One of the things Peter and I have missed the most about living in a house (versus living in an apartment, like we do now) is having a yard. It was always one of the nicest things to be able to wake up early, water the plants while it’s cool and quiet outside, then enjoy a cup of coffee and a good book from the privacy of our own outdoor getaway. While apartment living is quite a bit different from this serene picture, we’ve still managed to find ways to bring a bit of beauty and rural atmosphere to our urban environment.
Our solution and crowning achievement of apartment living: creating our own urban, rooftop garden.
Even though our one-bedroom apartment is small (~750 square feet), it does have a few distinct advantages: it has a beautiful view of the Sandia Mountains and the West Mesa, it’s on the third (top) floor, and it has a fairly spacious, sunny terrace.
Our terrace measures approximately 20 feet by 8 feet—pretty generous compared to the majority of apartments you come across. Also different from many other apartments is the fact that our terrace is open—there’s no roof or overhang from an apartment above us, so we get full sun throughout the growing season. It’s the perfect setup for a moderately-sized garden.
While we’re limited to potted plants, we’ve found a few ways to maximize our space and create the most successful conditions for growing a variety of healthy plants.
1) Building a greenhouse
Over the years, we’ve built a variety of greenhouses, but none have been as successful as our most recent greenhouse—the one we’re using now. We built it by hand using a combination of plywood, oak, plastic sheeting, and two types of insulation. In addition to this basic frame, we later added a sheet of aluminum foil (to maximize heat and light in the cooler spring months) and chicken wire (for the beans we would wind up planting).
2) Using mulch
Living in Albuquerque, where the summer months are characterized by temperatures near 100 degrees, humidity levels generally below 20 percent, and gusting winds, having anything in full sun during the hottest part of the day (plants, animals, small children, ice cream) can be absolutely brutal. This is why we discovered that it is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL to have lots of mulch on hand from the very onset of growing season. Mulch helps to retain water and prevent soil erosion, which makes the plants much, much happier.
3) Mixing our own pesticides
In our urban garden, we grow a variety of plants, the majority of which are vegetables we eat throughout the season. In the past, we’ve had encounters with a number of different “pests” that have been Hell-bent on destroying the plants we’ve worked so hard to grow. These pests have ranged from caterpillars to aphids to squash bugs and, while we appreciate seeing butterflies floating around outside of our door, we don’t appreciate their offspring. When it comes to caterpillars and squash bugs (gross), we can usually take care of these by inspecting our plants every couple of days and physically removing them by chucking them over the edge of our balcony (yeah…). For the smaller, more extensive pests like aphids, we created a own garlic-based pesticide using a mixture of garlic, soap, oil, and water. This has worked phenomenally since we started using it and our plants have been healthier than ever. Plus, we don’t have to worry about ingesting a bunch of weird chemicals with the vegetables we eat. Double win.
Once we had all the tools we needed to ensure successful growing conditions, we needed to decide what we wanted to plant. Based on previous growing seasons, including three seasons of rooftop gardening at our apartment, we decided to grow the following varieties this year: bell pepper, green chile, jalapenos, green onions, garlic, chives, basil, rosemary, zucchini, string beans, chard, spinach, and a variety of flowers. It was an ambitious list, but as you’ll see below, we were successful in growing each and every one of these varieties.
It definitely took a whole lot of care and attention when it came to watering, fertilizing, spraying, and maintaining these plants, but our efforts made it feel like we had our own little patch of yard attached to our apartment. As a result, when we step outside our patio door, we are greeted by a wash of color (lots of green), we can smell the rosemary and the basil, and we get to enjoy the vegetables we grow in a variety of recipes. Most importantly though, our urban garden brings a little bit of serenity and beauty to our apartment living. We love to sit outside with a glass of wine, surrounded by our beautiful plants, while we enjoy a sunset and conversation. The kitties sure appreciate it too
Here’s a look at this year’s urban garden adventure: