Apartment Farming: How to Grow Herbs, Fruits, and Veggies Almost Anywhere

Once you master some essential skills, you can find a space for some of your favorite fresh edibles—no matter where you live.

The desire to nourish plants—especially those that feed us in return—is human instinct. After all, as Audrey Hepburn once said, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” But what if you don’t have any outdoor space in which to cultivate that belief? Not a problem. Once you master the essentials, you can find a space to grow some of your favorite herbs, fruits and vegetables—no matter where you live.

Herbs

Basil plants — and other “soft” herbs — may be the easiest starter herbs for the aspiring apartment farmer.

Difficulty Rating: 1

Herbs grow quite literally like weeds. They thrive in small pots with good drainage and in full light on a windowsill. My sister, Betsy Karetnick, who runs The Portable Garden in Akron, Ohio, suggests growing “soft” herbs like chives, basil, oregano, parsley and cilantro. Be aware that rosemary, thyme, lemon grass and others with deeper root systems will eventually need replanting in the ground outside, as they do not like confinement.

Strawberries

Difficulty Rating: 2

Because they have shallow roots, strawberries are perfect for large pots, whether you place them indoors, on a fire escape or on a rooftop—anywhere they have eight to 16 hours of full light. Look for varieties that clump, such as the Alpine, or plant them in hanging baskets so they have room to stretch and don’t develop mold.

Tomatoes

To find the patience for growing tomatoes on your balcony, hold tight to your dreams of fresh caprese salad.

Difficulty Rating: 3

Tomatoes grow beautifully in containers as long as you follow a few rules. Buy a pot with enough depth for a long root system and plentiful soil. Keep in mind that heat coming a tar roof, for example, absorbs into the pot and also reflects onto the leaves. And have an easy way to water them; these are thirsty plants. They also require support: Either stake them or wind the stems as they grow around the rails of a balcony or fire escape.

Cucumbers

Difficulty Rating: 4

Generally, you will need an actual garden or flower bed to provide squash vines with room to stretch out or upwards, but you’ll have success with pickling cucumbers as long as you keep watch. Like tomatoes, pickling cucumbers need large pots with lots of good-quality soil, a trellis or another structure to climb and plenty of regular (but not too much) moisture. Cucumbers love heat, so these are best planted in early summer.

Garlic

Difficulty Rating: 5

Like strawberries, garlic plants have shallow roots. But they also need lots of space to spread those roots, so a large pot or crate will work best (old fruit tree buckets are a good option). You’ll also need patience, because a garlic bulb planted from cloves takes nine months to mature. Plant garlic a few weeks before a first frost, which means any time from September through December.

Pineapple

Not for the horticulturally challenged, home-grown pineapple plants can take three years to bear fruit.

Difficulty Rating: 6

Pineapples are easy to grow from your food waste, but they take two to three years to bear fruit. Begin by removing the crown of a pineapple and slice off any rind and extra fruit (it’ll rot if you don’t) until you see the ring of brown dots. Then let it dry for a few days. After that, plant it in a small pot filled with fast-draining soil. It takes a few months to root in full sun. Then it’ll start sending out new leaves; re-pot it a larger container with richer soil. In another year, you can re-home it again in a bigger pot, where it should eventually produce a single pineapple for all that trouble.