Container Gardening For Urban Apartment Dwellers

Think you can’t garden because all you have is a fire escape? Mike Lieberman of Urban Organic Gardener will set you straight in this guest post! Thanks, Mike.

It was the Spring of 2009 when I first started urban gardening. During that time I was living in one of the most urban areas and one of the least growable areas – New York City. I was on the 4th floor of an 8-story building. Living anywhere in NYC, pretty much means that you don’t have much land or space for anything, forget about growing food.

What I did have though is a 2×3 fire escape.

With some creativity and littler investment, I turned it into my own organic fire escape garden. On that fire escape, I grew cherry tomatoes, lettuces, peppers and a variety of herbs all while maintaining the integrity of the fire escape.

Since then, I’ve moved to the left side of the country to Los Angeles where I know have a 13×4 balcony garden.

How have I been able to grow my own food despite having little space?

The main reason that I’ve been able to do this and do it affordably is because I’ve been upcycling 5-gallon containers and building self-watering containers and hanging planters from soda bottles.

Self-Watering Containers

In a matter of 15 minutes and for less than $3, you can make a self-watering container at home.

The system is made up of two containers – the reservoir and the planting containers.

The planting container gets nested into the reservoir container.

A wicking basket (1lb deli container) with holes drilled around it gets placed inside of the reservoir container.

Here is a video of how to make your own self watering container:

For complete instructions, you can check out the four different ways to build a self-watering planter.

Soda Bottle Hanging Planters

Soda bottles are also a great item to reuse since they are everywhere (unfortunately). On my fire escape, I had the hand railings lined with about 10 of them that grew a variety of mints, oregano, tarragon, basil and parsley.

You just need to cut off the bottom portion of the bottle and reinforce it with duct tape. The punch holes through it and thread some heavier string through the holes and tie to the railings. Drill a small hole in the cap to allow for drainage.

Here’s a more in depth instructions on how to make your own soda bottle hanging planter.

These are two simple to make and viable solutions for small space gardening. Regardless of how little space you have, you can grow some of your own food. Growing one herb or vegetable will make a difference for you and for the environment.

About Mike

Through his blog and social media, Mike Lieberman shares his expertise on urban gardening, green living and real food. He inspires others to start growing their own food and believes that growing just one herb or vegetable will make a difference. It will help to cut back the intensive resources that go into the production and transport of food to our plates. It will also help us to re-establish our connection with food that we’ve lost over the past few years. We are humans. We grow food. Connect with Mike on his blog, Twitter or Facebook.

This post on container gardening in urban settings was made possible by the Sowing Millions Project on behalf of Seeds of Change. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s and not of those of Real Food Media or Seeds of Change.


(photos by Mike Lieberman)


  1. Merry Lynn says

    I find this is sooo fascinating. I do have a question/concern though. I see on the videos that these self-watering containers all use the cheap throw away type plastics. Won’t the plants absorb the toxins from the plastics (like the BPA that we read about all thei time) and will we be eating those toxins when we eat the resulting vegetables?

  2. sa'ada says

    that’s my concern also. especially since i live in saudi arabia where the sun is strong and hot. would that increase the leaching?

    i was planning to start a few different types of plants but everything i read about organic container gardening started out by saying the container has to be natural material. so i gave it up. but i’m wondering now which is worse, growing your own in plastic that may leach or buying conventional? (sometimes those are my only options)

    any opinions? all advice is appreciated.

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