and onto your planting areas (kind of like what photographers do to get a good shot). You'll have to experiment to find the right angle and surface to use. I'll bet you can harvest the sun pretty effectively with a little experimentation.

You might also try wicking beds as opposed to pots. You can DIY one like the below out of recycled materials.


Jennifer (Wadsworth)

I have never run across the IBC idea before, neat! Though I don't really think they would work for me even if I knew where I could get some, both the size of the containers and the tools needed (not to mention the space needed to work with those tools) would be very difficult to make work for the space that I have. Doesn't mean I might not be able to find something smaller and easier to work with that could do just as well though; thanks for the idea. I am already trying to figure out how to bring more light onto my balcony and plan on experimenting with foil covered cardboard backdrops along all of the wall surfaces, just haven't had time to try that yet as I've been really sick of late. I do have ideas, it's just that for the most part everything written out there seems to be written for an audience that has the perfect set up, you know?


Jennifer Whitaker wrote:
Katrina,

There are lots of books on container gardening and there are plants that don't need much direct sun. If I remember I think beets and beans are some. Maybe Kale... Trying to remember but I would first identify which ones need less light and then seek out how to grow them in containers. As far as keeping the water from dripping down on your neighbors below, I suggest using those clay pots designed for you to pour the water into and it disperses the water slowly. Either that or use those planters that you water the bottom and it never leaves except thru the plant.

Love the website idea!


Jennifer (Whitaker)

Most of the books on container gardening tend to focus on flowers or other ornamental's with maybe the odd bean or tomato plant thrown in as an after thought. (At least nearly all of the ones I've found have.) The Bountiful Container is the only real exception that I've found so far that only focuses on edible plants rather than ornamental ones. (I would highly recommend it to anyone by the way, standard gardeners or small space gardeners.) I just find it rather disappointing that there don't seem to be more books (read that as any books) aimed at the apartment dweller with the intent of actually helping them feed themselves and their families in a more sustainable fashion. Not everyone is mobile, or lives within walking (or bicycling) distance of a vacant lot or greenbelt that they might be able to grow things at. Not everyone drives or has access to reliable transportation to take them to places that they might be able to grow things either. People who live in apartments seem to be the ignored demographic, and we also tend to be the ones who could benefit the most from being able to grow our own organic, non GMO food. Many of us who are stuck living in small apartments can't afford to live anywhere else, (which is why we're stuck living in tiny little boxes stacked on top of one another.) which also usually means we don't have the extra money to spend on extras like decent food. Let's face it, unless you can grow it yourself, organic food is expensive.

I would just like to see more people with the means to do it, writing books and making videos for people who may have a lot less ability to plant a garden due to space constraints. I don't know if I'm being clear at all here, I often have problems making my thoughts clearly understood by others and usually have to try and clarify myself several times before I can make my point.

Thanks though to both of you ladies for reading and responding to my thread, the thoughts and ideas are always welcome. Oh, my name is Katrin by the way not Katrina; no A on the end.
 
Katrin Kerns
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Lucas Harrison-Zdenek wrote:Maybe you can look into a hydroponic setup. There is no water overflow there. As far as sunlight goes, reflective techniques are great. If your apartment allows you to paint and you have any surrounding walls, you could paint them white to increase the reflected light in the space. For that matter, any large white surface will reflect light well. In addition to container gardening, I've seen a lot of options for vertical gardening on balconies. People reuse old pallets and fill them with soil and grow greens between the slots.


Thanks Lucas,

I'm actually looking into any kind of setup I can make work, I'm not kidding when I say I'm trying to start a micro food forest on my balcony. I want to try and get as many different varieties of edible plants growing out there as I can. Both annuals and perennials. So I will most likely be incorporating some elements of vertical planting and hydroponics, but I can't do that with small fruit trees or berry bushes. I'm not allowed to modify my walls in any way, and the buildings here are all painted a kind of dirty tan. So anything I do has to be non invasive. The only real exception to that is being able to put eye hooks in the beams in the roof of the balcony to hang things on. I also have to be careful that whatever I do on my balcony doesn't bother the neighbors otherwise the management demands it be taken down. That means if even one of my neighbors complains because they don't like something, out it goes. That even goes for things they just don't like the looks of, so I would have to be very careful with things that might not be very decorative like pallets.
 
Su Ba
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Food growing in containers is definitely do-able. Several years ago my mother lived in a second floor rental for awhile. She really missed her fresh grown veggies. So we made container gardeners for her, plus some non-circulating hydroponics for lettuce. She was able to grow chives & herbs, potatoes, beans, peas, chard, squash, tomatoes, bok choy, beets, radishes, spinach, and sweet potatoes. Maybe other things too but I don't remember. She choose all dwarf type varieties and took steps to keep the plant roots moist and cool. Overheating and drying out are the two main problems she found with container gardening. She only had a small porch but produced quite a bit of fresh foods. She utilized not only the floor space but also the vertical space, plus hung the lettuce hydroponic jugs off the railing.
 
