This is my fourth year of balcony gardening.
My first year met with moderate success. I had enough lettuce and swiss chard for at least one salad. My balcony that year was mostly sunny. I think I got a few tomatoes, too.
Then I got married and Micah and I moved to our current condo. We bought it in May and with its south-facing balcony I thought we would have a great growing space! Turns out I didn’t take into account trees and shade, since leaves had not yet appeared.
Basically all I wanted out of a garden was basil and tomatoes. Both of which love sun, not shade. So those plants failed to thrive, as did many others. But some survived! Now I think we finally have a system that works for our space, our shade, and our level of commitment.
Here is our current recipe for success:
Plant plants that keep on giving. The first 3 years I planted a wide variety of plants. Beets, carrots, radishes, zucchini, cabbage, broccoli. The cabbage, for instance, grew (slowly) and at the end of the year I had ONE cabbage. One! If you are in a small space, one cabbage is not worth all summer. Plant something else and go buy a cabbage at the farmer’s market. What has worked that we are planting again? Swiss chard, lettuce, and lots of herbs. All of which you can pick a few leaves and they keep growing, then you pick a few more, and on and on.
Plant a few plants just because they are pretty. Listen, (sub)urban homesteader. Not every single plant in your garden must be edible. After reading Urban Homestead this is what I used to think. You have limited space! Use it wisely! True, but it can also be wise to plant pansies or coleus (two of my personal favorites) just because you like to look at them.
Plant seedlings, not seeds. I have some dear friends (including dear Jessica) who start plants from seeds. I don’t. I don’t start things from seeds inside to transplant and I don’t start things from seeds outside. I tried both and frankly I don’t have the patience to nurture them and then they die. But if I buy a seedling at a local nursery, it is already living! And then I plant it and I already feel moderately successful and I begin to think maybe I can garden after all.
Use self-watering containers. And ones that fit your space. We received an Earthbox as a gift and love it. We found a few window boxes with water reservoirs on the curb and bought one more to round out our collection. You can also make self-watering containers if you have 2 plastic containers, and a drill. There are plenty of tutorials online. The first few years I tried to make do with hodgepodge containers. I think some people make this work. With limited space, though, it is really nice to just have one Earthbox and 5 window boxes that fit around our balcony, leaving space for chairs and our grill.
Don’t forget to eat what you grow. Sounds silly, right? But with a balcony garden you are not producing that much. At least I don’t. So sometimes I forget to go out and pick swiss chard to cook it up. Plan menus around what you are growing. This year, we are really into our SodaStream water carbonater that we got off craigslist, so I planted a number of herbs that we will be making bubbling water concoctions out of.
So what does our garden look like this year?This year the edible part of our shady balcony garden includes: Sage (2 kinds) Thyme Mint (2 kinds) Oregano Parsley Kale Swiss Chard Lettuce