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Most of us live in apartments. Let’s face it, there is rarely enough space for sunbeds and lounging, what more for a garden? Considering the rising cost of living and the upward prices of veggies like lettuce, many might also be considering growing their own. Here’s where you may not have the full scoop.
It is possible to grow vegetables on a balcony — with the right conditions, materials, and of course, tender loving care. The truth is, you might not have a full growing farm at the end of it, but you would have enough produce to pepper into your weeknight meals and garnish dishes for when you have your friends over.
The trick is in knowing what you have, and how you can make the best use of that space. Start with ticking off the main ingredients needed for your garden to be.
Main Ingredients — Sunlight, Space and Weather
Where does your balcony or window face? North-facing windows get the most light — and the most heat — all year round! West-facing windows let in the next most heat in summer, as they look straight into the sun as it descends through long hot afternoons. Use yourself as a check, have you sat out and milked the sun on the balcony to work for at least six to eight hours?
If yes, you have a big score on what you can grow as most fleshy vegetables need between six to eight hours of direct sunlight to grow. If you realise, you don’t get much sunlight, you could consider getting UV lights or opt for low-light plants like root vegetables or Asian greens.
Don’t fear small spaces. Look for options like grills, windows, tall walls, or even high ceilings around and in your balcony that could make your apartment balcony dreams come true. If you have big floor space, even better.
Depending on the space you have, you could set up a mix of hanging pots, planter boxes, plastic pots, or mounting a planter wall. Pro-tip, make sure that leave at least a square space of room on the balcony for repotting and tending to your plants.
Apart from sunlight, weather conditions are critical in determining what you can grow. If you live on a high floor, chances are your balcony might get very windy. Consider creating a lattice structure for your hanging plants so they are not knocked out by the wind.
You might also want to invest in a glass panel or bamboo partitions as a windbreaker so you can divide your balcony and also keep the wind out.
Once you have sorted out the conditions of your balcony, it’s time to start the work of growing the veggies.
Most apartment owners grow easy-to-maintain edibles like chilli, lime, eggplant, pepper, and herbs. These grow well in pots, planter boxes, and also on hanging baskets.
Spearmint, rosemary, and basil are very common herbs to grow on a balcony and even on a kitchen window sill. They survive with at least four hours of sun and cut be grown from stem cuttings in water.
Once they have grown some roots, you may transfer them to soil in little planter boxes or on your planter wall. Herbs grow well together — so you could grow different herbs in the same planter box.
Companion Planting — Tomatoes
Just like friends who grow well together, companion planting is when two plants are grown close together for the benefit of one or both of those plants. This is the case for tomatoes and herbs.
Keeping your tomato plant next to your herbs will help with attracting pollinators and repelling insects like aphids, white flies, etc. Tomatoes need a full day of sun, regular watering, and a pot of at least 15-20cm in diameter. When growing plants in plastic pots, try using synthetic soils made from wood chips, peat moss, sawdust, vermiculite, and perlite to ensure proper drainage and aeration.
Exotic, mouth-numbing members of the chilli family are great options for balconies. There are 200 different types of chilies that can be grown in a pot. Opt for the ones that you eat frequently, and take the seeds from your last buy. Chillies like direct sunlight, and moisture. This means you should keep them in a spot of your balcony with tonnes of sun, and also water them regularly.
Like tomatoes, eggplants like moisture and sun. In fact, they’re cousins in the Solanacaea family. It would be best not to keep them in the same area as they would compete for resources. Soak and germinate eggplant seeds in a covered area for at least seven days before they root. Smaller, petite eggplants and Asian eggplants are easier to grow than other varieties. Eggplants, like tomatoes, will also require sticks or stands to keep straight and grow well. When you notice that the plant has grown above 7cm, try to slot a piece of wood to help them grow upwards.
Pole Beans, Peas for Climbers
For advanced plant enthusiasts: if your balcony has ample space for a lattice structure, consider growing climbers like pole beans, peas, and squash. Not only will these edibles give you food, but they will also make your garden look lush and create a rich canopy of leaves.
You could build your lattice from wire mesh, netting, or twine on your ceiling or along an empty wall. These vegetables are great sown in full sunlight and once grown will continue to flourish through the year.
For newbies and novices, start with just one of these plants. Begin by choosing the plant best for your space and set up, and continue the virtuous cycle by bringing your kitchen leftovers to compost and then to feed your plants, and eventually yourself.