This Year, I Garden (even if it IS only in a jar)

container garden

This year I have a 2012 goal.  2012 is the year I stare down my teeny-tiny city suburban apartment, my lawn of pavement and I say “Take that! I WILL garden if it’s the last thing I do.”  Dramatic, maybe.  Realistic, probably.  I grew up with a garden.  A really, really big garden. A garden my mom lovingly (and probably begrudgingly too, let’s be honest here) tended summer after summer.  I raided sugar snap peas like a bandit and ate hot buttered corn like candy.  I also just knew that when I grew up, I’d have a garden.

And then I hit college life, where apartment life was all I could afford.  And then I decided I should move south, move big, move to the city.  And here, in the midst of suburbia and condominiums and apartment dwellers, real people with real gardens became a distant, fuzzy, nostalgic memory.

But, just recently, it hit me.  I don’t need the biggest garden. Heck, I don’t even need a big garden, or even a tiny garden.  I can, rather, be growing all kinds of amazing things within the happy confines of my apartment. Herbs!  Lettuce!  Tomatoes! Etc.! Etc.! Etc.!  And, why am I not growing any of these at all, I wondered?  I have no idea!  But let me tell you what, in 2012, I’m going to grow the heck out of container gardens. And, in the thought that maybe I’m not the only one who hasn’t yet explored the depths of indoor gardening, I’m compiling some words of wisdom I’ve tracked down, along with a few of my ideas and sources of inspiration to share with you as well. 2012, apartment-condominium-dwellers, let’s do this!

Garden Bowls

I’m a salad adorer.  So, of course, “Salad Bowl” gardening is at the top of the list.  This idea involves taking a deep bowl/pot/etc. and planting together all your favorite salad ingredients. I’m thinking something along the lines of: spinach and lettuces (butter lettuce, endive, romaine), red and green bell peppers, chives, tomatoes, dill and cucumbers. I also want a “Sprout Jar” or four or five.  These will have to include alfalfa, bean, lentil, pumpkin, radish, sunflower and wheat.  I’d like a Mexican Salsa dish with tomatoes, onions, cilantro and hot green chiles.  And, because why not, I’m going to grow myself a pizza garden complete with cherry tomatoes, basil, peppers, oregano, rosemary, green onions and fennel.

Feeding My Obsession

Fruit!  I’m obsessed with fruit.  And, did you know that citrus fruits including tangerines, lemons and limes thrive in containers?  And, what’s even more: fig trees do too!  In fact, they prefer being root bound!  Figs!  My favorite food ever!  I’ll be planting some fruit trees asap.  (Granted, I live in California, you may need to check your zones on this one…)

Words of Wisdom from those With Greener Thumbs than I

Having just admitted to never having gardened indoors on my own, I don’t expect you to trust me all that much, but here are a few things I’ve taken note of.


This is what they call “The Test.”   Stick your thumb into the top layer of your potting soil, approximately 1-2″ deep. If the soil is moist, don’t water. If the soil is dry, water! Pour water into the drip tray, not the top. This allows the roots to pull the water up. Wait an hour, repeat. Try the test the following day. *Side note: if you plan on using tap water, it might be filled with too much chlorine and/or salt.  Using filtered or distilled will be provide healthier, happier plants. If you live in a rainy area, collect rainwater to use.


Of course, not all plants are alike, but in general, a good rule of thumb to follow is 14 hours sunlight to 10 hours of darkness. If you notice limp, wilty plants, something in the lighting is probably off, move it around to see where you get the best results.


If you notice that your plants are:

  • not flowering,
  • have weak stems,
  • lose their leaves often,
  • new growth is rare and weak or
  • blooms are abnormally small,

you may need to give your plants some extra TLC and feed them. Find an organic, all natural fertilizer and follow the instructions closely. *Note: if you then notice brown leaves or drooping leaves, you’re probably over feeding your plants.


Fortunately for people like me, the gardening community is very sweet, kind and understanding. Friend some gardeners online, get involved in forums and gardening blogs. This way you can ask questions when your fig tree, inevitably, doesn’t produce figs for unknown reasons.

Author Tara Alley currently writes for Air & Water, but branches out into guest writing frequently.  Keep up with her and her fig tree dreams on Twitter @hopesiempre.

Image credit: janeyhenning at flickr under a Creative Commons license.

  1. Bret Snyde

    A small garden can be just as effective as a big garden. In only a 4×8 foot space a lot can be done. An organic container garden that may be worth taking a look at is “The Garden Master’s Bucket Garden”. Happy Gardening!

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