We're currently caught up in a project that involves trying to grow our own food in our apartment. Lots of factors played into this, most notably curiosity and the rising cost of produce. While at first blush it might seem that in no way can a person grow enough produce to save actual money on groceries, upon closer examination, it's really quite possible. For example, if a little bag of cherry tomatoes (which we buy almost every week) costs $4 or $5, and a bag of potting soil and seeds cost $7, then if I get 2 little bags worth of cherry tomatoes out of the plants I grow from seed, those plants have paid for themselves AND saved me money.

Yes, the plants require some care, and they don't spit out tomatoes immediately. But the potential for payoff is there. Also, homegrown tomatoes are almost always better than store-bought ones, and they have the distinct advantage of being virtually guaranteed not to give me salmonella, e coli, hepatitis, or some kind of toxic pesticide poisoning.

As you can see from our ghetto setup, we're doing this on the cheap. No Martha Stewart Living gold-leaf planters, here. I can invest in making this hobby pretty after I figure out how to make it work.

So, up there in the picture, we have 2 containers of tomato seeds (Supersweet 100 VF Hybrid, for those playing along at home), 1 container of spinach seeds (Teton Hybrid), 1 container of lettuce seeds (Grand Rapids), and 3 containers of carrots (Red-Cored Chantenay 7317B). They're all in Miracle Gro Cactus Palm & Citrus soil, because that's what I had. Incidentally, I think the carrots might do well in that soil, but it's anyone's guess, really. I'm taking very detailed notes of everything we do, so that we can approach this scientifically and try to get consistent results. Also, we plan to do more than one planting, so we can vary our methods and make comparisons, so that should be exciting.

One of the reasons we're doing this is: Have you ever noticed that pretty much ALL gardening books and advice is written by gardeners? This seems to make sense, but let me tell you why it doesn't, really.

Gardeners use their own lingo. They're so used to it, they don't even realize that other people don't know what they're talking about. What is the exact method for "cultivating"? As far as I can tell, it's stirring up dirt, but how much stirring? Also, did you know that plants can "bolt"? To non-gardeners, that sounds like your lettuce is suddenly running off at a high rate of speed, e.g. "They heard the sirens and bolted!".

Gardeners already know how to grow things. Frequently, the advice boils down to "Just put it in the soil!" "Water it when it needs watering!" and "Make sure it's getting the right amount of sun!". Obviously, these things are all important. But, people who can grow things seem to have a built-in knowledge of the particulars: What kind of soil? How deep? How much water/sun is enough? How much is too much? When pressed, these people can't tell you the precise answers to these questions. They say "Most plants will tell you when they need more (or less) water (or sun)." and "I just water it when I think about it until I think I've watered it enough." Gee, thanks. That's very informative.

I cannot tell you how many plants I have killed by over- or under-watering. Or giving them too much sun. Or not enough. Obviously, it's easy to tell when a plant is unhappy. But for non-gardeners, that's all you know, that you're doing SOMETHING wrong. Apparently plant people "just know" how to fix these things, and can't really put their knowledge in concrete terms that the rest of us can understand.

It's like, if I made this really great cake and you asked me for the recipe, and I said, "Put the ingredients in the bowl. Oh, what ingredients? You know, flour and sugar and eggs and stuff. Then mix it all together and bake it until it's done! Yummy!" Could you recreate my cake? I'm guessing no. That's why I'm taking all the notes. I may not have been born with a sense of how to grow things, but maybe I can develop it if I record my exact methods, the conditions, and the results. A pattern will emerge eventually, and I will recognize it and learn from it. And later, when you ask me how I grew such delicious tomatoes, I can whip out all of my exhaustive research and SHOW you!