If you’ve downsized your home or simply have no garden space on your property, your days of growing food are far from over. If you can grow a vegetable in the garden, there’s a way to grow it on a balcony. Container gardens need a bit more attention than ground plots because they dry out faster, but they need less weeding because the soil mix you use doesn’t naturally contain any weed seeds. Plan your balcony garden the same way you would any other garden plot, by starting with a list of foods you want to grow for the year.
If you’re familiar with square foot gardening or French intensive gardening, you’ll have a good idea of what you can grow in containers in any balcony garden. You don’t need giant planters in order to grow your food; in fact, smaller planters work just as well while wasting fewer resources. Containers between 12 and 18 inches deep work well in almost all cases and you can use a variety of different vessels to hold the soil and plants.
As long as you have something that holds dirt and you can punch drainage holes in the bottom, you can use it as a planter. Grow carrots in an attractive gallon olive oil can. Produce 100 pounds of potatoes or so in a garbage can. Use plastic storage containers to create a multicolored lettuce garden. Or you can go to the garden center and buy a decorative collection of matching planters. They’ll all work equally well as long as you put in the work.
You may have grown vining plants such as tomatoes and cucumbers in the garden and let them sprawl all over the ground, but in the container garden it’s all about the trellis. Plant a sturdy trellis in the planter right alongside the seedling in the spring. As the vine grows, tendrils will wrap around the trellis and climb up. When the plant produces food, it will hang cleanly in the air instead of lying on the ground. You’ll have fewer insect and rot problems from excess moisture in the soil.
When you garden on a balcony, you use all three dimensions instead of the usual 2 you find in a basic garden plot. Not only will you grow plants across the balcony and from the front to the back, you’ll also use the airspace above the plants to create another layer or two of growing space. You’ve seen hanging flower planters on porch overhangs; grape tomatoes and leaf lettuce grow just as well in these planters.
Every plant you grow up in the air frees up some growing space down below for a larger plant, so it’s a good idea to add as many small plants as possible to the row of hanging planters. It’s possible to use the newer upside down planters to grow crops such as tomatoes or cucumbers, but these are more for novelty and less for serious food production. Put them in for fun if you like, but don’t expect them to produce a large amount of food.
Growing a container garden involves more small portions of labor instead of fewer and larger ones. You’ll have to check the water level in each planter at least once a day. Some plants will dry out in half a day if the weather is very hot or the wind is high, so they need water more often. Look for weeds when you water the plants, but the odds are good that you’ll find few or none of them to deal with.
Birds may deposit seeds on your soil or they may blow around in the wind, but that will be a rare occurrence. You’ll have fewer pests, too, since none of the soil-dwelling bugs will be in your planters. Flying insects will still be around, of course, but they’ll be easier to take care of because the planters will be higher up instead of on the ground, eliminating the need to bend over so far for such a long time.
You truly can plant anything on a balcony. It’s just a matter of choosing the right container and the right variety of plants.
If you want to grow some Jack-o-Lanterns, choose a variety of bush pumpkins and grown them in a relatively large planter.
Place a layer of compost in the bottom of a garbage can and then add five or six seed potatoes on top. Cover them with compost and add more compost layers every time the plants grow large and leafy. At the end of the season, you’ll dump out the soil and dozens of pounds of potatoes.
Push sticks into a pot full of compost and plant pea seeds around the base of the sticks. The pea plants will grow up into a tangle, supporting them and producing bowls of fresh peas early in the spring.
Plant four sweet corn seeds in a large planter full of compost, then plant black bean or pinto bean seeds around the corn. The corn stalks will support the beans as they grow.
Look for smaller versions of large plants, specially developed and usually called patio varieties. They’re developed specifically for use in containers and will give you the best results in small spaces, usually producing full-sized fruits on smaller plants.