- Last Updated: 1:04 AM, April 14, 2012
- Posted: 10:37 PM, April 13, 2012
Most city dwellers imagine a window box or an herb garden when it comes to growing plants in their apartments, but Britta Riley, a Williamsburg-based artist and entrepreneur went a different route: Vertical. And she got rid of the dirt.
“I wanted something right in my apartment so I could see every stage of the lifecycle,” says Riley, 35, who used to live in a dark, 450-square-foot space. “But plants grown for food require a lot of space for roots, and you have to refresh the soil quite often, a logistical nightmare if you’re living in an apartment.”
So, in 2008, as part of a project for an art-and-technology residency, she developed a hydroponic gardening system that hangs from the top of a window frame and is fertilized by a liquid nutrient solution circulated by an automated air pump — instead of soil. “It’s like you’re bottle feeding the plant’s roots,” says Riley.
Next, she launched Windowfarms.org, an online open-source community with more than 30,000 members around the world and instructions on how to do it yourself with recycled water bottles and plastic tubing. “Anyone can go to their hardware store and put it together,” says Riley, who now lives in an airier and brighter Williamsburg loft space. But, if you’re not a D.I.Y.er, beginning in August, you can purchase Riley’s Windowfarm kit ($120).
Another Brooklyn artist, Jenna Spevack, 39, fits into the D.I.Y. set, but added a twist to her water-bottle garden. Instead, the Crown Heights resident used stainless steel cocktail shakers purchased for less than $50 from a restaurant supply store on the Bowery.
“There’s a fear [of setting it up] at first, but then you realize it’s pretty easy,” says Spevack, whose studio is in downtown Brooklyn. “You have to be a person who likes to tinker, though if you’re not a tinkerer, you could get your super to install it.”
Good to grow: Cherry tomatoes, mustard greens, sorrel, sage, thyme, arugula, watercress, butterhead lettuce, kale, Japanese eggplants, Mexican gherkin cucumbers, bok choy and mint — all from seed. “We try to tap into smaller seed sources, like from the Hudson Valley Seed Library upstate,” says Riley. “They also sell seeds at the farmers market in Union Square.”
Window watching: Each window has its own microclimate, so use different plants depending on what kind of light you have. If you have really sunny, south-facing windows, Riley suggests hot peppers. In less sunny windows, lettuces and herbs do well.
Farm to table: Mint tea — there will be a surplus of leaves. “Mint will grow like crazy; you can’t really kill it,” says Spevack.