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An urban permaculture challenge: What to do in a dark apartment?  RSS feed

 
Jay Peters
Posts: 75
Location: Montreal, QC mostly. Developing in Southern New Brunswick, Canada.
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Dearest Permies,

After a great conversation with a local fellow permie this morning I've decided to pose this CHALLENGE to the greater community. Anyone who saw my post about starting saplings in buckets will have an idea of where I'm coming from but I will revise some of the specifics which were as it turned out...optimistic at best. So without further ado...

LOCATION: I live in Montreal most of the time for the moment. Therefore Zone 4/5 with real winter, hot and often humid summers

SITUATION: I have been as yet unable to find a community garden or other safe (in terms of toxicity) outdoor growing space to try my hand at this gardening thing for the first time in about oh 18 years (excluding landscaping, tree planting, and other farming activities not involving annuals).

SOLAR EXPOSURE: I live in a long narrow and dark apartment on the second floor of a 3 story building. In my previously referenced post I mentioned that I have two balconies. One on the North Eastern facing front of my apartment, and off the back along the North West side. It is currently winter which should allow for more sun in under the above balconies but after some observation I am currently getting sunlight in the FRONT of my apartment through the window OR on the front balcony via the reflection off of the snow only...so not very direct. In the BACK the balcony gets direct sunlight moving across it for about 1 hour and 45 minutes starting just before 2pm. Its basically magic hour through one window and one the back balcony right now. Because of the orientation of buildings surrounding my back balcony I don't believe it will get less sun in the summer, but that the sun will come later in the day. The front however will get less due to summer foliage and lack of snow to reflect it back.

THE CHALLENGE: What the heck can someone in my position do in terms of growing a little food in the apartment, or on the balconies? I understand that lettuce and kale and some other things don't require much sun but almost 2 hours a day seems quite extreme. Anyone ever do a winter window garden in this kind of situation of reflected sun from the snow as the only direct light? Is that actually possible?

Note: both finding patch of ground, and accessing my roof are other possibilities I'm also exploring..just not in this thread.

THANKS!
j


 
Galadriel Freden
Posts: 363
Location: West Yorkshire, UK
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Hi Jay,

From what I have read, most vegetables need at least six hours of sunlight a day to grow and thrive. I think lettuce and other greens would probably grow in such low light levels, but your yields would be pretty small. I think your best bet would probably be herbs and ornamentals (house plants). You can also do mushrooms, of course. Oh, and there's sprouts and microgreens, too.

Do you by chance have access to the roof of your building? That could be something to look into for growing space. Or you could try asking people you know if they know any elderly people who can't keep up their garden/yard any more.

Good luck; I hope you can make something work for you!
 
Jay Peters
Posts: 75
Location: Montreal, QC mostly. Developing in Southern New Brunswick, Canada.
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Thanks!

Well sounds like maybe I should just grow some herbs up there and get started on looking for a patch of dirt someplace. Already on a waiting list for a community garden but will likely not get in given the numbers...will have to look elsewhere methinks.

j
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
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Have you checked out some of the garden sharing sites like SharedEarth.com? Or perhaps post something on Craigslist?
 
Cam Monroe
Posts: 18
Location: WNC Zone 6
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Aquaponics......
I grow fresh basil, and lettuce on the poop from my pet crayfish, and an algae eater.
For light, I have a single compact florescent.
I just have a tiny 3 gallon tank, mostly for entertainment.
A larger system would be far more productive.
 
D. Logan
gardener
Posts: 586
Location: Soutwest Ohio
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books food preservation forest garden rabbit tiny house
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I would think that mushrooms might be a good choice. They don't need light, but heat escaping the building might mean they do better there than it would at some random spot away from thermal mass. I don't imagine it would be super productive, but it might be an efficient use of space to have a few mushroom stumps stuck into pots and tucked off to the side close to the building itself.
 
A.J. Gentry
pollinator
Posts: 154
Location: Ohio
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Hiya! Jay,

I just finished reading Paradise Lot by: Eric Toensmeier which is about cold climate (Massachusetts), small scale (1/10 acre), perennial food. What I found most amazing were all of the plants that did so well in partly or mostly shade. The charts in the back show the food by height. But you would have to read through the chapters to see all of the varieties they are growing in shade.

