The Urban Man’s Guide to Farming

No yard? No garden? No problem.

By The Editors
February 4, 2016 9:00 am

We recently rounded up a list of handsome devices you can buy to starting growing food indoors.

But just because you own an oven doesn’t mean you can bake.

So we tapped Henry Gordon Smith of Agritecture — who consulted on the 8,000-square-foot garden at Sky Vegetables’ Arbor House in the Bronx — for tips on growing indoors.

InsideHook: How much space is enough?

Henry Gordon Smith: Depends on how much you want to grow. If you’re just growing herbs, you can do it on your window sill. One to two feet if it’s just you and you’re going vertical. That’ll provide you with leafy greens and peppers on a consistent basis. If you have a family, you’ll need to go a little bigger.

IH: What do you recommend growing?

HGS: You can grow anything really, especially if you’re doing hydroponics. Peppers are a fun one to do. They’re colorful, they’re big and they’re great to bring over to a friend’s house. Tomatoes are bit of challenge; they need a lot of light. Cherry tomatoes are doable. If you want to do something fun and creative, microgreens are a great way to go because you can grow them quickly, they’re colorful and they have a great flavor. You can do wasabi, you can do sunflower seeds; they don’t need much light. A lot of people are doing this as a business because they have high margins. You can sell them at $20 a pound. Depending on how DYI you are, you can grow potatoes in a bucket.

IH: What gear do you like, and what do you think is needed?

HGS: You’re not going to get enough light in New York City, so you’ll need lighting. I like the Agrilution, which is the fridge-like grow system similar to Urban Cultivator, a pricier version. Cloud Farm has a great device that’s like a window unit but for plants so it gets excellent ventilation and sunlight and has a subscription service for supplies. Or the Grovert Living Wall. It’s the easiest and it looks great.

IH: How long does it take to grow something I’ll want to eat?

HGS: About 7-14 days for the microgreens and stuff like herbs. For leafy greens, you’re looking at 4-5 weeks before you get your first salad. If you’re looking for a constant supply, you want to plan what farmers would call a turn. Obviously there’s a gap between when you plant the seed and when it sprouts.

You take the square footage of your grow area, divide it into 4-5 sections, and plant one section per week so you harvest every week and then replace what you harvest. If you want more, you have to do more sections. You could get backlogged with too much product, though, so it’ll take some math and trial and error on your part to get it right.

Or you can do it the other way, which is to pick from a plant until it’s dead and then replant something in its place. That’s more of a hunter-gatherer approach to gardening. You’re foraging. This is best for the aesthetic approach, if you want a garden in your kitchen as opposed to a monoculture.

IH: How much time will I spend doing this?

HGS: Depends. If you’re growing for supply you will need to monitor it a bit every day. Otherwise, it’s very minimal, and a lot of systems come with timers and sensors that alert you and have apps that can be controlled from your phone. With a hydroponic system you’ll check the nutrients every day. Time-wise, if you had a cat, it would take the same amount of time as it takes to empty out the cat litter in the morning.

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