‘You wanna know what are the ingredients for a happy life? Sun, water, a garden and good soil’. My grandfather was a farmer. He’d spent hours upon hours attending the fields, plowing away. Even when it was raining or snowing he would drive his truck to make sure everything was okay.
He would come home and make a mess, getting dirt everywhere. He always complained how hard it was. The money wasn’t enough and the days were way too long. I knew though, I knew he was proud and happy when he would squeeze his orange and taste the juices flowing down.
I spent a great deal of time following him around and helping wherever I could. Cutting the ‘bad leaves’ or watering the tomatoes. There is nothing like eating a salad with your own cucumbers and your own olive oil that it took months to produce. There’s a primitive feeling in that, a feeling of autonomy. Doing honest work to feed your family. Dirty hands, clean work.
Now, living in a big city, I miss that. It seems strange to me having to buy my carrots and potatoes. Fortunately, you don’t need a lot of space to create your own little garden. Okay, maybe you won’t be able to grow special tropical fruits or rare vegetables, but why not try to do the basics? It’s fun, it saves you money in the long run and more importantly, you will know what you are putting in your body. Organic, fresh and tasty food.
1. Figuring out Where
Your first job is to figure out where are you going to have your garden. Ideally, your first choice would be in your backyard. That’s pretty straightforward. Now, if you live in an apartment, your balcony is your best bet. But fear not my fellow gardeners, you can have your magnificent garden of Eden inside too. It’s all about the sun.
Next, find a place where your garden will get the most sunshine. Ideally, morning sun is better for the plants, but if your only option is afternoon sun, keep in mind you’ll have to water your plants more often. If there’s no sun whatsoever, then there are special lamps creating artificial sunlight, but they can be costly. Now, go grab some pots and containers to fill them with:
Soil will make it or break it. You need good and fertile soil to grow a healthy garden. No, dirt from the nearest road will not do. One ‘trick’ is to steal… I mean borrow soil from pre-existing gardens. Maybe a friend of yours has already grown his tomatoes and he has a lot of it and doesn’t need it. Your second choice is to buy a (certified) potting mix. Word of advice, don’t go cheap on this.
There’s also the choice to add fertilizers. While it’s true that you’ll enhance your production and protect your plants, I feel like there are better ways to fertilize them more naturally. This is called permaculture. Without getting into details, you’re basically allowing nature to take over. Let the dead leaves and weeds enrich your soil. An unknown plant started growing in one of your pots? Let it be. Raining? Let it be.
3. Start Small, Grow Big
Herbs, Lettuce, Kale and Beans
What are the easiest and more useful plants to grow? Herbs. Things like rosemary, basil, mint etc… are very easy to grow, they are available all year round and are easily maintained. You need different small containers for these varieties because they can easily destroy your garden by growing everywhere. Water as needed. Keep the soil moist and don’t overflow the pots. If you notice dryness and deem colors, water more often.
Now we move on to make a delicious salad. Lettuce, kale and even beans are also available in every season unless you live in a particularly cold environment. These ones can grow together, allowing for mass planting. Grab a big long pot and plant 2-3 of each.
Tomatoes and Potatoes
Tomatoes and potatoes are your next station. While many claim to just throw them together, I don’t recommend it. Potatoes need very deep pots. Take a 2 to 3-week old seed potatoes, cut them in half and plant them. Water regularly. Dry soil is the number one danger. Also, you need to wait at least two months after the frost-free period.
Tomatoes are tricky and are hit or miss even for the most seasoned apartment gardeners. Most varieties grow tall, so you’ll need to keep this in mind. Your best choice would be cherry tomatoes, relatively easier to grow. Note that they are fruits of the summer, so you need a lot of sun and warm weather. Also, it’s almost certain you’ll have to transplant them to bigger pots as time goes on. You need to water them more often the windier your balcony is, even two times a day.
Check regularly for suckers and be careful of not getting water on the leafs, since they can rot and damage the plant. Be patient. Especially without fertilizers high in potassium, you will have to try more than once. Other suitable, delicious fruits are strawberries.
I already showed you some examples of what you can grow. The fun part is, if you’re able to grow just one plant, then you’re ready to experiment with other varieties too!
What about seeds though? You can find lots of them from your local vendor or simply buy them online. There are also many companies offering a wide range of seeds. Most (in)famous one is Monsanto. My personal recommendation is Kokopelli Seed Foundation, where they offer biodynamic and organic seeds, some of them coming from varieties thousands of years old.
5. Enjoy your Garden Food with your Loved Ones
The last step and the most rewarding one. This is also the step where you take your hard work to the table. First of all gather some friends and family. Chop up some tomatoes, make some baked potatoes, sprinkle them with basil and olive oil. Sit down and enjoy the hearty meal with the ones that matter. Because this what it’s all about. Show your appreciation and love through sharing food.
And remember, the ingredients for a happy life are the sun, water, and good soil… and may I add good company as well?
Leave a comment if you were successful (or unsuccessful) with your garden or if you have more tips to share!
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