Tips to Turn Your Balcony into an Edible Garden
Improvements in container gardening equipment and techniques have cleared the way for even the most “brown thumb” city dwellers, and anyone without a yard, to grow their own groceries. There is nothing to stop anyone who wants a garden from having one.
Plants add a great deal to our quality of life – from cleaning the air we breathe to keeping us in touch with nature. Fresh, home-grown herbs and vegetables not only taste better than supermarket produce, they are convenient, you know exactly where they came from and what was or was not used on them.
While hydroponic and vertical gardening systems have been developed to maximize the yield in small spaces, starting a balcony garden need not cost much. Start with the right materials and choose plants that are right for your conditions, and you will soon be eating from the pots on your porch.
Tips especially for balcony gardeners:
Plant the right plants for the amount of sunlight you have. Most herbs and vegetables require six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day. If your balcony does not get that much sun choose edibles that can take partial sun/shade (three to six hours of sun in the morning or early afternoon) or light shade (two to three hours of direct sun or lightly shaded all day).
Some partial shade herbs:
Cilantro, parsley, dill, bee balm, spearmint and chamomile.
Some light shade herbs:
Garlic chives, peppermint and rosemary.
Some partial or light shade veggies:
Lettuce, broccoli, green onion, collards, cabbage, peas, carrots, strawberries, beans and sweet potatoes.
Remember, pale-colored surfaces increase the light your plants receive. Plants in regions with short growing seasons usually need the full six to eight hours of light per day.
Choose the right pots:
• Bigger pots require less water and are less likely to blow over on high-rise balconies. Terra cotta allows moisture to escape fairly quickly. Non-porous plastic or glazed pots hold water longer and are better for windy balconies. Use brightly colored containers to add style and visual interest to your garden.
• Most vegetable plants require even watering – do not let them dry out completely and do not keep them soggy. Apply water directly to the soil.
• Make sure your containers have drainage holes. If they have an attached tray to catch excess water, do not allow the plants’ roots to sit in the water, which promotes rot and fungus.
Use the right dirt:
• It is important to use dirt that allows for good drainage. Most edible plants do not like to sit in wet dirt, and soil without good drainage tends to become compacted. You can buy a sterile soilless potting mix, a soil-based potting mix, or mix up your own batch using 1 part compost, 1 part perlite and 1 part potting soil.
• Do not use garden soil or top soil, which will not allow adequate drainage.
• On windy balconies, top-dress your container with small rocks to keep the soil from drying out quickly.
For high-rise dwellers, rely on self-pollinating plants, or plants that do not need pollination by insects, unless you are willing to hand-pollinate.
By Roy Joulus