So you live in an apartment, have a small area like a balcony or fire escape, no idea on the how to, but you want your very own Balcony Garden to grow vegetables. OK great, it’s easy and here’s how with a limited amount of space and basically no knowledge you can have your very own balcony container garden.
Where to start
Deciding what to grow is your first decision so ask yourself, what do I like to eat? This might seem like an obvious question to ask, but it’s an important one. When working with small spaces you will need to get the most out of the area you are planning to grow your vegetables.
There are a few other questions you will need to ask yourself.
- What is the direction and how much sunlight does the space get?
- In what type of container do I want to grow the vegetables?
- What season is it? Certain vegetables will only grow in certain temperatures. (with some exceptions)
Once you answer those questions, you will have a clearer picture as to what you can grow. You can grow most vegetables year round even in cooler climates if they are protected, however lets say you are like my friend Phil who lives in an apartment in New York, not too far north yet not far enough south and has a balcony with fire escape and it’s spring time (March-April). Ah spring in New York…
And let’s say you like lettuce, spinach and tomatoes and want to grow them for yourself. (You can substitute these three examples for any cool weather crop) For purposes of this article let’s also say compared to the fire escape, the space on the balcony is huge. It’s about 13 x 4, faces South East and gets about six hours of morning sun.
The only directional scenario you may have issues with is if your balcony or fire escape faces due north, then you will not get enough direct sunlight.(In this case other options could be growing indoors or designated co-op areas outside)
We have thus far established that Phil has a balcony and it faces South East which is ideal, but don’t worry if yours does not. Any similar combination will work, except as I mentioned above due north. We have also established that he likes lettuce, spinach and tomatoes and it’s spring. Ok so what’s next…
What materials will I Need?
So next we want to decide what type of containers to use to grow our vegetables.
- Five gallon plastic containers-you may have some already, if not you can purchase them at the local hardware or garden store for next to nothing. On your balcony you can lined them up nicely on both sides allowing for a walkway down the middle.Make sure you drill a couple of holes in the bottoms so as to let the excess water drain, then if you need a bottom use the lids.
- There are plenty of vertical garden planters out there right now. The thing with most of them is that you need to secure them to the walls, which might be an issue for some renters or landlords.
- Windowsill boxes. These are great to grow shallow rooted herbs and vegetables. Like the vertical planters they do need to be secured to the structure. You can also plant lettuce in one long container totally filled!
Ok, so you have chosen a type of container and let’s say you have decided upon the 5gal plastic containers. Now get some soil and fill your containers. I recommend organic vegetable garden soil-or use whatever is handy, place some gravel in the bottom of the container about one to two inches, then fill the rest of the container with your soil, done.
While you are at the garden store getting your soil pick up some young lettuce and tomato plants and some spinach seed. (spinach is sown directly from seed) Next decide which containers you want which plants and gently remove the young plants from the store containers by turning them on their sides and gently removing root ball and plant.
Take them to the container, plant and water. That’s it you’re done. With the spinach read the pack for directions but generally for this situation sprinkle liberally in designated container and cover with about 1/4 ” soil and water.
Also for your tomatoes you will need stakes and ties, which you can easily make from materials you have on hand or purchase from the garden store.
While your plants are just starting a good rule of thumb is (water every two to three days, later as they get larger a bit longer in between) also just stick your finger in the soil if moist don’t water if getting dry water.
Note: when the spinach and lettuce plants start to mature you can just pick or cut the outer leaves for your salad and let the rest of the plant continue to grow.
There you’ve done it, you have created your very own BalconyGarden, for next to nothing in labor and cost and with no starting knowledge, congratulations and buon appetito !
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To your gardening success,
Hi It’s Phil here, I just wanted to thank Tom for a wonderful article on how to start growing your own food, even from a NYC apartment. I’ve always had fresh herbs like; basil, sage, parsley and thyme (if I had rosemary I could have the title of a song) but I never considered actually growing food.
Tom and I are both very concerned about the Dangers of GMOs, and one of the surest ways to avoid them is Grown Your Own Organic Food… Brilliant!