Reasons for and how-to grow a garden even if you live in an apartment

By: J. Marlando


Some years ago my wife and I were going through a very rough time. We were having real financial struggles, had gone through a tragic death of a close family member and endured other losses so we were looking at a world where every silver lining had its cloud.

On one of those dreary days, I decided to fill my time…and my mind by growing a backyard garden. Even though we were renting, there was ample space. There was around twenty or so square feet of grass just outside the backdoor but beyond that there was nothing but barren ground. The first thing I did was clear it of weeds and a few rocks and then start turning the soil. Turning the soil can get old very fast because it’s monotonous and hard labor. Well, if you are like me and used to spending your work days behind a desk, you discover just how out of shape you are when you start digging. Nevertheless, I got it done in a couple or so days.

After the soil was turned over, step two was to prepare the soil. I suppose there are a lot of ways for soil preparation but what worked for me was a few bags of Miracle-Gro Garden Soil and mixed it up with the dry, dead earth I had turned over. When I finished that plot of ground it not only looked healthy but smelled healthy. Incidentally, the products that I will be mentioning in this article are not your only alternative. They are just my personal choices. And, just so you know, I do not have any connection with the companies named in this material except as a customer and I am not a friend or a relative of either the owners or employees either. And finally, no one is paying me to have their name put in this piece…darn it!

Okay, with that said, I’ll continue with my story.

So after I added the soil Garden soil someone told me that I should let it sit for a few weeks. I did not have the patience for that, however. As soon as I rested my back, spent an evening trying to find something interesting on television, I awoke the next morning anxious to get started making my plot of  upturned ground look like a garden. I began by digging shallow ditches to create my rows. I actually used a string to make sure that my rows were straight but that is not necessary. Vegetables and flowers grow just as well from crooked rows. Nevertheless, I like the look of neat, straight rows in my garden and so I went to the extra effort to make mine straight and even.

Once that was done, it was time to go out and buy our seeds. There must have been some synchronicity involved because on that very day we received a Burbee seed catalog. That evening my wife and I had a lot of fun re-deciding what we would grow in our garden. Mostly she told me that I should pick out the vegetables but she kept suggesting veggies that she’d liked so the garden became, in effect, a collective project. And, the best news was that, at least for the moment our minds were off our problems.

We both needed a project for reasons that I stated above. In any case, we called in our order and in a few days our seeds arrived in little packets.

I followed the instructions on the packets of seeds, especially on how deep the specific planting needed to be and finally being done with the sowing, I watered.


    I did not use the trenches for a couple of weeks but watered like one waters the lawn. But then when the vegetables started sprouting out of the ground and began growing I switched to the irrigation style of watering although sometimes I’d spray a little too.

It was really fun and exciting to watch the garden developing and growing up. Quite often my wife and I would sit out on our small patio just to enjoy the view of our labors and talk about how nice it was to be growing things and, of course, after watering everything always smelled so fresh.

When at long last the vegetables were ready for harvest, our grown children came visiting with paper bags to fill. They had the grandest time picking their own vegetables and we had plenty to share. And the sharing was both fun and wonderful!

During that first summer, I came to realize that a vegetable garden is more than a plot of ground yielding things to eat. And while it was that too, the bonus was that is it is a place where creation itself unfolds for everyone who perceives it; there is such an unspoken whisper of peace and harmony that somehow takes a person out of the noise and chaos of daily life and gifts him (or her) with a kind loving tranquility, feeling a part of earth and sky, of sun and moon. I am unable to describe the feeling more exact or descriptive than this but a garden yields more than vegetables. It yields a kind of connectedness to the whole of nature and of life.

So there you have an overview of the experience of growing your own garden. Let’s talk about other benefits.



Life is not as easy or as simple as it was even 50 years ago—people are growing further and further apart as children continue to grow up with two income parents, most commonly living many miles away from grandparents or other relatives and schools teaching them to connect ever as much with their computers than their teachers. The wholesomeness of families eating together in the kitchen is now eaten in front of the TV set. The child’s connection to outside and nature has all but been lost or, perhaps better said, traded for hours of video games and text messaging.

There are exceptions to what is said in the above but, by and large, we are living in an existential reality of alienation.

It isn’t just the modern day children that are primarily lost in the tangled wings of technology, a great number of parents too have fallen in the trappings of the computer’s lure. Indeed, one of the most prevailing howls of married people is that, we just don’t communicate anymore.”

