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Try Apartment Composting

by Max Dalrymple
When I moved to my current apartment I had windows along the south wall perfect for a winter garden, but no patio or yard in which to put my compost. The solution? A compost column built from two recycled two liter plastic bottles, an idea from the University of Wisconsin's Bottle Biology Resources Network.

Apartment composter

Look carefully at the drawing. The two bottles are cut differently. The first bottle has the bottom pried off and the top cut off. The larger portion of this bottle becomes the top chamber of the column,

The second bottle has only the bottom cut off. The bottom then becomes the base of the column and is a dish into which excess water can drip, keeping your kitchen counter or window dry as you fill the column with compost. The top of the first bottle can be used as the lid, or you can use either of the bottoms. You can recyle the parts of the bottle that you don't use.

I put the column along the east side of my kitchen window, where it is handy for me to throw in scraps from my vegetables and fruits which are cleaned in the sink immediately below. I also throw in an occasional eggshell. I can also sprinkle water into the top, and the sun provides some additional heat to keep the compost working.

I'm not allowed a cat or a dog in the apartment, and I would not use their droppings in this compost pit if I did. I do throw in a little manure purchased at the local garden store, however.

The results: Last year my tomatoes grew and produced throughout the winter. With the benefit of a little additional florescent light, they grew all around my sink. This year I reserved the kitchen window and the florescent lights for my miniature roses. I moved my tomatoes to a table in the living area where they have more room. The result has been great until this last week when one of the tomatoes began to grow a little spindly. I've harvested about eight tomatoes, have eight tomatoes currently on my three plants, and there are many blooms, suggesting I'll continue to have a good crop for some months.

The tomatoes take a lot of water in this heated apartment, but my apartment compost reduces the amount I have to give each plant. I also am sure to water my plants twice, with a gap of about twenty minutes between each watering, so the plants drink as much of the water as possible. Little water is wasted, and I'm reminded each time I water, of the benefits of having a good apartment compost column.

Seeds to Start in February

by Susan Ward
As soon as I've taken down the Christmas decorations and dragged out the tree, I dig out my seed trays and start checking my supplies. I know it's too early to get any basil or tomatoes going; I know Zinnias and Impatiens won't be able to go into the ground until the end of May (if then!); I know that seeds started too early indoors will turn into pathetic, lanky, weak plants that won't do anything outside except embarrass me, but I can't help myself; seeding fever has set in.

The trick to successful seeding is planning, starting the right seeds at the right time in the right conditions. Generally, the right time to start seeds depends on when the seedlings can be moved outside safely in your specific area. No matter which zone you garden in, there are plants that can be started indoors this month and moved outside before the end of May.

For you other eager seeders, here are lists of vegetables and flowers that can be started indoors in January and February, and moved outside in early spring (March - April), if you garden in zones 4 - 8, or late spring (April - May), if you garden in zones 2 - 3. Each chart (adapted from Garden and Greenhouse's "Planting Guide for Spring Bedding Plants") lists the approximate indoor starting date, the germination temperature needed, the seed's required conditions, and the approximate number of days until germination.


Rouge D'Hiver Romaine lettuce The planting dates are based on John West's experience in Denver, Colorado (40 degrees north latitude with a 5000-foot elevation), so the planting times will be suitable for most northern climates. John uses an assumed planting date of April 15 for "early spring." If you live in zone 5 or above, you might want to seed two to three weeks earlier if you like taking chances. Seed listed as needing dark for germination will germinate in bright light conditions (such as in a bright window, greenhouse, or under fluorescent lights positioned no more than six inches directly over the flats) if they're covered to several times their thickness. Seed listed as requiring light needs to be uncovered and in bright light.


Species Seeding Date Temperature Days to Germination
Chives Jan 29 70 F 10
Head Lettuce Feb 25 70 F 7
Onion Jan 15 70 F 10

Remember; the seed dates are approximate. If you haven't seeded Chives or Onions yet, this doesn't mean that it's too late. You'll notice from the chart that these three vegetables are ideal seeding companions, as they all need the same germination temperature.

I actually start my lettuce (including mesclun) a little earlier than this, as I love the tender young greens. I seed directly into large shallow clay pots, which I put out on my sheltered balcony after the greens have gotten big enough, as house temperatures cause lettuce to wilt. In her 1996 Gardening Calendar, Helen Chestnut has another great idea for harvesting spring lettuce early; she recommends starting leaf and butter lettuce now and then transplanting it into a cold frame or plastic tunnel in early March... sowing seed radish, spinach, and bok choy directly into the frame or tunnel when the lettuce is transplanted.


I admit I'm a sucker for a pretty bloom. This table is organized by germination temperature, rather than alphabetically, to make it easier to group seeds.

Species Seeding Date Temperature Seed Requires Days to Germination
Aquilegia Jan 1 55 Light 30
Armeria Feb 12 55 Dark 10
Candytuft Feb 25 55 Covered 20
Larkspur Feb 12 55 Dark 21
Myosotis Jan 29 55 Covered 8
Penstemon Feb 12 55 Light 10
Achillea Feb 25 60 Covered 10
Centranthus Feb 25 60 Covered 10
Dianthus (Sweet William) Feb 12 60 Covered 5
Pedilanthus(Jacob's Ladder) Feb 12 60 Covered 20
Poppy Feb 25 60 Uncovered 15
Scabiosa (Per) Feb 12 60 Covered 15
Alyssum (Per) Jan 29 70 Covered 25
Cheiranthus Feb 25 70 Covered 10
Geum Feb 12 70 Covered 28
Linaria Feb 25 70 Covered 10
Nierembergia Feb 25 70 Covered 15
Nigella Feb 25 70 Covered 8
Pansy Jan 29 70 Covered 10

While there are many other flower seeds that can be started in February, this list only includes the tough or semi-hardy ones that can be planted outside in early spring, so you don't need to worry about keeping them alive indoors for an extra month or two while you're waiting for the temperatures outside to climb. You other Basil and Zinnia lovers know you'll have to wait another month or two to get these tender heatlovers going!

But if you have enough windowsill space or some growlights set up, you can start your indoor seeding program right away.Happy sowing!

Susan Ward is a freelance writer living in Comox, B.C. who has a passion for gardening. She is the Suite101 Editor for Gardening in B.C. and writes for magazines such as BackHome.


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