Monday, October 9, 2017

Useful Potted Plants

(Sorry, but this post isn't about that kind of pot plant.)

In the event of a longer term disaster, food storage is essential. One of the most effective ways for people to have that stored food is to grow the stuff themselves. Unfortunately for apartment dwellers, growing a large garden plot is usually impossible.

However, I have grown all of the following plants in an apartment setting. I've selected plants that are easy to grow, are tolerant of poor conditions, and are dense in vitamin C (something likely to be lacking in an emergency). All of these can be transplanted if the conditions are correct, and you can grow a much larger crop of these the next year if things go badly.

Salad Greens 
These are fairly easy to grow in a coffee can, and when kept in a sunny window can produce an insane amount of food. I am partial to chard and spinach since they do well in cold climates, but for people who live in warmer areas (and have warm houses in the winter) I recommend lettuce.

If you grow these in a windowsill planter box, don’t plant them too close together; you will actually get a larger harvest if you give them a little more room to grow.

Salad greens also tend to work well for a “continual harvest” model, allowing you to have fresh greens year round as long as they have light.

These work really well with a hanging planter or on a balcony, and are a little hungrier for light than a lot of other plants. Fortunately, they respond well to artificial lighting and to moderate-to-poor soil with a good fertilizer, such as the water from a freshwater fish tank.

If you are careful in your selection of plants and provide artificial light, you can get a year-round harvest of some fairly tasty fruit regardless of outdoor climate.

Bunching Onions
A small clay pot with bunching onions or chives makes an excellent source for seasonings. They will spread quickly if planted in ready ground so long as they are watered regularly (no more than once a week, no less than once a month - it's a big window).

If kept indoors, you can have onion greens year-round that you can harvest with scissors; if kept outdoors, just don't put them in heavy shade.

Small Citrus Trees
Yes, really. I like kumquats since they are small, single servings of fruit that mature quickly, but I have had dwarf limes and similar. I recommend getting  citrus fertilizer and a good clay pot with a tray.

I consider this a non-food plant because even though it is non-toxic and edible, it tastes disgusting. There are cultures that use it as the basis for some fairly tasty foods, but only after processing it. There are however advantages to cultivating aloe:
  1. It has legitimate medical uses. There are mixed results on a couple of the studies on it, but there are some very clear uses for it, including pain relief for burns. There is even some evidence that aloe is useful for treating digestive conditions and mouth ulcers.
  2. Aloe is a succulent, which means that it stores water in its leaves. If you forget to water it for a month, it will still be around! This makes it an excellent “learner” plant -- if you want to learn how to take care of plants, and want something easy to learn on, this is it.
  3. If you keep it alive for long enough, you may be able to train your roommate's cat out of eating your houseplants -- the cat will be unhappy, but unharmed. The same thing goes for small children; barring an allergic reaction or choking on it, the child will be unhappy about the bitter taste, and otherwise unharmed. 
  4. It grows relatively slowly, so you don’t have to transplant it every three months, and is fairly popular as a house plant, so if you have to get rid of it, it is easy to find a home for.
  5. Aloe also makes pretty decent lube. Don't be dirty! You never know when you might need to grease some machinery or use a catheter. 
Honorable Mention: Spider Plants
Spider plants are awesome little air scrubbers that provide non-toxic greenery. They actually scrub industrial pollutants from the air and are generally not offensive to roommates. I recommend these as another potential “learning” plant, but your cat/small child will not find the taste offensive.

For both of these and aloe, I recommend a clay pot and a hanging planter.

Growing at least a little bit of food is totally possible, even for an apartment dweller. There are oodles of “How to” guides on how to grow all of these, and I leave it to the reader to find those. As always, don’t lick the wires, and don’t forget to practice.

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