Tips For Gardening (And Composting) In Small Spaces

You'll be growing tomatoes in no time.

01/07/2016 12:26 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:56 PM AEST
A cute kitty is definitely recommended (but not required).

Ever wanted to grow your own veggies at home, but didn't because your apartment doesn't have room for a dining table, let alone a big balcony space to garden?

Well, get out your garden gloves because gardening (and composting) in small spaces is completely achievable and has an array of amazing benefits.

"The big awareness which is growing is that so much of our food is grown quite far away from where we live," Indira Naidoo, media personality and founder of The Edible Balcony, told The Huffington Post Australia.

"We're also more aware that much of our waste is recycled and composted far away, and we're starting to understand that this creates huge environmental pressures.

"Gardening and composting at home cuts down on all the storage, refrigeration and trucking food in."

You don't need much space to have a flourishing herb garden.

The benefits

Apart from helping to reduce the 450,000 full garbage trucks' worth of wasted food each year, growing some herbs and veggies also lowers your shopping bill, ensures you have fresh, nutritious foods and is a great way to get some relaxing (and rewarding) exercise.

"Obviously you can't grow all the food you need on your small space, terrace or balcony, but you can easily grow most of the herbs you need," Naidoo said.

"It's great to grow your own herbs, you save so much money. A packet of herbs costs five dollars and you only use a little bit in a stir fry or stew, and what do you do with the rest of it? It goes bad in the fridge, you throw it in the bin and it ends up in landfill and becomes another problem.

"The other wonderful thing about growing plants is you can quickly grab some herbs to include in your meal. It will taste fresher and better, which is great.

"Growing your own herbs or vegetables encourages you to cook meals at home and to incorporate them into your meals."

Give back to the environment through home gardening and composting.

While gardening and composting was once difficult due to property regulations and restrictions, growing your own food and composting your food waste has become more possible, compact and cheap.

"When I first started growing a few veggies on my balcony, when I went to the garden or hardware store there weren't pots or growing systems you could adapt to use in your small space," Naidoo told HuffPost Australia.

"What's lovely to see now is there are hanging basket systems and vertical wall systems. Even six or seven years ago these didn't really exist."

Local councils and strata management have also started to meet the growing demands of city dwellers wishing to grow their own food and reduce waste by introducing green bins, community gardens and easing on rental regulations.

"Most of the changes we're seeing now by councils in Australia and around the world is how to encourage residents to be more responsible and proactive for both the growing of some of their food and the composting where they actually live -- rather than entire suburbs collecting things and taking them to a landfill, which we're running out of space to do," Naidoo said.

Now that's a vertical garden.

"Strata committees and councils are trying to make this easier for apartment dwellers to do this. For instance, because of certain strata restrictions, some people couldn't even hang their clothes out on the balcony as it makes them not look 'pristine' and 'designer'. So, sometimes growing pots is impossible if there's bans on this in some buildings."

The more awareness and demand there is to allow at-home gardening and composting, the more the regulations and restrictions will ease and adapt.

"This is a current trend around the world, to try to grow and compost exactly where you live. Obviously for people who live in small spaces like apartments and terraces, the challenge is how to do this," Naidoo said.

Once you start getting engaged in composting and see the amount of waste you generate, it changes the way you buy and cook, and you become a lot more conscious of the waste you unnecessarily produce.

"Australia traditionally had backyards with vegetable gardens and used incinerators to compost, so a lot of those techniques families used to use is much more difficult in small spaces today."

It is, however, very possible.

"With enough products on the market, there's no reason why everybody can't be growing some their own food in pots, hanging baskets, vertical gardens and using compact and easy-to-use composting systems that are designed for busy people."

Tips on gardening and composting in small spaces:


1. Choose your gardening system

Depending on how big or small your space is, there is always a way to grow plants. Naidoo recommends going to your local garden centre and taking a look at the options available.

"There are pots with suction pads which you can stick on your window, so even if you don't have a balcony or window sill, if you have a sunny window you can grow plants," she said.

Hanging baskets and vertical garden systems are also great options. And, if you don't have time (or forget) to water your plants, there's even self-watering systems you can buy.

"There are all these great, new technologies which make it easier for people to grow their own food in their apartments and adapt to whatever small space they have," Naidoo told HuffPost Australia.

"Self watering pots and even solar panel driven systems that are attached to timers to the pots on your balcony, terraces, walls and window sills can be self watered. So, if you're a busy city dweller or you travel a lot you can be rest assured that your plants are being watered."

Get creative with how you build your garden. You could hang plants on a clothes rack, rope or over the balcony rail.

