The Little Big Garden

I know a lot of people who are always striving for the bigger house, bigger car, bigger yard. I just don’t understand that. I have always lived in little houses (didn’t Laura Ingalls Wilder say that once too?), and I have always liked them. They are cozy and warm. I have always felt lost in immediate spaces that are too cavernous (although I do appreciate wide-open natural spaces—there nothing quite like being underneath big sky). It just seems wasteful. My feelings definitely transfer to my views of gardening. My garden this year will grow just enough produce for a few really good salads—honestly just a few handfuls of vegetables. A lot of people I know wouldn’t be satisfied with that—they would be looking for big real estate to fill only partway with decorative plants. But me, I’m thinking—“Okay, I’ve got three windows. How can I maximize those three windows to produce the vegetables and fruits we need?” This year was the experimental year—I’ve never tried indoor vegetable gardening before. I purposefully chose not use artificial lighting or soil amendments to grow my plants. I’m using the natural light from eastern windows, and a plain potting mix, with gravel in the bottom of the containers for drainage. I give all of the plants a good soak twice a week, and that’s it. I want to see what nature will do, all by itself. One can only improve upon something after the process is understood. In terms of maximizing my space, I have room to add two small pots in the living room window, four small pots in the kitchen window, and another four small pots in the bedroom window. Most of these will grow kitchen herbs, and a second sowing of lettuce. I’ll probably also devote one or two to my new-found interest in desert succulents. If I have any expansionist tendencies, they reach only as far as the two pine bookshelves from Ikea on the other side of the room. I can’t wait to purchase (second hand) or build some new bookcases so I can repurpose the existing ones for the farm. They are the perfect size to for seed flats and grow lights, and they’re sturdy. I like the challenge of finding new spaces within what I own to grow things, and in incorporating plants into the way I decorate my home. And I really like to interact with my plants. First thing in the morning, groggy-eyed before my cup of tea and shower and not able to see more than a foot in front of my face because I don’t have my contacts in, I open the curtains to let the light in, check the soil to make sure it’s moist, and check out each plant. I get excited about every sprout and flower. I inhale the intoxicating aroma of tomato plants basking in the summer morning heat. I do all this in the hour (and not a full hour, mind you—I still have to dress and have breakfast) before I leave to go to my office job. But it makes me feel like more than a cubicle drone—it makes me feel like a farmer. And I believe I am farming, here in my apartment. I am grateful for the little patches of dirt I have assembled in my windows. I am grateful that I can actually smell tomato plants in the morning and chew crispy lettuce, freshly torn from the plant. As I survey my bookshelves and windows, and flip through my seed catalogs, I am in touch with what is important. I know the value of each square foot of space that I utilize, and every square foot that I don’t. I know the value of providing a small, yet substantial in other ways, part of my family’s diet from our own “land”. And I feel content with what I have, and the challenge and excitement of finding new ways to work with what I’ve got. I don’t need the bigger garden. I’ve already got it; I just have to find a good way to use it.