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Need advice on growing FOOD without a yard!

Pittsburgh, PA(Zone 5b)

If I had plenty of spending money, I wouldnít need to ask this question. But since I canít go out and buy lots of equipment, I thought Iíd ask.

I do have a flower garden but I have everything from deer to groundhogs and I have only a 6x6 critter protected area, which is full of tomatoes.

Can anyone recommend ways to get lots of bang from that small area? Or maybe you can link me to a source.

And Iím in zone 5. Can anyone recommend ways to accomplish edibles in the house over the winter? Herbs count. Veggies would be a blessing!

Portland, OR(Zone 8a)

Nilly, I can make a couple of suggestions. I don't know how many people you are feeding, but I feed mostly just me and I like to grow veggies that I can get long term production over the season. By picking the outside leaves of loose leaf lettuce a few plants keep me in salads most of the season. Flat leaf parsley is cool and you don't end up buying a bunch for 75 cents when you only need a few stems. Ditto with chives and green (bunching) onions. A row of climbing peas (I like the sugar pod varieties) doesn't take up much space and when it is done producing you can take it out and put in something else. Carrots keep well in the ground and don't take up lots of room and radishes grow quickly and early.

One of my favorite herbs is rosemary and the critters don't seem to bother it at all. If you have a spot outside your protected area you might want to give it a try (assuming you like it.) If nothing else, it smells good.

Tomatoes are great, but the do take up space and resources. You might think about growing just one or two plants of very productive varieties like mortgage buster. And you might try them in containers or even those odd topsy turvy things. I have no idea if they really work or not.

You might want to take a look at "Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew. I haven't read it but a lot of people seem to be interested in it. There are lots of references to it on the net, and probably here as well. You can probably find the book in your library or used at

I hope these ideas are useful and give you things to think about. You have all winter to plan. :-)

Boca Raton, FL(Zone 10a)


check out my post Fall garden 2009 in the Self Contained Box gradens


Everson, WA(Zone 8a)

Save your money on the topsy turvey thing it is a joke

Moss Point, MS(Zone 8b)

All of the above are good ideas. I don't know anything about gardening in your zone but ....

You might could extend your outdoor season on both ends by using some bubble wrap or clear plastic doubled. It's commonly available for free at places like freecycle and craigslist. You can tape it together easily. It would probably need to be vented in the daytime so the sun wouldn't cook the plants. Old windows might help for windbreaks on your deck.

Around here, lots of people have small tropicals or citrus and they keep some large cardboard boxes that fold flat to use on freezing nights which are not the norm. Even something like that might get you through indian summer.

I suspect this will become a much more discussed subject next month.

Carmel, NY(Zone 6b)

I grow chard, pak choi, lettuce, and tom thumb peas on my window sills year 'round. They like to cool temps in the windows and the bright sun. If we have a dark, dreary spell, I will hook up a grow light to help them, but mostly I'm lazy and forgetful, so they are on their own.

Last year I started several tomatoes early on (January) and the seedlings were so big my early March that I ended up putting them in pots in the basement with growlights. Then, as soon as it warmed enough, I was able to bring them in and out as the temps allowed. (I also use plastic and glass to protect them while they are outside when they get too bit to drag in.) I had evry early early tomatoes from those 3 plants and will be doing a larger batch earlier this year.

I also run around collecting windows, etc. when people have them out for bulk pick-up. I use them on my raised beds to jump-start the season.

And, definitely pick up Square Foot Gardening and/or cubed foot gardening. They contain excellent info.

And best of all, remember one very important thing - we ae limited only by our imaginations!

Pittsburgh, PA(Zone 5b)

Thanks all!

I also found a book called "Square INCH Gardening" in the library catalog and requested that.

Michael and Sequee - thanks for the lists of your successful plantings. I never met a veggie I didn't like. I'm also only feeding myself, but I like to cook big batches of things to go in the freezer over winter. I just spent $35 on a big batch of tomato based stew at the farmer's market, and I'd much rather pay for seeds. And besides, I'd be really happy to have more than I can use so I could share with people who need it!