Katrin Kerns
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Su Ba wrote:Food growing in containers is definitely do-able. Several years ago my mother lived in a second floor rental for awhile. She really missed her fresh grown veggies. So we made container gardeners for her, plus some non-circulating hydroponics for lettuce. She was able to grow chives & herbs, potatoes, beans, peas, chard, squash, tomatoes, bok choy, beets, radishes, spinach, and sweet potatoes. Maybe other things too but I don't remember. She choose all dwarf type varieties and took steps to keep the plant roots moist and cool. Overheating and drying out are the two main problems she found with container gardening. She only had a small porch but produced quite a bit of fresh foods. She utilized not only the floor space but also the vertical space, plus hung the lettuce hydroponic jugs off the railing.


Oh, sounds very nice! Yeah, I don't have to worry too much about over heating as we have pretty mild summers here in the Pacific Northwest, but I do have to worry about keeping things warm. I'm working on ways to change the micro climate on my balcony to help with that though.
 
Lucas Harrison-Zdenek
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Katrin Kerns wrote:
I also have to be careful that whatever I do on my balcony doesn't bother the neighbors otherwise the management demands it be taken down. That means if even one of my neighbors complains because they don't like something, out it goes. That even goes for things they just don't like the looks of, so I would have to be very careful with things that might not be very decorative like pallets.


I think that maybe you aren't looking in the right places. I just did a few minutes of amazon.com searching and found several books geared toward balcony and apartment growing. Of course, without reading these, I can't account for their content. But this one looks particularly interesting. This forum is another good resource, since I'm sure there are others here who are in your situation that have found a way to make it work.

As for pallet gardens, I've seen pictures of some that look nicer than my backyard garden when they are fully grown. Here is just one picture and to look at it, you might not even know it was a pallet. Do you have good relationships with your neighbors? If you haven't really talked to them much, maybe part of your solution is to begin building relationships with them so that you minimize the chances of complaints. Once you get the system up and running, you can offer some of your produce to them as a thank you for being so cooperative with you while you get going. A big part of permaculture involves community and our interactions with each other.

Remember that the problem is often the solution. If you are serious about this idea, you will find creative ways to make it happen!
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Patrick Mann
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Instead of trying to squeeze plants onto a balcony, I would try and garden somebody else's yard. In every city there are lots of people with yards, but no interest in gardening. I found a splendid gardening opportunity through http://urbangardenshare.org/. Quite likely there is something similar in your city.
 
Lucas Harrison-Zdenek
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That was my other thought. There are community gardens popping up everywhere with the specific goal of helping those who have obstacles that keep them from growing at home. Many of these gardens are CoOp types of groups where every member is also an owner, which keeps people motivated to take good care of the grounds.

If such a program or site does not exist near you, perhaps consider starting one yourself! Yeah!
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Katrin Kerns wrote: Doesn't mean I might not be able to find something smaller and easier to work with that could do just as well though


Any small container could work. I've seen small systems made from a 55 gallon barrel cut in half (similar to ones repurposed for rain barrels) - the idea is the same. As for tools and space - I will tell you that I am visually impaired. I am legally blind in one eye and have low vision in the other. I have (carefully) been able to construct simple things with a hacksaw. It is doable. I am also teaching my first PDC in Phoenix (started this past Sunday) - we will be making one of these wicking beds during the class. So another thought is to get someone handy to build one as a class. You can usually find IBC containers listed on Craigslist - they are SUPER common.

You will find the right solution - it will just take a bit of creativity - which is the fun part
 
Gordon Beemer
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Compost compost compost

Aquponics aquponics aquaponics

Vertical gardens Vertical gardens Vertical gardens

Community garden for entire apartment complex x3


. . .


Move. (Get a rent-to-own house for the same price, or cheaper than, your current apartment!)
 
Katrin Kerns
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Patrick Mann wrote:Instead of trying to squeeze plants onto a balcony, I would try and garden somebody else's yard. In every city there are lots of people with yards, but no interest in gardening. I found a splendid gardening opportunity through http://urbangardenshare.org/. Quite likely there is something similar in your city.


Hi Patrick,

This is not the first time that I have heard this suggestion, and though it is a great idea for those who can accomplish it, it is not viable for me and truth be told, many others. First off, I suffer from social anxiety disorder and clinical depression which makes the thought of walking up to a total strangers door and asking them if I can dig up part of their yard so I can garden a damn near paralyzing thought. Though the Urban Garden Share sounds lovely, the main problem I have with this is that I do not have access or transportation to something like this. There is nothing in my area close enough to make this even remotely possible. I am Narcoleptic so I do not drive, public transportation in my area is bordering on nightmaric especially with my social anxiety disorder. I would not even dare to try and ride a bicycle for two reasons, the first being the before mentioned Narcolepsy, the second being the fact that too many people die around here if they ride their bikes in the street like the laws require because the drivers do not pay attention, and the ticket price if you get caught riding on the sidewalk is exceptionally prohibitive, and walking is totally out of the question. Yes, there are always people with yards that they don't use, but not everyone lives in an area that has houses with yards, or can get to them, I live in an area surrounded by apartments and condos. I have a lady friend who used to live in a condo nearby and she said she couldn't so much as sneeze without asking permission of her homeowner's association about what she could and could not plant in the relatively small space that was her yard. So though I do thank you for the suggestion Patrick, I would much rather focus on trying to grow my micro food forest on my balcony.
 
Katrin Kerns
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Gordon Beemer wrote:Compost compost compost

Aquponics aquponics aquaponics

Vertical gardens Vertical gardens Vertical gardens

Community garden for entire apartment complex x3


. . .


Move. (Get a rent-to-own house for the same price, or cheaper than, your current apartment!)


These are all great ideas Gordon, and all but the last two I'm already planning on or doing to one degree or another. As for the community garden for the entire complex, sadly there is no place suitable to start one even if we could get permission. Also my area has wanna be gang-bangers that like to destroy things just because they can, so I doubt that a community garden would last long around here even if someone managed to start it. A group of them recently beat a random 12 year old bad enough to put him in the hospital just so they could film it and put it up on YouTube. Trust me, if my mate and I could afford to move we would but we get a discount for rent because my mate works here as an apartment maintenance man. Most people already pay over $1000 a month to live in the shoe box sized apartment that we live in here, we just can't afford that and there is nothing cheaper in our area that would actually be big enough to live in for two people.
 
Gordon Beemer
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I'm really sorry to hear that. Sounds like you're in quite a quagmire.

If it's any help, you can get a nice 3-4 bedroom apartment or house for $800 a month out int he midwest. So maybe in the near-ish future you might consider a bigger change of environment. I know it's easier said than done, but it's something to think about. Good luck so far, and I'll let you know if I find anything else about indoor gardening.
 
Michael Judd
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Phew, that is a myriad of challenges which I won't tackle in one go but will share my initial thoughts.. which usually are fungi. Many clients of mine lament about their shady mid-Atlantic yards and not being able to grow any fruit. Thinking of mushrooms as fruit helps. And for space stacking I can think of very little more productive in tight spacing. If you can score some straw, spawn, long clear bags, and a mister set up from Dripworks you're in business. Check out Field & Forest for the bags and spawn ( I recommend oyster stains, esp. PoHu). The misting shouldn't build up a heavy drip that would effect your neighbors downstairs.

On that Dripworks tip they also have a ninja kit for planters that you set the rate and timing for so that no water ever drips down and you needn't worry about missing a watering - pretty cheap too. If you don't have a spigot get the guys at Dripworks on the phone and tell them your set up - they are super nice and helpful guys that will help you figure out a system.

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hanging oysters at the Bullocks
 
A.J. Gentry
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Lucas Harrison-Zdenek wrote:

As for pallet gardens, I've seen pictures of some that look nicer than my backyard garden when they are fully grown. Here is just one picture and to look at it, you might not even know it was a pallet.


Lucas,

That pallet is beautiful.

And full of food!!

A.J.
 
Lucas Harrison-Zdenek
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A.J. Gentry wrote:
Lucas,

That pallet is beautiful.

And full of food!!

A.J.


I should clarify, that is not MY pallet. It is just one of many I have seen. I do hope to do my greens that way this summer though. When I get it all established, I'll be sure to post images! Thanks!
 
Katrin Kerns
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Michael Judd wrote:Phew, that is a myriad of challenges which I won't tackle in one go but will share my initial thoughts.. which usually are fungi. Many clients of mine lament about their shady mid-Atlantic yards and not being able to grow any fruit. Thinking of mushrooms as fruit helps. And for space stacking I can think of very little more productive in tight spacing. If you can score some straw, spawn, long clear bags, and a mister set up from Dripworks you're in business. Check out Field & Forest for the bags and spawn ( I recommend oyster stains, esp. PoHu). The misting shouldn't build up a heavy drip that would effect your neighbors downstairs.

On that Dripworks tip they also have a ninja kit for planters that you set the rate and timing for so that no water ever drips down and you needn't worry about missing a watering - pretty cheap too. If you don't have a spigot get the guys at Dripworks on the phone and tell them your set up - they are super nice and helpful guys that will help you figure out a system.



Michael, thank you! That is a wonderful idea. I never even considered trying to grow mushrooms, and my mate and I absolutely love mushrooms of all kinds. I will have to look further into that possibility! Now that's something that excites me! Heck, I even did a home brew experiment one year using Rishi mushrooms to make a medicinal type of mead that actually turned out pretty tasty as well.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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I'll second the recommendation for Dripworks - good people there. And I won a t-shirt in their photo contest last year! (see Jennifer W. under "Honorable Mentions"). This cracks me up - a visually impaired person winning a photo contest. Thank goodness for "point and shoot" cameras!



 
Gordon Beemer
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Hey, lookie what I found!

10 things you can eat once and grow forever!



And~





Hope this helps!
 
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