First Attempt at Apartment Vegetable Gardening

theoriginalerty(6)April 9, 2009

Hello Plant-lovers!

Early this year I decided that I wanted to grow vegetables in my apartment. I didn't have a very good sense of what was required and kind of dove in before I did too much research.

Initially, I tried to grow some things on the windowsill. I live in a pretty small place with a north facing window, but there are two buildings painted white outside and I thought this would help some things grow on reflected light. This was not the case, and I had extremely leggy results. Here is a picture of the window:

I decided that lights were the best option, and fluorescents seemed like the obvious choice. I immediately bought a ballast at the nearby Wal-mart and put one warm and one cool 4ft tube inside it. I also had an additional ballast for one tube and I put a cool white in there as well. This makes a total of three tubes. I found some scrap wood someone was putting out for trash and made a very basic setup on the floor. Total, it cost me $30 for the setup and about $20 for seeds, soil and other supplies. Here are some pictures of this setup:

The majority of the plants are inside recycled Pop-Bottle Sub-irrigated planters that I learned about in the blog, Inside Urban Green. I have found this blog to be an invaluable resource. I'm growing many herbs, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and some leafy greens.

My question is twofold. First, I would like to know if this is adequate light to sustain the plants permanently. I am a poor college student living in a small apartment and there is no way to grow anything outside. Would fertilizer help? What kind? I'm stuck with the space I have.

If it is not possible, what suggestions do you have for me. Keep the small budget and lack of space in mind before you answer. I have a feeling that if these plants cant produce crops, it may not be worth the money to keep the lights on. I did notice though, that my roma-tomatoes have about 3 or four areas where fruit is starting to form.

What do you think?


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You won't be able to grow roma tomatoes with that setup. I would concentrate on herbs and loose leaf lettuces. You could also try some of the miniature tomatoes like Tiny Tim, Micro Tom, etc.

If you want to grow the larger tomato plants, keep your eyes open for a used 400 watt metal halide setup on craigslist, ebay, etc. You can probably find one for under $100.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2009 at 7:59PM
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I would try and find some gardening group on campus or in the community. I too have had trouble finding space. Once I lived in an apartment with a patio but the landlord didn't like plants.

This is my first year growing tomatoes and peppers from seed. I bought the same light you did and am growing the seedlings in my laundry room.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2009 at 10:15PM
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Thanks for the advice!

Can anyone else suggest plants that have a decent yield under lights and where to get them? I want to get the most out of what I have already setup.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2009 at 2:10PM
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Karen Pease

Almost anything that'd be described as an "herb". Lots of flavor in a small amount of plant = great for growing in confined spaces.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2009 at 4:30PM
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If you have to supply most of the light using electricity no way will you break even economically after your cost for hardware, potting soil, lights, seeds, and electricity. Plus it looks like you will ruin your floor from spilled water, better put some large trays under your containers. But if you just consider it a fun hobby go ahead. I know I spend more on gardening than the value of what I produce, and I am an expert bargain hunter and grow everything outside in almost perfect California weather (except for lack of rain), but its my hobby so I don't care. There are worse things I could spend my money on.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2009 at 5:21PM
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Karen Pease

If you cook with a lot of fresh herbs, you can save money growing under lights, since fresh herbs are so expensive for how much you get. Can't do that with much else, though. I'm reminded of the "64 dollar tomato" here ;)

    Bookmark   April 12, 2009 at 1:32AM
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It's interesting because when I originally was getting into this I felt like I was doing the world a favor by producing some of my own food. Looking back, it seems that it has turned into a relatively expensive hobby. I plan to try to calculate the cost of the total setup + electricity + random supplies and see how it compares to the cost of my total crop output using average prices.

I've had some "mad-scientist" type ideas that include using mirrors and foil to maximize my light. I've even considered placing a large mirror outside and somehow rigging it to constantly line up the sun with my window. Another thought would involve the growth of exclusively medium to low light vegetables in bulk so that my overall yield would be higher, but limited in plant types (aka lots of lettuce and herbs). There has to be some way to use technology and creative thinking to at the very least break even in a low-sun environment.

I just got some windshield sun shades at the dollar store. I plan to rig them up on all sides, along with some aluminum foil and see if it helps. I also got some liquid-soluble fertilizer that I plan to add in very low concentrations every few weeks.

Thus far, I have been very successful. The pop-top planters that I mentioned before are doing a great job and promoting root growth. I've also noticed that everything has a deep green, healthy shine. And lets not forget the tomatoes that are forming. I plan to do everything I can to promote growth until the lack of soil volume, and light begin to take its toll. Here are some pictures, and I'll keep you posted on progress.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2009 at 11:30AM
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If you're still looking for lights...There's a guy here close to me that has MH ballasts for relitively cheap. He got them from a convinience store closing down. I could probably get you one for $40 shipped? Where do you live? If you'd like i can send you an invoice via paypal that way there would be reciept of transaction and buyer seller security. I would much rather that. I'm headed over to his place some time this week to pick one up for myself. I'm making a budgeted attempt at growing the Bhut Jolokia pepper hydroponically. As well as some other indoor type veggies and herbs. It's a newfound hobby for me as well. And being married with a child and single income military pay it's not easy to keep myself entertained. Let me know what you think. You can email at if you would rather.


    Bookmark   April 12, 2009 at 8:11PM
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Don't underestimate the value of a south facing window if you have one. I grew a head of loose leaf lettuce that reached 2' tall before it fell over. I also have a determinate tomato plant that already has five or more fruits that have set. No supplemental lighting at all, but they are in hydro.


    Bookmark   April 20, 2009 at 3:14PM
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Hey, really very nice creativity! I will definitely try this. Thanks for sharing and keep posting!

Here is a link that might be useful: Rooftop Gardens New York City

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 1:49AM
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