I have a very small balcony, but it does get lots of morning and midday sun. Even with a small space, a simple small garden design can result in plenty of home-grown food.
– plant food that I like to eat
– make the best use of a small space
– have the harvest spread out during the summer
– have a section with low maintenance crops
– use on-site composting suitable for my small space
Based on those goals and the space limitations, I proceeded to define what to plant in which area, what compost system to use, and where to place it.
I like to sit on the balcony and enjoy the view, so it was important to have smaller plants in the middle area where the table and chairs are located. To expand the planting area I took advantage of a side wall and created a vertical garden.
I chose plants that don’t need much space for their roots. Cherry tomatoes can produce a lot even in small pots. They enjoy the midday sun, so I selected quite a few of them. I had to make sure I provided them enough water and fertilizer to compensate for the small soil volume they were growing in. During the hottest days I would water both in the morning and in the evening. To boost them I would give them a compost diluted Bokashi juice every 2-3 weeks.
I chose to plant the tomatoes at the ends of the balcony, because they can grow quite tall and I didn’t want the view in the middle to be blocked. I planted a mix of mostly indeterminate and some determinate tomatoes, in this way they would not become all ripe at once and I could enjoy an extended harvest. In the past I experimented planting a few full-sized tomatoes but would get maybe 2 or 3 fruit from one plant. One wild cherry tomato plant on the other hand produced pounds of tiny and sweet fruit for me in the same amount of soil.
I chose perennial herbs: chives, oregano, thyme, mint, lemongrass, tarragon. I planted herbs I like to use for cooking, tea, or cocktails (I discovered a great recipe for tarragon syrup, it’s a classic in Georgia and around the Caucasus region). As a bonus, I won’t have to plant them again next year, and they are very low maintenance. I also planted some annual basil in the same planter as the tomatoes, they work great together as companion planting.
I planted rocket and radishes. They don’t need much soil, grow fast and are ready to harvest in 4 weeks. I chose to change the soil completely after each crop, and replenished it with my Bokashi compost. Four weeks is also the time the compost takes to be ready (2 weeks fermenting in the bucket, and 2 weeks maturing mixed with soil) so this system worked great. It was also very compact so a good fit for the small space I have. I keep one-liter fermenting buckets under the kitchen sink, and for the soil maturing phase I have a small wooden box that fits well in a corner of the balcony.
Also I selected a vertical climbing crop to grow on a wall which is actually a window door for the balcony. Normally I don’t open that door and I could use some shade for the room inside. I planted there Mexican sour gherkins, also called cucamelons. They make a grape-sized cucumber that is very tasty. I hung a few strands of natural string along the glass door to help them climb up, and it worked very well. The climbing vines look very beautiful from inside and I can see through the glass the small pollinator insects visiting the tiny yellow flowers, and then the cucumbers growing.
– Use vertical space to grow more vegetables in a limited area.
– Have on-site compost to cut the needs for bringing in soil and fertilizer. Bokashi was compact and convenient.
– Create a perennial section for low maintenance and watch the joy of early spring regrowth.
Lenara is garden advisor at Urban Gardeners Republic and blogger. She believes that windows, balconies, roofs and yards, small or large, can become a green oasis with delicious fresh edibles. She has a certificate in Permaculture Design and love creating sustainable and ecological gardens for urban spaces. You can read more from her at www.balcony.ga
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