Gardening with Apartment Living

In the lease agreement for our apartment it states that we are not to have any belongings in the outer halls/entryways of our apartments, outside the building, or between our windows and blinds. This is a particularly stupid rule, although I understand why it exists.

My own apartment is ground-level and my next door neighbor and I share our own entrance that’s larger than our bathroom. Two separate doors, four windows, it is likely a good 10×10 in feet. We both are friendly with one another and love to plant and have no problem with the idea of using the space to fill the windowsills with herbs and vegetables but it is simply not allowed. Our window sills are just large enough to fit a few smaller-sized pots in them and yet… still not allowed, unless we want our blinds pulled back to expose our home life every night for the neighborhood to see.

But I am desperate for a garden and have, for the last 13 years, grown herbs (at the very least) or vegetables. When I lived with my parents, I made a squared off area where I grew and harvested zucchini, tomatoes, peppers and herbs. It felt like such a satisfactory summer to harvest my own food outside our kitchen then eat it almost immediately after. All apartments I’ve lived in, I’ve been blessed with a deck or balcony, so plants happily sprung to life in the sunshine and warmth of those locations. Herbs always, tomatoes every few years, and occasionally a pepper or two. No more, though, as we have no balcony here and the rules as mentioned above.

Since I am no longer commuting 2-4 hours each day to and from work, and I am at home with a busy little boy who deeply loves to go outdoors, it is a particular pain to not be able to maintain a garden of any form. So, I had to fulfill that desire elsewhere and be creative in doing so.

While our windows in all rooms were out for consideration of gardening–three were north facing and only received direct daylight for two hours in the evening from May-July, two more were incredibly high with narrow sills so placing a plant before the window was impossible, and our living room window was low enough that our toddler and cats would both happily destroy any plants placed before it–we had our kitchen window.

Our kitchen window didn’t have blinds, therefore anything placed in the window would not break protocol about being between the window and blinds. It was east facing, so it had light in the morning until about noon, and we were able to fit a simple shelf just beneath the sill for maximum space. The greatest disadvantage was the heat vent that was on the ceiling about half a foot from the window and blew directly onto the plants.

I first planted basil and it came in well, but we still had cool temperatures so the heat would rumble to life at night and began to burn the delicate leaves to a crisp. I used kabob sticks and a plastic bag from vegetables from the store to make a shield to protect the basil which worked wonderfully until it became warm enough day-to-day for us to turn the heat off.

Following the basil, I began growing rosemary and kept chives at hand. I also mixed flower buds into the line up simply because flowers spark joy (for me). All together on their happy shelf, they loved the morning sunlight but didn’t have to suffer from the heat of the afternoon.

Being able to hop up on my step stool and trim off basil to add to my meals has been lovely. I also hope to have thyme in the future, and I can’t wait for the rosemary to grow more so I may begin harvesting it as well.

Despite being unable to have a garden and my kitchen garden being so small, I have also sought out alternatives to experience that thrill of something grown, freshly taken from its plant and eaten, by joining a community-sponsored agriculture (CSA) share.

Where I live, there are a multitude of options when looking at joining a CSA and many are sold out for shares before the spring season harvest has even begun. All have pros and cons, and it essentially boils down to what it is the shareholder is looking for. I personally wanted to be able to go to a farm and have the option to pick some of my own food while also being able to have the heavy-lifting harvest done by professionals.

We decided to join a CSA at Sweet Land Farm which allowed us to visit once a week to get a bag full of whatever they had harvested, but also gave us the option for visits to the farm to pick fruit or herbs.

Their first harvest was at the start of June and due to the pandemic, there were precautions placed for pick up. Only three shoppers were allowed to pick up the harvested goods at a time within a barn with the large doorways standing open. Each item had its name displayed above the massive canister and after feeling somewhat overwhelmed, I was able to pick and choose my harvest for the week.

Spring means greens and whats left of the root vegetables from winter and I was forced to begin thinking more creatively. I had never been a huge salad eater. I liked them well enough, but it wasn’t something I had with every meal. Still, I dove in. How could I pass up so many leafy greens? And I didn’t regret the decision one bit.

We devoured half of our share within a few days and I greedily looked forward to more. Finally, I had found a way to fulfill both my desire for a garden and my desire for that freshly grown and harvested produce (all while supporting a local farm and cutting down on my carbon footprint!).

If anything, this has taught me patience as I must wait for these plants to make headway in their venture. It’s a lesson that has been forced down my throat since becoming a parent–I never thought I would so consistently be reminded that patience is most certainly a virtue and I do not have the ability to control the speed in much of the world around me. Better yet, I am learning that it’s okay to not have control.

The herbs in my window will likely begin their decline in August when the sun in the kitchen isn’t as frequent. There will come a time when we won’t see any sun in our windows for nearly two months and I’ll miss it desperately. There will come a time when the summer harvest has run out and we rely on root vegetables and gourds for the colder months. But much as I am learning patience, I am also learning that everything has its time to shine and I certainly have never had any issue with root vegetables and gourds. Perhaps by then, I’ll also have some dried, home-grown herbs to remind me of the tiny kitchen garden I have maintained.

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