2. Start slow

Are you guilty of getting inspired and buying 10 different herbs, fruit and veggies, only to kill most all of them? Don't worry, you will get there. The key is to simply take baby steps.

"The first key I would say is to start small. The biggest problem I've come across is people get this rush of excitement and enthusiasm. They go to a garden center, get about 30 seedlings, come home and plant them, and get overwhelmed as it is so much so soon," Naidoo said.

"Start with the easy herbs, which tend to be woody herbs like thyme, oregano and rosemary. Parsley is also pretty good to start with. Just monitor those, water them and put them in a really nutritious potting mix and see how they go."

When they survive and you get a bit of encouragement, move on to the next stage -- lettuces, spinach, cabbages, bok choy, followed by the next level of tomatoes, radishes and carrots.

"Do it in small stages and get comfortable, then move up."

The feeling of growing plants is equally rewarding and addictive.

3. Start composting

While most of us imagine smelly, rotten foods when we think of composting, when done correctly, composting is stink-free, easy and incredibly rewarding.

"A lot of people might think composting is yuck and that it will be smelly, dirty and messy, and that there's no way you could incorporate that into a small space like a balcony, but you can. " Naidoo told HuffPost Australia.

"Once you start getting engaged in composting and see the amount of waste you generate, it changes the way you buy and cook, and you become a lot more conscious of the waste you unnecessarily produce.

"You'll start cooking thing in a way that produce less waste and use recipes that use food from the night before. You start becoming more aware of how better we can live sustainably."

There are a range of different composting systems, some being more compact and easier than others.

JGI/Jamie Grill
Composting at home reduces the need for unnecessary trips to landfills, as well as gives you nutritious soil for your plants.

Hungry Bin

"The worm farm I use is by a company called Hungry Bin. It's really compact, simple to use and comes in three pieces in the mail. You just slot them together and they even send you a thousand worms that come in paper tubing, which actually becomes the worms' first bedding and meal," Naidoo said.

Once you receive your compost bin and worms, tear up the paper tubing into pieces, put the worms and meal inside the bin and leave them for a few weeks until they've settled into their new house.

"Then you can then add all those scraps from your kitchen, as well as leaves and twigs from your garden. Within six weeks you will start noticing the worms making their nutritious worm poo and wee fertiliser, which falls to the bottom of the filter system for you to use.

I think every household should have some type of worm farm. There's no mess, dirt or smell.

"Something like a worm farm is terrific for beginners as you don't really have to understand much to keep it working because the worms do most of the work for you. They give you quite clear instructions about what you can and can't put in."

As well as getting rid of your scraps, you're creating a free, nutritious fertiliser that you can mix into your watering can and water back into your plants to make them nourished, strong and healthy.

"This all happens without any smell. If it's a healthy worm farm it should smell like a damp forest floor," Naidoo said.

"I think every household should have some type of worm farm. There's no mess, dirt or smell. They're really efficient composters."

Composting makes nature's perfect soil.


Another great composting system for small apartments of 1-2 people is Bokashi, a Japanese composting system, which is a little bin that sits under the sink or on your kitchen bench.

"You have Bokashi chips inside and you put all your scraps in, which all breaks down into a dense nutrient liquid that you can then dilute and mix into your garden. It's small and compact and, again, has no smell," Naidoo said.

Compost tumblers

"If you want to have a composting bin and you have a terrace or a nice sized courtyard, you can get a full composting system which is like a rolling tub on a stand, which you can add all your scraps and keep rolling," Naidoo said.

"It's a good system for meat, bones, fats, cheeses and fish scraps -- whereas a worm farm is vegan -- but it requires a little more time."

Unlike a worm farm which essentially does the 'turning' for you, with a compost tumbler you have to tend to it each day.

"You've got to turn the composting wheel every day and so a lot of people don't prefer this system. Whereas with a worm farm, you don't have to do much."

A photo posted by India & Magnus (@haarkon_) on

4. Have fun

Instead of seeing gardening and composting as impossible or gross (or even worse, not trying at all for fear of failure), turn it into a hobby and a way to be involved in the amazing process of nature.

"Just have fun. I used to not like creepy crawly things but now I love it," Naidoo said. "For me, the worms have become sort of pets. I quite enjoy that aspect."

5. Get others involved

If you feel composting or gardening is too big a responsibility but would love to start, Naidoo recommends talking to your neighbours and strata committee to organise a group garden or composting area.

"If you want to go that way but you are conscious of your scraps, talk to your apartment strata committee and say you'd like one worm farm in the garbage room where everyone can put some of their food scraps in," Naidoo said.

"Once you get comfortable with that you can invest in your own one."

Having greenery in and around your apartment helps filter the air and create a vibrant, bright mood.

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