Well, think about it, in general we no longer eat together we merely eat at around the same time. We don’t go on family picnics anymore, nor do we sit with our spouses on romantic porch swings to steal a kiss or two or just hold hands while letting the evening slip by. In fact, porches themselves have all but disappeared except in the old neighborhoods where houses were built before the 1950s. One of the only things we do as a family anymore is have a barbecue on the patio but even talking to our mates or children is limited to such questions as do you want mustard or ketchup or both?

The point of the above is that from the kids to the parents, we live in a kind of robotic world wherein human touch and talk gives way to the electronic experiences of nonlocal realities wherein our minds are made busy but our emotions are left dormant unless we lose our connection to the net and then the primal scream becomes…well, we all know what the primal scream is when we lose connection to the net.

There is a way to change all this for at least a little while. Grow a garden! Get out of the house and find a little patch of ground, clear it of weeds and debris; get your hands and fingernails filthy with real, authentic dirt and start digging.

I’ve seen some impressive home gardens in less than 10 square feet of space and I’ve also seen home gardens that resembled little farms but both became the center focus of the family especially after they started yielding. If you have kids, you can get them involved with the actual planting, you can have great conversations with your husband or wife about what to plant. When we grew our first garden I had never tasted or eaten collards before but we ended up loving them picked fresh and boiled in water. In fact, we added it to our list of favorite greens alongside spinach and lettuce.

   LOVE and a NEW VIEWof GROWING A HOME GARDEN Corn is something else that’s fun and really easy to grow. Corn takes a little extra space though and you’ll need a minimum of four rows. Nevertheless, for young and old alike, there is just something intriguing about walking through your cornfield even if it is a miniature. Incidentally, I had room for eight rows but there was a problem. There was quite a bit of shade later in the day but a lot of morning sun. I decided to risk it and I planted anyway—my corn grew to around 9 feet tall—as they say, as high as an elephant’s eye—so we had a great time with it.

So now some readers may be howling, yea, yea, but what if you live in an apartment or townhouse where you have no real space at all?

I am living in a house now with a nice yard but it is nearly all in dark shade. When we first moved in, I tried growing a garden and between the terrible soil and shade I end up with two inch carrots and most nothing edible. Now thanks to my wife’s enthusiasm I have a nice little garden in our driveway which gets a lot of sun. How do we do it?

Some people use pots to plant vegetables in but we never had much luck at that—keeping vegetables and even tomatoes watered properly in pots is pretty difficult. First of all they dry up really fast or you end up over-watering and the roots get sick. Some people do okay at it thought so maybe you are one of them? What I use is a thin called an *Earth Box. I have seven of them! They are above-ground containers with a unique watering system that works for me summer after summer and for my winter gardening as well! So if you want to grow a garden on your patio or some other small space you should check this out. Once again, I do not know anyone in this company except as a mail-order customer so I have no reason to say nice things except to be helpful to you the reader. And once again, there are other systems of container growing available but I mention the Earth Box only because it is the one I favor and use.


But let’s get back to yard gardening.


Most people who do a lot of gardening suggest that I plant and grow seedlings for transplanting into my garden. I’ve always planted directly in the ground, however and that has worked great for me. If you do grow or buy seedlings, however, I will tell you that it is best to plant those in the evening when it’s cooler. And speaking of planting when it is cooler, I usually plant my carrots shortly after I plant my potatoes and this reminds me—if you are a potato lover and have never tasted a potato fresh out of the garden, you have a real treat in store: In fact, I can almost promise you that once you’ve tasted a newly grown potato you will never want to eat a store-bought potato again. At least that is what happened to my wife and me. I don’t have the space I used to have but I’ve been told that a person can grow potatoes in a barrel and I might just try it this winter. (Potatoes are a winter crop. I live in southern California so my potato planting season starts in late December so you’ll have to check when best to plant in your area). By the way, you can buy seed potatoes at some nurseries but they are easy to prepare yourself—just cut a chunk of potato that has shoots growing out of it and plant ‘em. Ask your local gardener how best to do this though or, just experiment as I did. I ended up with a great crop so there you have it.

What is best about a garden is not only the fresh, good tasting veggies they produce, they also produce family participation and lots of great conversations; they can actually get the kids to leave their computers and discover there’s more to life than video games and Saturday morning cartoons. In the final analysis, there is just something down to earth about gardening. Home gardening can truly put a smile on your lips and a song in your heart; it’s just a nice, lovng thing to do for you and for all those you care about.