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Urban Gardening, or, How to Survive When You Aren’t a Homeowner and Don’t Have a Lawn to Rip Up

lightbulblokywoky in a thread asked: What I would like to know is what all of us lowly apartment and other rental unit dwellers who don’t have yards for gardens and no control over the kind of heating/cooling equipment etc are supposed to do. Info is all over the place for stuff for home OWNERS but there doesn’t seem to be much for those of us who don’t own a home.

First, as is said in The Hitchhikers Guide: Don’t Panic. Don’t feel that there is nothing you can do because you have a landlord or are occupying a unit that is 60 feet up over the asphalt. The trick in your situation is to think: not permanent — movable. Let’s look at people’s costs of living one at a time in terms of what we can do to lower those costs.

Heating and cooling. What do you have control over? If you have no control (no thermostat, for example; central boiler and central air unit and everyone gets charged their “fair share”), then yes, you have no control and there is nothing to do about those costs. But if you do have a thermostat, your job is to seal up your place the best you can for the winter and keep the sun out of the rooms in the summer. Your friends are: rope caulk and those “shrink the plastic sheet around the window frame” kits that you can find at hardware stores. Don’t have a heat gun? That is ok also; the point is to seal up the place where the window frame meets the wall (use your rope caulk for that) and then seal up the window with the plastic and the annoying tape (takes a little practice, but after a couple, you’ll be able to make a seal just as good as the one with the heat gun).

Another friend are curtains. If you have insulated curtains, bravo. If you have lined curtains, that is not so good but you can always add another layer of lining (something like flannel sheets is a good bet – just cut to fit and either safety pin them to the back of the curtain or get out your sewing kit and tack to the top just underneath whatever the top treatment is – hooks, gathers, rings, whatever). If you don’t have lining, go to your local Joann’s or another fabric place that carries drapery lining – get the insulated lining – it’s worth the cost. You can always take it out when you get tired of the curtains and use it for the next set. Take one of the curtains with you and let one of the clerks help you by measuring it, etc. They are usually wizards at this. Take it home and again either safety pin it to the curtain back or sew it on (and yes, by hand if you don’t have a sewing machine).

Insulated curtains are great for both summer and winter because in the winter, they are another layer preventing the cold from conducting into the room; in the summer, they block the radiant heat from coming in. So, even if you use AC, it doesn’t have to work so hard. If you are really hard core, you can always go to the lumber yard, get some materials and make yourself insulated inside shutters – those are amazing and save tons of energy. When you leave, just take them with you. (How to Make Your Windows More Energy Efficient)

Wearables: I know a guy who claims that he absolutely positively needs to keep his house at 78 degrees year round. He literally walks around his house in the middle of winter in a tee shirt and gym shorts and bare feet. He’s lived in Upstate NY for thirty years. If you have control of your thermostat and you’ve sealed up the windows and any extraneous doors that you don’t use, then (cue scary music)it’s time to lower the thermostat. If you don’t own a sweater or two, go the Salvation Army/Goodwill/Volunteers of America and get a couple of good, thick, long sleeved, wool sweaters. Wool is best and the heavier the better. You’ll be wearing them over something else, so you have no excuses like “I’m allergic”.

The other thing to do is – forget the flip-flops in the house. Wear good warm socks, tights, etc. and shoes or sneakers. Put a good layer of warmth between you and the floor.

Food: can you grow your own in an apartment or a rental situation where you can’t rip up the lawn for a garden? Two questions: Do you get sun and do you have a terrace or deck? If you get sun and have a terrace or deck, then you can very easily get big pots and grow everything from squash to corn and anything in between, including climbing stuff (you just need lattice that you can get from the hardware store and secure it to the deck because when you are a hundred feet up, things can get breezy and you don’t want your planter of pole beans sailing out over the street). If you don’t have sun or don’t have a terrace or deck, your options are sort of limited to a grow light and greens. But you can grow a lot of greens that way.

Your friend is the farmer’s market. Some cities have larger regional markets where you can buy from farmers…and a lot of other people and wholesalers. To get the best selection, be the first guy there. To get the cheapest selection, go in the last hour and negotiate with the farmers because they do not want to take stuff home. Be prepared to deal with large quantities of the same thing (this is where partnering up with your neighbors can be really good). This is a good time to invest in some jars/lids/bands, a pressure cooker/canner and an instruction book. Also, there are things that can really well and some that do not. Anything that you see in your grocery store that comes in a can is a candidate (heh) for you to can in a jar. Things that you don’t see in a can (like broccoli, for example) are not good candidates, but if you have a bit of space in your freezer, you can get some extra at the farmers market and freeze it.

No space in your kitchen to store cases of home made spaghetti sauce, canned beans, and pickles? Best place to store boxes of home canned goods is: under your bed. There is nothing like the feeling, esp if there is a howling storm outside, of sleeping on top of several weeks’ worth of food that can’t go bad if you lose the electricity. You feel almost like Smaug.

(originally published at Oxdown Gazette)

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