The Balcony Garden for Beginners
The high-rise veggie patch: the future of homegrown.
Times have changed for the Aussie city-dweller. The quarter acre block is a dream of decades ago. Apartment living is in.
But life without a backyard doesn’t mean a lifelong sentence of store-bought iceberg lettuce, droopy supermarket-shelf herbs and overpriced organics. It’s possible to create a thriving edible garden in the confines of the concrete jungle. All you need is a balcony – even a window ledge will do!
1. Follow the Sun: Before you go and buy plants of any kind, you’ll need an idea of how much sunlight your balcony gets and at which time of day. You can then pick out plants that best suit your space – either full sun, partial sun or mostly shade. If animals such as birds, possums and cockroaches are making your home also theirs, tomato’s and fruits are best to avoid growing in this environment.
2. Containers: Particularly if you’ll be hanging planters over balcony and window edges, bear in mind that ledges can only withstand a maximum weight-bearing load. Stick to lightweight plant pots and try recycling plastic containers from around the house. Whatever you choose, make sure they have holes in the bottom to allow adequate drainage. Glass jars and old tins are also ideal to use when propagating mint and basil at home. Simply cut a healthy and thick stem of the plant (around 15cm in length) and cut just below a node which is the bump in the stem where the leaves shoot from. Then, gently remove one-third to half of the leaves and place the stem in a clean jar or glass of water, out of direct sunlight. Finally, watch your new plant grow!
3. Vertical Gardening: If you have a super-small balcony, building up a collection of potted plants can become a clutter-nightmare. That’s where the miracle of vertical garden designer can help! Nurseries like Flower Power now offer rather attractive wall-mountable systems. You could also recycle an old wooden pallet - just make sure it stays well secured.
Herbs and Vegetables – What to Grow:
The right plants for your apartment veggie patch will depend on your local climate and the amount of space and sunlight at your disposal. Below are a few good all-rounders that will work for most balcony gardens.
Mint is a tough, tenacious herb as long as it’s given plenty of water and occasional fertiliser. It produces abundant leaves even in small containers and doesn’t mind modest amounts of sun.
Parsley is one of the easiest herbs to grow in containers. It’s not picky about soil type and does equally well in full sun and partial shade.
Oregano isn’t fussy about soil and will cope with being watered just a couple of times a week. It does, however, need a good amount of sunlight and needs to be picked correctly to stop the plant from going woody.
Garlic is super easy to grow and even a small pot placed on a windowsill will quickly yield several large, juicy bulbs.
Salad Leaves: Green salad leaves such as rocket, spinach, cress and oak lettuce thrive in planter boxes, do well in full or partial sun and can be cut back several times for multiple harvests.
Chilli Plants: They require no love yet yield 4 months a year. They are happy being dormant and always come back to life.
Tomatoes: Most tomato varieties do well in containers, provided they get plenty of sun. Trailing varieties are great for hanging pots. Consider adding a lavender plant in with your tomato plants to attract more bees to pollinate the fruits.
Eggplant: Eggplants will happily grow in larger containers but require a good amount of sun. They’re super productive too – a healthy plant will produce several harvests.
So there you have it. Your high-rise veggie patch is waiting to be tended to. Start with a few of the suggestions above and taste the difference!