BocaBob - Already been there! Joy from the self contained box gardens sent me. Love the vertical things!

Pittsburgh, PA(Zone 5b)

Twiggy thanks for the bubblewrap and cardboard suggestions

Pittsburgh, PA(Zone 5b)

Has ANYBODY had success with those upside down tomato pots?

Portland, OR(Zone 8a)

You might want to try some kale. It can go in the ground early and makes a great soup ingredient. You might even get lucky by planting in the fall and covering with mulch. Google sopa verde or portuguese green soup.

Pittsburgh, PA(Zone 5b)


Everson, WA(Zone 8a)

The upside down planters are lousy at growing tomatoes.In general plants in the ground produce 3 times as many tomatoes as the hanging ones.

Carmel, NY(Zone 6b)

I've had great luck with the Topsy Turvy's, as have others, as well as DIY upside down planters. if you do a search, you will should be able to easily access numerous threads on same.

(However, whatever the packaging says, no more than 1 plant per TT, and determinates do best.)

Christiansted, VI(Zone 11)

How about a cold frame on one side of your 6X6? If it's ground, anyway. A little way in the ground, with a window for a lid, hinged, and lots of greens for you!

Pittsburgh, PA(Zone 5b)

Molamola - yeah, it's a deck, though....

Sequee - thanks. Maybe that's what was giving other people such problems with them.

Carmel, NY(Zone 6b)

I used to do Horticulture Therapy via The Green Gardens Club at an Adult Day Care Center and we had one hanging from either end of the Veranda Overhang. They grew beautifully and were very easy for us to tend to. I certainly wouldn't use them exclusively, and I certainly agree that NOTHING grows more productively than in God's green earth, but when you have to be creative, I try to leave no stone unturned!

Everson, WA(Zone 8a)

Janice I have been playing with upside down tomatoes for 10 years. Best results come from those made with 5 gallon pails. Cherry tomatoes seemed to be about par with those in the ground. This year I bought two of the TT planters ha ha what a joke they were. I think they may work better for peppers . I also made two out of the cloth grocery bags they hold twice the dirt the tts do and they did better but the ground still beat them.

Biggs, KY(Zone 6a)

I grew my cukes in ahnging pots and was very happy with the results. I did National Pickling and Lemon varieties. In a larger hanging pot I still have a Sikkum cuke blooming and producing even after a move.

Thumbnail by CajuninKy
Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

I currently am enjoying cucumbers ~ 3 plants in a 12" sq pot. I chose a small variety (Spacemaster) suited for a container and started them from seed. Just remember when you grow in containers, you will need to fertilize on a regular basis and some plants like cukes take lots of water. Lots of food can be grown in containers if you search out smaller cultivars.

Pittsburgh, PA(Zone 5b)

New questions:

It's not so much about the containers (although you've given me some new scavenging ideas!) as it is about the yield. When I got my 6x6x6 critter proofing "cage", I also got some containers to fill it up. I'm just not getting enough FOOD out of the effort! Which brings me to my new questions:

Square foot gardening.
I've watched all 3 of Mel Bartholomew's video tapes about it, and perused some books. There's lots of time spent doing the math, and I totally get the concept. They never discuss DRAINAGE though. It looks like I can just slap together a shallow 4x4 (or 3x3 to fit better inside my cage) frame and plant it. Even when they show them on decks they are only supported by cinder blocks and things like that. So here are a coupla questions:

Won't I rot my deck?
How can I translate this yield process indoors?

Anybody know?

Happy Jack, AZ(Zone 5a)

We don't like the Topsy Turvy planters either! All the tomatoes split and the plants are in terrible shape. The one cherry tomato we planted in the built up planter in the yard is taking over the territory! We had had a very strange year, lot's of wind and cold. We expect a killing frost any week now.

