Writer: Stella Budiman | Illustrator: Carin Audrey | Editor: Kinar Nisa
If you are one of the people who dream of having a smallholding with an acre of land filled with beautiful plants and vegetables, living in a small apartment may cause you to feel that the dream is far out of reach. While not all of us can have our own land to grow our plants in, that does not mean that we cannot have our own ‘garden’ in our apartments. In fact, growing at least some of your own food products is a wonderful place to start living more sustainably. In this week’s article, we have covered everything you need to know before jumping into the plant parenthood.
Understand Your Plants’ Specific Growing Needs
In order for your plants to thrive, there are several elements you need to consider when choosing the plants you are going to grow in your apartment garden:
Sunlight: A bright location may seem to be the best condition for gardening, when in fact, there are quite a lot of other plants that prefer to not be in direct sunlight all day long. We recommend you to place your plants in your apartment’s balconies or rooftops as these places offer the best chance of full sun. Gardening on a windowsill is also a good idea, but try choosing plants that require less sunlight, such as salad greens and herbs.
Soil: Apartment gardening will most likely require you to buy containers, and you cannot simply use ordinary garden soil. We recommend you to purchase a potting mix (培養土 = baiyoudo or 腐葉土 = fuyoudo) as potting mix circulates air and water efficiently, which in turn keeps your plants’ roots healthy.
Water: If you are growing your plants in a container, you need to give it lots of water. Choose a space for your garden where you can have easy access to a water supply.
Selecting Containers for Your Plants
Instead of solely depending on containers for your plants to grow in, here are several other alternatives to containers:
Plastics: Instead of throwing away your plastic bottles, you can now turn them into a pot for your plants. All you need to do is cut a few holes on the bottom part of your bottle, fill it with soil, and plant your seeds.
Glass jars: Jars are great especially when you are starting a windowsill herb garden. The transparency of these glass jars allows us to see the roots of the plants and monitor its moisture levels.
Food packaging: Similar to the way how plastic bottles can be turned into pots for plants, food packaging from yoghurt or butter can be transformed into pots by poking some holes on the bottom part of the packaging.
Eggshells: Eggshells do wonders for your plants. For instance, eggshells can be used as a fertilizer for your plants as they are rich in calcium. All you need to do is crush the eggshells and put them on or in the soil of a potted plant to add extra calcium to the plant. Additionally, considering the fact that they are biodegradable, eggshells are perfect for seed starters. When seeds sprout, you can simply plant them, egg and all, right into the soil of a bigger pot. So the next time you are cooking eggs for breakfast, don’t simply throw the eggshells into the trash can but save them for your plants.
Recommended Plants for Your Apartment
Considering the fact that the climate in Japan is mostly considered as temperate with four different seasons, choosing the most suitable indoor plants to be grown in your apartment is crucial in your plants' growth throughout the seasons. The heat of summer in Japan may be too much for some plants to bear, and the bitter cold during winter may be too harsh for some types of plants - causing them to wither and die. In this section, not only will we recommend the best indoor plants to spice up your apartment, but we will also list down the season that the plants could tolerate!
Herbs (Grows in any season): During spring and summer, if you have full sun, go for basil and rosemary. If your area is only partly sunny, cilantro and chives are the way to go. They are considered as a low-maintenance addition to your balcony garden. Growing herbs does not only cost you a little amount of money, but it also helps you spice up your dishes.
Salad greens (Grows in any season): Lettuce and spinach are amongst the fast-growing and easy-to-grow plants for your balcony garden. They will grow well in any part of your apartment as long as they get plenty of water.
Strawberries (Grows in any season): The everbearing strawberry plant can produce fruit all year round. Not only will this plant enhance your balcony, but it is also delicious. Strawberries need approximately 6 hours of sun per day and this plant needs their soil to be consistently moist.
Basil (Grows in any season, but preferably during spring and summer): Just like any other herbs, Basil can grow in any season. However, warm weather, moist soil, and enough sunlight are needed in order for this particular type of herb to flourish even more. During winter, basil can still thrive on your windowsill and you can continue on having a fresh supply of herbs throughout the winter.
Mint (Preferably spring and summer): The sunlight during winter may be too weak and the apartment's windowsill can be too cold for Mint to grow. This plant requires at least 6-7 hours of sunlight daily and needs to be kept at temperatures ranging 18-22 Celsius during the day, and 13-15 Celsius at night. Mint is known as a ‘bully’ plant when planted outdoors due to its fast and aggressive growth, so keeping it in a container indoors will keep this plant in check.
Scallions (Grows in any season): This plant is very easy to grow – all you need to do is submerge the root ends in water or plant them in soil, and in just a few days, it will regrow into scallion plants that are ready to be used in your next dishes.
Monstera plants (Preferably spring and summer, but stays dormant during winter): The Monstera is one of the most popular indoor plants as it adds aesthetic value to your room. This plant prefers a warm climate away from direct sunlight and they require us to do regular cleaning with a soft, damp cloth. Monstera plants do not immediately die during winter, rather, this plant goes into dormancy during the cold weather. You will still have to water your Monstera plant during its dormant state, but since the plant is growing much slower in winter and the sun is not around as much to evaporate the water, you will need to water far less often.
Cactus (Preferably spring and summer, but stays dormant during winter): This plant thrives in a dry living condition. Unlike most plants, cactus need very minimal amounts of water – which makes growing this plant even easier. Similar to the case of Monstera plants, cactus will become dormant during winter. During the low-light winter months, cactus should be watered just enough in order to prevent them from withering and shrinking.
Gardening in your apartment can be a rewarding hobby for anyone. With so many people forced to stay at home due to the on-going pandemic, finding a new hobby for us to devote our time to may not only add to our productivity, but it also helps us in finding comfort in the midst of a crippling pandemic. So what are you waiting for? Grab your seeds and embark on your new urban gardening adventure!