Don’t Get Fooled by Watermelon Radishes - 4 Simple Steps to Growing a Thriving Fall Apartment Garden
Updated: Sep 6, 2020
Growing edible crops in a small space can be challenging. Especially when we make plans to provide all our food for entire year. I love the concept of square foot gardening and encourage you to grow tons of edible plants. But if the idea of taking on that challenge is intimidating - this post is for you. Keep reading to learn a unique but simple way to plant a small-space fall garden that you will actually use!
First, what’s all this about watermelons and radishes? Well, as I’m writing this I am fresh from making a rookie gardening mistake. I was working on my fall product line-up for the Hortiki PLants Shop. For the first time in three years, I planned to change up my product mix. I had a good idea of what sold in previous years, but I have learned a lot. I’m excited to improve the kits and make them simpler and more useful for my customers. I received a lot of questions over the spring and summer. I have a good idea of what people's challenges are.
With this mindset, I sat down to plan my fall product mix. I immediately put down the “fan favorites”. Our fall leafy greens and root vegetable kits. This year, to help people have a better, more abundant harvest, I decided to sell larger containers. I found 100% recycled fabric grow bags, large enough for the entire process, from seed to harvest.
I added kale and spinach. I made a plan to update and enhance the microgreen kits. I drooled over the many varieties and colors of carrots and added carrots to the list. Then I got to radishes. And that’s where I hit a road bump. If you are tuned into food writing, farmer’s markets, and gardening media, you know radishes are hot (pun intended). Watermelon radishes are pretty much a MUST if you are a chef or foodie and want a viral food photo.
So I was excited about making a radish kit. There are tons of colors and varieties. They grow easily and well in containers. They grow super quickly. Win, win, win and win! Only there is one small problem. How often do most of us cook radishes? Their spiciness can be a challenge for a lot of palettes. Even when we do need them - we often use one or two and throw the rest away. I didn’t sell many kits with radishes last year. Or the year before… or the year before. But they are sooo pretty! Hahaha.
That was my thinking but I made myself take a step back. I love Hortiki and have a lot of fun with it but at the end of the day, it’s a business. I have to create products that meet people’s needs. And until I have evidence to the contrary - It’s not clear that my people need or want to grow radishes. So I did what I am encouraging you to do here. I took a ‘use-based’ approach to my garden kit planning. I based my plant selections on those products that I know people love and eat a lot of. Plant varieties people can grow again and again. Never having to worry about spoilage, chemicals in their food, or food waste.
Visit the Hortiki Plant's Shop to see my final selections!
Do you want to take a similar approach and grow only what will be most useful this fall? Continue reading for my four-step strategy to grow a thriving fall apartment garden. Get the FREE guide to follow all the steps and finish with a ready to plant garden plan.
STEP 1: Recipe Curation
Okay - let's start with the fun stuff. What do you love to eat in the fall? (Warning - you may get hungry doing this exercise). My best tip for this part of the process is that you take the limits off. At this stage don’t worry if you have the space to grow it. Or if you could ever grow enough of it to meet your needs. Close your eyes and go to your happy place. If it’s helpful, take it meal by meal and note down your favorite, go-to foods. Or, after months of quarantine eating, is improving your diet a goal for you this fall? If so, write down the types of recipes you need. This may look something like: - Healthy breakfast bowl; - Alternative to morning danishes; - Filling lunch option; - Protein-rich, vegetable dinners. Once you have the types of items you need - do a little 'research'. Set a timer and give yourself no more than 30 minutes to browse for recipes that catch your eye. Start a Pinterest board if that’s your thing and pin things for later review. (Stop by and follow Hortiki on Pinterest while you’re there. Tag @hortikiplants so we can see what delicious recipes are catching your eye).
STEP 2: The Initial List
Now you have an idea of the meals you would like to enjoy this fall. Make a list of the fruits, vegetables, and herbs you will need to make those recipes. Which items do you see most? Separate the items into categories: Frequent, Sometimes, Rarely. Use the charts provided in the free guide to keep your ideas organized.
Advanced technique - take a few minutes to consider quantities. If kale is a frequent flyer on your list, how much would you use in a week? Let’s say you are doing green smoothies three days a week. A grain bowl with kale, and steamed kale for dinner. And this is for two people. Is that two store-bought bags/bushels of kale a week? Make a note of that. Continue down your list, making the best approximations you can. This doesn’t have to be perfect, but it will help you in the next step if you have a general idea.
STEP 3: Reality Check
Not my favorite part of the process. I prefer my dream world where I have all the time and space I need to grow everything I eat. But this part is important if your garden plan is going to actually be useful. And, you will probably be surprised by my advice for this one.
#1 If you have space for outdoor row crop gardening or you have large raised beds, focus on sunlight and timing. If you have a low light garden space (often East and North facing) then cross off anything that needs full sun. If you live in Maine and get your first frost in September - remove anything that isn’t frost-tolerant.
#2 If you are growing with limited space:
Don’t be mad, but skip anything that’s on your “frequently-used” list. I know! I can’t believe I’m saying this either. But this is our moment for a reality check. Are you going to need 10 pounds of potatoes every week? Then that’s not a realistic option, so don’t hang all your hopes there. But don’t abandon the frequently-used altogether. Instead, try this.
- For the frequently-used items on your list, find a rare, unusual variety. Something you don’t find in the store. Plant that! This will be a fun way to ‘level up’ your meals from time to time. You can learn to grow it and this may be something you can try at scale in the future. In the meantime, you will experience a different aspect of the crop. Add interesting colors or textures, and have fun with the small amount you can harvest.
- Now, for the majority of your garden plan, focus on the items that you will eat sometimes. You likely can get enough of a harvest to have the item every couple of weeks when you need it. This will allow you to enjoy a fun fall garden. You can use your selections in meals you actually want to eat. Yet there is no need to feel frustrated that you don’t have enough to get through the week. Check the items on the sometimes-list for their space and light requirements. Take a little time to do research so you know what they need to grow well.
STEP 4: Ready to Grow!
At this stage, you have done a lot of planning. Congratulations! By now you know what plants you want to grow and which ones you can grow in your growing conditions. You also already know which delicious recipes you are going to cook with your fresh harvest.
You are ready to grow!
Check out these other planning resources we have if you feel stuck at any point moving forward. If you have all the “feelings”: “I want to but I can’t because….” - Go through our Live Your Best Plant Life Mini-course. It will help you address both mindset barriers and actual physical limitations.
Want to get started but need a little more technical guidance on what tools to use? Try our 5 steps to garden prep series. Visit the blog to get started and get the guide. Then stop by HortikiTV to watch the video series. It will guide you through finding old containers you can use for gardening. Also, learn how to quickly research what you need, and plan a budget.
On that note, is budget your big hindrance? Use the ideas in the post: 25 Ways to Finance Your Growing Plant Addiction. Use the excel worksheet to actually create a budget for your fall gardening needs.
Feel overwhelmed? No need. By reading this far, you are showing that you are committed to making this year’s garden your best ever. So get ready to have a lot of fun! And of course, you are not on your own. As you can tell I am super hype for this upcoming season. And I’m striving to reach my own goal of being ever more accessible and helpful. I’ve done my best to make this year’s fall kits, my simplest ever. Combine our new kits with our upcoming virtual coaching sessions and you will be way ahead of the game! Visit the Hortiki Plants Shop to see the latest offers. Thanks so much for reading! What are you thinking to plant this fall? Let us know in the comments below. Hortiki and I are ready to cheer you on! 🎉
Victoria LeBeaux, PhD
Founder, Hortiki Plants