O.T. Does anyone know when a large Banana squash should be harvested? It is hanging by it's stem and I'm afraid it will fall or rot if we don't pick it soon. It is now 18" long!

Banana Squash ~

Edited to change name of squash. I admit, I'm a dummy! ^_^

This message was edited Feb 6, 2010 9:16 AM

Thumbnail by HappyJackMom
Happy Jack, AZ(Zone 5a)

Husky Cherry Red tomato ~

Thumbnail by HappyJackMom
Everson, WA(Zone 8a)

Happy jack Mom you can tie in up in a pair or two of old panty hose to relieve the stem pressure. Don't know about your zone we just harvest ours when the vine dies.Ernie

Happy Jack, AZ(Zone 5a)

Thanks Ernie, but we tried tying up one lower on that vine, and the stems are so brittle, that it snapped right off! So, we will let nature take it's course with this one. I don't think the vine will die any day soon, unless we get that frost. So far it is protected by the trees. We are in Northern AZ, and at a higher altitude than Denver, CO, so expect an early winter. I looked up Everson, and found that it is in Whatcom county. My aunt lived in Bellingham years ago, and we lived in the Seattle area for over 17 years. The gardening is much different up here in the mountains! ^_^


south central, PA(Zone 6b)

We have grown Husky Red Cherry toms - they were GREAT. Plus the plant is just what the name says - real husky - small, strong little guy and extremely productive.

I would hightly suggest "walking" or "Egyptian" or "topset" onions. The bulbs originally are not cheap, but they are "perennial. " They form a small root bulb, then make lots of little bulbletts on TOP of the green stems. You can eat the bulbs like onions or the stems like spring onions. Just keep replanting some of the little bulbs - or you can just let them flop over and they'll replant themselves! It's great to always have a few onions for flavor on hand. They are really hardy too - I once grew them in an old refrigerator bin outside in the snow and ice and they lived.

If you can make a trellis and grow UP - pole bean are productive, taste great and once they start maturing, they keep going till frost.

Inside, my favorite veggies to grow are sprouts - all you need is a quart jar and a lid with a screen. Put in a tablespoon of alfalfa seeds and soak overnight, then keep the jar on it's side, rinsing one or two times a day to remove seed skins and keep water clean. They will just about fill the jar. Wheat is good too and has a sweet taste. You can also plant seeds like sunflower in a tray of potting soil and clip off the young tender sprouts. Corn sprouts taste like licorice.

This message was edited Sep 27, 2009 3:32 PM

Biggs, KY(Zone 6a)

They grow something here called a "winter onion." It makes the little bulbs on top like a garlic does. I have some growing now and will let them grow through the winter.

Merlin, OR(Zone 7a)

grow potatoes in tires. the link: scroll down a bit to "potatoes in tires"
Kinda neat.

Carmel, NY(Zone 6b)

I started to grow potatoes in tires, but then read about the rubber bi-products/chemicals leeching into the food, and changed my mind. With my luck (being a Murphy and traveling under the dark cloud known as Murphy's Law), surely I'd get to become a textbook case. Now I grow flowers in them instead, and leave the veggies to the beds!

Pittsburgh, PA(Zone 5b)

CompostR - thanks for the specifics! Will definitely try the tomatoes and onions. I'll have to choose a pole bean..... Are soybeans pole beans?

Sprouting has not worked for me. I was successful with it decades ago but I seem to have lost my touch.... I have some of those plastic grid lids for wide mouth mason jars, but things tend to rot rather than get big enough to eat. I'm sure I'm not draining them well enough, but I left them upside down for heaven's sake! I'll try with cheesecloth instead of the plastic lids and leave them upside down ON the grid lid so they can preathe better....

If you have a better suggestion for that problem, lemme know!

Meanwhile, I'll sprout some larger seeds in soil and cut them like you said - never thought of that before!

south central, PA(Zone 6b)

With the sprouts, I noticed you have to rinse all the seed shells off or they get stinky. You have to really swoosh them around in nice cold water.