Maybe check it out on Amazon or see if your library has it.

I also really like the charts at the back of gaia's garden by: toby hemenway. These charts have food, size, and light requirements.

Would you be willing just to grab some seeds and toss them out? Maybe take some notes. The Paradise Lot book talks about how surprised these guys were at the plants that grew in the shade that weren't 'supposed to' according to the seed packet.

Let me know how it goes.

A.J.
 
Jay Peters
Posts: 75
Location: Montreal, QC mostly. Developing in Southern New Brunswick, Canada.
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Thanks Jennifer!

Hadn't heard of sharedearth - will check it out for sure. Definitely planned on looking via cragslist and kijiji and haven't given up the roof yet either, though I have my doubts with the that.

Cam: I have a few friends in town who are doing hydroponics in their apartments but I'm having a hard time with the buy in cost right now. I wouldn't rule it out for next winter though!

D.Logan: hadn't thought of mushrooms, but I have LOTS of shade so good point. Just need some stumps.. they cut down an old oak in the park across the street last august. I nipped a couple very little pieces but not much. There is at least one more destined to come down this summer, so I'll have to keep my eyes open for more. I wish I could've taken more for other projects too!

thanks all!
j
 
Myron Weber
Posts: 67
Location: Orange County, CA, USA
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Many great suggestions here - let me throw in a couple more:
  • You can use mirrors or other reflective materials to dramatically increase the amount of light a plant receives. By positioning multiple mirrors to reflect light onto plants, you might be able to get a significant multiplier of effective solar energy from your 2 hours of light. Of course, this increases photo intensity, but not photo period, so plants that need a longer photo period would still be a challenge. But I bet it would help with some of the winter garden type plants.
  • Sprouting is not the same as gardening, but provides a lot of health and nutritional benefits and can be done essentially anywhere.
  • Depending on the angles of your solar exposure, the sunlight hours just a foot or 2 from the building might be significantly greater than on the balcony. My point is that perhaps you could use brackets or extensions of some sort to grow plants outside your balcony (safely, please - don't want to be dropping flower pots on people's heads).


  • Whatever you do - DON"T GIVE UP. We learn the most when we push beyond the normal limits of our constraints. Not only will you be doing the best you can for now, but also you will be learning lessons that will make you a much better gardener in any situation.
     
    Jay Peters
    Posts: 75
    Location: Montreal, QC mostly. Developing in Southern New Brunswick, Canada.
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    Thanks for all the encouragement! I'm currently noting the sunlight on the back balcony and it seems to be longer, and in fact to cover more area than last time I checked
    This would imply that my assumption about the light back there not increasing appreciably (due to obstructions etc) from season to season might be wrong! I've revisited Gaia's garden as well, and am compiling a list of 'full shade' preferring plants.

    From what I can tell the definition of 'full shade' appears to mean around three hours of direct sun a day and a few more of dappled sun/shade.

    I'll report back with a list of things I might try shortly.

    Thanks again all.
    j

     
    Jacques Fortin
    Posts: 18
    Location: southern ontario
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    Have you looked at windowfarm's as a low cost, low input hydro system? It's an open source project specifically for helping apartment dwellers grow their own food. https://www.windowfarms.com/

    Another option to consider is building a mini-greenhouse around one of your balconies to extend your season.

    You can also grow mushrooms in bags/trays, which is a bit easier to control indoors.
     
    Brett Andrzejewski
    gardener
    Posts: 318
    Location: Buffalo, NY
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    Some indoor edibles that only get about 1 hour of direct sunlight in my house: mint and aloe vera. Neither plants are very happy, and growth is very slow.

    Others have given some good suggestions, I will mention two more: guerrilla gardening. Have you thought about medians in your street? Getting the city/town to replace a decorative tree with a fruit or nut tree? How about the off-ramp near your apt? Keep in mind that these places might be exposed to toxic chemicals and metals.

    CSA partnership/labor exchange: Is there a CSA or local farm willing to do labor exchange for membership? Is there a aging farmer in your area willing to do work trade a small garden section? You might be able to get one or two days a week for a steady supply of food stuff.

     
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