Gardening With Limited Space

Julia McMahon
small contained plants directly under lamp light

For many college students and young adults who live in dorms or apartments, gardening is an inaccessible hobby. Because of our living situations, we lack the outdoor space to grow our food. As someone who grew up gardening, I could not let this injustice inhibit my need to be one with the soil any longer. This past year, I embarked on a journey to find the best method of apartment gardening. 


Method One: Aero Garden

The Aero Garden uses hydroponics to grow plants without soil. This countertop garden (no bigger than the average Air Fryer) is a small water basin, covered by a lid with holes to place in their plant starters. On top of this is a grow light that is on a self-timer and stays on for 15 hours a day. Using the Aero Garden is simple. Fill the basin with water, add a capful of the provided plant food, put the starter plants in the holes, and that’s it. Within a couple of weeks, you’ll have a fully-fledged mini-garden. There are a variety of seed pods to choose from, such as herbs, cherry tomatoes, flower varieties, and a few others. The Aero Garden is guaranteed to work and is small enough to fit in your apartment. 

My mom got me the Aero Garden for Christmas last year and I was so excited to set it up. However, the minute I assembled the garden and set it on the counter, there was a problem. My roommate's cats immediately took an interest in it and pulled the seed pods out and threw them around the kitchen. So, unfortunately, I had to hide the garden in a cabinet. This was fine because it grows using artificial light, but it was not ideal. While I did enjoy watching my herbs grow and using them in my cooking, something was missing from the whole experience. I didn’t feel like I was gardening. I didn’t have to dig in the soil to plant anything, I didn’t have to water it, and I didn’t even have to watch the health of the plants. The only real maintenance it required was filling the basin and adding more plant food when it would instruct you to. The Aero Garden took less work than keeping a house plant, making it an unsatisfying hobby. 

Eventually, the plants outgrew the garden and I had no choice but to compost them because I had nowhere to transplant them. Overall, I recommend the Aero Garden to someone who is looking for a source of fresh herbs more than I would to someone who wants to garden. Also if you have a curious cat, there may be better options for you. 


Method Two: Patio Gardening

This small two-tier garden bed is the perfect size for indoor or outdoor gardening. I started gardening here at the end of May to take advantage of the Summer season and it was so fun! After filling it with soil, I took a trip to Tallahassee Nurseries to buy some plants. I grew a few varieties of pepper on the top, and on the bottom, I attempted to grow some vining vegetables. My pepper plants took and I had too many even to use! I made salsas and dried some out to make spices, others I ended up giving away to friends and neighbors. The vining plants were not as successful, probably because there was not enough soil for them to root. While they did end up growing, they never fruited. 

While I used this outside, I don't see why you couldn’t set it up near a bright window inside and have the same success! As long as you have something underneath it (a small basin or pot under the draining hole would work perfectly) to catch water after you shower the plants, it would not be a hassle to use indoors. What I loved most about this gardening option was how close it felt to the real thing. I had my hands in the soil, I had to water it every day, and I had to treat it with different fertilizers for optimal success. The only thing I would do differently is to choose better plants for the bottom tier. Next spring I will try some low-light vegetable varieties, such as broccoli, beans, scallions, or maybe cabbage. 

All in all, I recommend the two-tiered garden box to anyone willing to give patio gardening a shot! 



Method Three: Rogue Gardening

While I'm not sure this gardening method is truly accessible to everyone living in an apartment,  I had the most fun taking care of a rogue pumpkin that started growing in my front yard this Summer. It started back in October when my roommates and I decided to carve pumpkins for Halloween, and we chucked the guts into the yard not thinking much of it. In June, the pumpkin started growing and I decided to take care of it to see what would happen.  Luckily,  the staff at my apartment building didn't seem to mind it, and I grew the pumpkin for the coming months. It started gaining attention from my neighbors and other people in my apartment complex once the pumpkin started fruiting. So naturally, I created an Instagram account for the pumpkin so people could follow its progress (@pumpkin.on.woodward). While this silly Pet Project might seem frivolous to some, I ended up growing three full-size white pumpkins by the end of the season!

If you have access to any plot of grass or dirt, it might be worth it to sprinkle some seeds and let Mother Nature do the rest. I might indeed have gotten lucky with my apartment’s maintenance staff and their willingness to turn a blind eye. 


Method Four: Community Gardening

If I'm being honest, I have yet to try Community gardening for myself. But I already know that it is the perfect solution to the urban gardening epidemic. Community Gardens give access to land to those who do not have their own. For a small fee, you can rent your garden bed within a community garden and grow whatever you'd like there. FSU Sustainable Campus manages its community garden on our campus. And if I had known about it before this past Spring,  I definitely would have invested in a gardening box. For all of those living on or off campus, the Seminole Organic Garden is an amazing way to enjoy the hobby of gardening and the fruits of your labor despite not having a backyard of your own. 

It's up to you to decide which gardening method works best for you, your home, and your schedule. I hope this article sheds some light on different ways you can include gardening in your life as a college student. Check out my pumpkin account to follow my next gardening journey this Spring as I test out the Seminole Organic Gardens for myself!