Other things I used to make homemade a lot to save money was yogurt, breads, and lots of soyburgers. I don't think soy comes in a pole, but I don't know.

Sequee - that's smart about the tires! I was going to plant grapes on my pressure-treated fence 'till I started thinking about the arsenic used on it.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

nilly yes a big box of dirt right on the deck boards will rot or at least discolor your deck. You'd have to elevate it so there's at least airflow under neath.
I really don't think you can cost effectively produce food indoors--well maybe on a very small scale you can grow a few things, if you have great natural light.
( Is this question posted elsewhere? I thought I read a good post from somebody detailing the cost of artificial lighting)

This message was edited Oct 1, 2009 11:19 PM

Pittsburgh, PA(Zone 5b)

Thanks CompostR - will pay attention to that on next try.

Sally - Yes, I posted the food question on several forums - container gardening, indoor gardening , apartment living and Northeast gardening. I really needed to know! And I've gathered some good advice for both indoors and out. I have NO money to spend so am trying to make do with what I have. When I bought the house, I THOUGHT I would be able to afford light and heat mats to grow ornamental plants in the basement. But had a setback and now need the food more than the flowers....

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I hope things turn around for you soon. Meanwhile, I'm afraid you'll get the best value (in winter) by just shopping most economically.
oops I'l go back and fix that post, didn't mean to bold it all!

Carmel, NY(Zone 6b)

Prayers to you and for you, nilly! Hope things clear up quickly for you. As they say, I've been down and I've been up - and I sure like up better!


Pittsburgh, PA(Zone 5b)

Thanks for your well wishes. I assume things will get better eventually, although I don't think I'll ever be back where I was!

I'm trying to look at it all as a learning experience.


Carmel, NY(Zone 6b)

Good attitude. As they say, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger! (But I always have to wonder why we need to get so beat up along the way!)

south central, PA(Zone 6b)

I had an idea - couldn't you sprout some veggies from the supermarket, for example:

beets and turnips - if the top is intact, cut off and plant in a pot and you should get some greens.

radishes might sprout and you can eat radish leaves cooked and they taste just like spinach.

green onions - could you cut some tops off and plant the root part and get more greens growing?

cabbage - I've seen these try to root in my fridge and grow secondary small heads in the garden after harvesting the big head. If you cut away the head and leave a nice stem it might root in a pot and produce some side shoots.

lettuces like romain might root and sprout new leaves if you remove just the older leaves.

You could set these pots outside during the day until it's freezing.

Other ideas - Could you use sunflower birdseed for sprouts grown in soil? If you have seeds, maybe lettuces would grow inside.

I might try some of these crazy ideas if I have time. There are some cool money saving websites like "hillbilly housewife" that I like a lot. Well, just thinking....

Pittsburgh, PA(Zone 5b)

VERY good ideas CompostR!

In my window I now have some dandelion gathered from an unsprayed yard. I have one basil pot. And I'm about to try TRY try to sprout some lettuces, chard, and spinach. And other herbs if I can't fill the window up totally with eating greens.

Your beet idea, I like the most. Besides myself, I have rabbits to feed and they really like beet greens! And if I can't find any carrot seed, I'll try it with carrots, too!

The rabbits eat a lot, but they certainly give back for the compost pile!

THANKS for the link! Bet I can get lots of ideas and moral support there!

Phoenix, AZ(Zone 9a)

Hey nilly -

I have several different kinds of carrot seed. In fact I have several different kinds of a lot of veggie seeds. If you want some to get yourself started, shoot me a d-mail and let me know what you are interested in growing and I'll send you some seeds!


south central, PA(Zone 6b)

I've been obsessed by the idea of "free" stuff for years. Everything is so darn expensive these days. I don't know how people are making ends meet! is another good site.

mmm love dandelion - I never thought of that - they are certainly free! Hey, grow your own pet food - that's cool.

This message was edited Oct 15, 2009 4:12 PM

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