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
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
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
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.
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.
Days to Germination
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.
Days to Germination
Dianthus (Sweet William)
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
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.