Tiny Apartment Container Gardening, Pt I: Grow Your Food

It’s a beautiful day to be outside! I previously introduced a small piece of our tiny apartment balcony in my Outdoor Kitchen post, where I shared how we created an apartment-friendly outdoor cooking space in 2 square feet. Today, join me on a tour of our balcony garden — our menagerie of container vegetables that play a major part in making our outdoor space joyful and green.

With just a bit of effort, we’ve turned our balcony into a little garden oasis in a summer of social distancing. We’ve been cooking with our harvest, plus the balcony is so nice that we’ve used it almost daily. Whether you have a small outdoor space, fire escape, sunny windowsills, or an empty corner, I highly encourage you to add some edible greenery to your life!

1Aerogarden: Easiest Indoor Herb Garden + Seed Starting
2Easy Container Veggies: Varieties & Growing Tips
3Container Garden Care: Water & Fertilizer
4Efficient DIY: Mini Companion Container Garden (Part II)
5Resources: What You Need Get Started (Part II)

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Tiny, Easiest Indoor Garden

Aerogarden Harvest Slim with Thai basil, thyme, sweet basil, and mint

Aerogarden is the absolute most foolproof method for starting a garden. It’s a hydroponic (no soil) garden system that basically runs itself, with a grow light, water level monitoring, and fertilizer reminders. You only need a square foot of space anywhere in your apartment. Everything is included!

We pulled the trigger on our Aerogarden Harvest Slim to amp up our pantry meals with fresh herbs. It fits perfectly on our windowsill, and we harvested our first herbs in just three weeks. They’re the perfect addition to savory chickpea flour pancakes.

The benefit of hydroponics that they grow much faster than conventional soil-grown plants. I started out pretty skeptical of this high-tech solution to a low-tech activity, but we are really thrilled with the results.

Aerogarden models

Aerogarden’s Harvest line is the best-value model. They have space for 6 plants — the herb pack is a good place to start. I think the extra bells and whistles like Wi-Fi are totally unnecessary. Choose from the basic options below for the best value:

Easy DIY to save money and the environment

Aerogarden herbs
We just pulled the dill after 2.5 months — waiting on dill seeds to arrive so we can replant!

My main hesitation was the Aerogarden proprietary seed pot kits, plastic baskets that hold a sponge with a few seeds inside. Instead of buying overpriced disposable kits, hang onto the plastic baskets and clear covers after the herbs are done. You can buy replacement sponges and hydroponic fertilizer at a fraction of the cost.

Moreover, this DIY method also allows you to choose your own seeds, like different vegetables or heirloom varieties. The only requirement is that the adult height of your plants shouldn’t exceed the max of 12″ for the Aerogarden Harvests.

Seedlings for Regular Soil Containers

I briefly attempted a small DIY hydroponic setup, but the Aerogarden really was 1000x easier and cleaner. In addition, the grow light covers a solid area outside the Aerogarden itself, so we used it for all of our container seedlings as well! We grew all our baby plants in coco coir (compact, bug-free, sustainable) in cute little 3″ pots with great success.

Seedlings growing in Aerogarden grown light
Baby seedlings (shishito pepper, mizuna, tomato) growing under our Aerogarden’s grow light

Easy Balcony Garden Plants

We decided to stick with low-risk, high-reward plants that would grow well in containers. And the great thing about container gardening is that when the weather stops cooperating in the fall, we’ll just move everything inside!

World’s Easiest Garden: Scallions

Container garden scallions grown from grocery store trimmings

Scallions are a key component for many of the recipes on this site, like my Home-Style Tofu. No matter how little space or gardening experience you have, scallions are a perfect choice. Ours are grown from the discards of grocery store scallions!

Simply save the last 1.5″ at the root end of your scallions, put them in a cup with ~0.75″ of water, and watch them grow! When the new green growth is a few inches tall, transplant to a 8″ pot with soil.

