If you live in an apartment without a garden, terrace or balcony you probably think there is very little you can do to grow your own vegetables and herbs. Think again! There are some really smart methods out there that anyone can use. At least anyone that can afford electricity, a small water pump and a few plastic bottles and plastic tubes. These are methods which you can use all year round inside your home.
Another fun thing to try out is a mushroom kit. Edible mushrooms such as champignons or oyster mushrooms come at a rather high kilo price. Growing them underneath your sink or in some other dark corner indoors will give you four to five times more for the same price. If you are a coffee fan you’ll be happy to know that the left overs from your coffee making is fantastic food for your mushrooms!
Cultivate in water
Ever seen water plants floating around on the surface of a lake or pond or seaweeds drifting around in the ocean? There are many plants that don’t need soil to be able to grow. They simply just take up their nutrition from the algae and other nutritious substances already present in lake or sea water. You can use the same principle indoors when you don’t have access to an area to cultivate outside.
This is where hydroponics and aquaponics come in. Hydroponics is a collective name for systems where plants grow in mineral nutrient solutions and no soil is used. You can set up this kind of system in the corner of a room or other space where you won’t be bothered by the sound of the pump. For a small system you usually just need a standard aquarium pump to make this kind of system work. Hydroponics is also used on a larger scale in greenhouses for industrial production.
I believe the best way to illustrate how it actually works is to check out the video below. It explains it all in simple terms.
Aquaponics is also worth mentioning since it combines two types of food production at once: fish/seafood and vegetables. If you have ever had an aquarium you know you need to clean it every now and then to get rid of the fish excrements and algae. In aquaponics these “leftovers” are used as nutrition for the plants grown and they in turn help purifying the water. Like this you are able to grow plants and keep the water of your fish tank clean. This fits perfectly into an urban Permaculture system since you give the elements of the system functions to help each other use all available resources instead of producing waste. Check out the video below to see a small aquaponic system in use.
Both hydroponics and aquaponics can be implemented on small and large scale. I would not call this the ultimate solution for all the world’s agricultural problem, but it is a good alternative when people live in urban areas and want to produce something locally where they don’t have access to land, or in areas where the surrounding landscape is difficult to work with. What you are missing with these systems are several beneficial microorganisms that only exist in soil and there are also some limitations to the variety of plants that you can grow. Not everything will be happy in a nutrient solution.
Windowfarms – a great urban solution
If you only have one single window available for cultivation you still can grow herbs, lettuce, cocktail tomatos and other compact plants with the help of a simple hydroponic system hanging in your window. This system is called a windowfarm.
Our.windowfarms.org have full instructions on how you can build a system like this on your own. You can also buy the ready kits from Windowfarms.com if you prefer a sleeker, more stylish design than the versions you build yourself from recycled materials.
This is the introductory video from when the project was first started in 2010. They have several more videos on their channel and you can also find many more examples of people’s implementations if you search for Window farms on Youtube.
Why not just use shelves with pots on it instead? This system allows more light to flow through your window into the room, which is probably important if you live in a narrow space. If you don’t need that, then a simple system with shelves, pots with normal soil and maybe an automatic watering system works fine instead if you prefer that.
(Note: Not an edible mushroom – just a nice picture!)
If you love eating mushrooms you should definitely consider growing your own. Not only is it fantastic to have a continuous supply of mushrooms in your own home, it is also a lot cheaper. I made a quick comparison of the kilo price for mushrooms from the bio home delivery service I use and found out that buying a kit will make it four to five times cheaper to get mushrooms. Even non bio mushrooms from the local supermarket is two to three times more expensive than in a kit. I will definitely buy a kit of my own in a few weeks to try it out. You find them in your local garden center or online and they should be very simple to take care of. Many of them thrive in spaces where nothing else will grow such as a cabinet under the kitchen sink.
That thing I said about coffee. Here is a video showing how you can use your old coffee grounds to feed mushrooms creating an endless system for mushroom cultivation (taken that you plan on continuing to drink your coffee that is!).
There are loads of good videos and other resources out there on how to grow mushrooms either from a kit, from mycelium or through collecting your own spores from purchased mushrooms.
Question: What good articles, videos and other sources can you find on hydroponics, aquaponics window farms and mushroom cultivation? Share your finds.
Activity: Try out one of the systems described above. Buy a mushroom kit or set up a mini hydroponic system of your own. Take a few pics and show us what you’re up to onInstagram or Pinterest tagging it with #mycompactgarden
Next week it’s time to go over a full garden design process step by step.