First of all - let me reinforce the fact that this is a beginner’s guide. Written from one beginner to another. But let me also reinforce, that I come from a long line of great gardeners and have rather large shoes to fill, but I’m giving it a shot.
I’ve only lived without a back yard for a few years now. Previously, gardening space was available. One didn’t have to narrow it down, to grow things in pots, or be super strategic, we could just throw the seeds in.
Urban gardening is a whole different beast. One that I have only a few seasons of practice with. But this is a humble recounting of the lessons learned, and hopefully, it will save you a few fails.
Let’s start things off with growing veggies on a balcony.
Here’s the main lesson learned on that: Wind sucks. People hate it, and plants also hate it.
I live on the 12th floor of our apartment, and we have a corner unit, so the balcony is pretty exposed. If this is you - and you want cute edible plants and flowers along your railing, you gotta think about the elements.
Hearty, stalky plants are the way to go, and if you’re growing anything delicate, make sure it is super sheltered. Here are a few hearty veggies to grow on your balcony:
- Swiss chard. First of all, and despite my husband’s protest, it’s delicious. You can literally put it in anything. Making pasta? Throw some swiss chard in. Need a side dish? Go old school and steam it, you can bake it, broil it, the list goes on. Pro tip - go for the rainbow chard because it’s really pretty, so it’s almost like flowers in your planters
- Chives. You literally can’t kill it, again it’s a versatile ingredient, and it’s really sturdy so the wind won’t beat it up.
- Parsley. I guess the same rationale as above.
- Rosemary - in theory it is a sturdy plant, but I kill these things every single season. They need more water than you would think, and they need a heck of a lot of sun. So if you have great sun exposure, definitely try rosemary, and while you’re at it, grow lavender as well because why the heck wouldn’t you
The best thing about the four listed above, is that they need only a little bit of room. Want a decorative and edible planter box? Do chives on one side, parsley on the other, and a row of rainbow chard. It will be pretty, colourful, sturdy, and delicious!
A few other great Balcony Options:
Balcony tomatoes are popular for a reason! You can get pre-potted plants with cages at any home garden store. If you are growing these on a high rise balcony, I would make sure the plant pot is on the floor of your balcony, and gets a little bit of shelter from any wind. They need some sun, and more water than you would think. Any plant in a pot needs way more water.
Kale - I’ve struggled to grow kale a few seasons in a row because of bugs. But this year, I’m going to try it on my balcony. Less bugs 12 stories up right? You can get some pretty varieties that are still edible, so I’m going to throw this into the mix on our balcony. I will share details on its success or epic failure in the fall.
If you are a lucky person, and have a back yard with a little garden plot, or maybe you use a community garden (that’s what we typically do, however covid is sure to make that interesting…) I have a few tricks of the trade for ya.
Garden Plot tips and tricks
First trick - think about the growing season of what you’re planting.
Spinach, lettuce, peas, you pick those early, so it’s beneficial to put your early veggies, right next to your late ones. This maximizes space because you will pull your early harvest veggies, right when your late harvest one need that space!
For example - if you’re growing squash or zuchini, you can belly up your peas pretty close to wear you plant those seeds, and then ideally, you harvest your peas, you yank your plants out, and the zuchini plants have room to sprawl before the veggie actually starts growing.
In reality, you probably don’t have room for zuchini in your community garden. So a better example might be to plant the peas next to beets or carrots, which grow slower and are harvested later.
General Community plot tips and tricks
We have a community garden bed that is 6 feet by three feet, and here are the veggies we chose to grow:
- Beets and carrots - we grew these on the edge of our planter box, because they are a shorter plant and I wanted them to still get some sun. Make sure to thin out your carrots as they start to sprout!
- If you wait until the first frost before you pull your carrots they get way sweeter! We tried this for the first time last season, and I’m a believer for sure.
- Save your carrot tops and make pesto with them. There are tons of carrot top pesto recipes online, but here is a good one: https://yupitsvegan.com/carrot-top-pesto/ . Note that the recipe calls for mint, but I always sub that out for basil. Makes a more traditional tasting pesto, although I’m sure the mint one is delish!
- Beans- they need more room than you think, but you can get quite a few beans out of one plant! We only grew five plants and had enough beans for a few meals.
- Tomato plants - we grew three plants in an L shape in one corner of our box, and they THRIVED. Make sure you get cages on these right away and tuck the growth into the cage as the plant matures
- We planted swisschard by the tomatoes because the plants stay small for a quite a few weeks of the growing season, so we had a great harvest of swiss chard before the tomatoes needed the space, then we thinned out the swisschard
The thing that amazes me the most each year, is that each year I feel like I’m really winging it, but it always works out. The plants need a little love and attention, but in reality, if you throw some seeds in, and let them do their thing, you’re going to get something!
So I challenge you, try it out! Whether its a couple of balcony tomatoes and a little planter of herbs, or a full-on garden in your back yard. Plan your plot, plant your seeds, and have some fun this summer.
This is a wrap on my little urban gardening guide. I sure hope you found a little value. In a summer that won’t feel like most, get to work on your green thumb!
As always, thanks for reading