Lettuce in Containers

I am a fan of instant gratification. I highly recommend any new gardener pick a few varieties of lettuce. They grow fast and are very happy crammed into small containers. We have red leaf lettuce, arugula, mizuna, and red chard. All are suitable for continual harvesting: cut the outside leaves, leave a few in the center, and the lettuces will continue to grow.

Lettuce is perfect for shaded apartment balconies or growing indoors. In fact, they don’t like too much sun. Arugula, in particular, has a tendency to bolt (produce flowers and seeds) in bright sun and hot weather, so keep it in the shade. Bolted lettuce is more bitter and less productive, but we can delay bolting by planting slow-bolt varieties and cutting any flowering stems as soon as they grow.

Because it grows so quickly, lettuce has a limited lifespan. Plant new batches 2-3 weeks apart to keep a continuous supply from spring to fall. We grow 8-10 small lettuces per 8″ pot on our balcony to harvest as baby greens for delicious salads. The Swiss chard gets its own pot because we use it for full-size leaves.

Peppers in Containers

Peppers are the ultimate container plant for your tiny apartment garden. They’re compact, highly productive, and indoors they can grow year-round. Use them in my Hot & Sour Hunan Green Beans.

Additionally, they’re self-pollinating so they don’t need bees. With just a little wind, a single plant can grow fruit. If you’re growing indoors, help them along by gently shaking the stems when the pepper flowers are blooming.

We have habanero, jalapeno, shishito, and Chinese 小米辣 Xiǎomǐlà peppers in 12″ pots. To jump start the process, you can buy pepper seedlings on Amazon (Bonnie Plants jalapeno and habanero and spicy banana). Otherwise, I recommend picking early variety pepper seeds to speed up the process.

Tomatoes in Containers

There are many tomato varieties that are perfect for balcony container gardens. Looks for determinate tomatoes that stay compact, like these patio tomatoes or bush tomatoes. We also have a few really cute Micro Toms; they’re the world’s smallest tomato plant and perfect for container or indoor gardening.

You can get a head start by purchasing seedlings from your local garden center, but they grow quickly from seed. Since it’s a bit later in the season now, you may need to bring your tomatoes indoors in the fall — but that’s the beauty of growing a balcony container garden! Like peppers, tomatoes are self-pollinating. However, if you’re growing tomatoes indoors, you’ll need to gently shake the stems when they flower.

Container Garden Care

In general, especially in smaller containers, plants will need water regularly. For all of the varieties in this post, water when the top 1/2″ to 1″ of soil feels dry to the touch. Water slowly, 1-2 cups at a time, until water starts slowly seeping out of the drainage holes into the bottom tray. Use planter pots with drainage holes to prevent over-watering, which causes plant roots to rot.

Especially with the weather warming up now, we’ve been watering almost daily. There are methods to create a water reservoir, but with social distancing keeping us at home, watering our garden daily has been a wonderful excuse to spend a few minutes outdoors.

Additionally, we’ve been giving our plants fertilizer every 1-2 weeks in the form of Miracle Gro Organic all-purpose plant food. You could use complex multiple fertilizer mixes, but we prefer to keep it simple. This one is widely available (e.g. Amazon or Lowes), and so far it’s worked very well for us.

Meatball the cat sunning on our balcony oasis, surrounded by container vegetables

How Does Your (Container) Garden Grow?

Do you have an indoor or balcony container garden? Have you been taking advantage of newfound time at home to grow your own vegetables, herbs, or fruit? Tag #thericelover on Instagram to share your harvest! And keep reading Part II of Tiny Apartment Gardening next for my efficient tiny garden tips: favorite supplies and DIY mini garden boxes!

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    1. Post
      Amy L

      I really didn’t think I’d love the Aerogarden so much! I made a tiny batch of pesto dressing today with Thai basil, served over salad with our lettuces, and I’m in love!

  1. Becky


    1. Post
      Amy L


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